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Born 7July-1859 French,Saint-Germain-en-Laye Died 29 December-1936 France, Hennequeville Robert Léon Demachy was born in the home of his grandmother in St Germain-en-Laye, on the outskirts of Paris, on 7 July 1859. His parents, Charles Adolphe Demachy (1818-1888) and Zoe Girod de L’Ain (1827-1916), had two other sons, Charles Amedee (1852–1911) and Adrien Edouard (1854-1927), and a daughter, Germaine (1856-1940?). The elder Charles had started the highly successful financial enterprise of Banque Demachy, and by the time Demachy was born the family was very wealthy. He had no need to earn a living, and there is no record of his having ever been employed anywhere, other than when helping his father. His family allowed him to pursue his love of art and music without having to worry about how to support himself. Demachy was a banker by profession, and an amateur artist, becoming a leading photographer in the 1890s. He dropped the Lèon part of his name in his childhood and was always known as “Robert.”

About 1870 Demachy, his mother and his siblings left Paris for Brussels due to the increasing dangers of the Franco-Prussian War. His father stayed in Paris as part of the Commune and the Banque Demachy played an important role in financing the resistance efforts. When he turned eighteen Demachy briefly served a year as an army volunteer, but he soon returned to his life of comfort. In the mid-1870s he began frequenting the artists’ cafÊs and, perhaps in rebellion to his gentrified life, he became involved in the growing bohemian culture that was beginning to take hold in Paris. He began making sketches of cafÊ patrons and people on the street, a practice he continued throughout his life. He was influenced by the Impressionist painters and spent most of his time making photographs and developing his theories on photography, both technical and aesthetic. He wrote thousands of articles and several books on photography and was a strong proponent of techniques used to manipulate a photograph such as the gum bichromate process, oil transfers and scratching of the gelatine. In 1882 Demachy was elected to the Societie Francais de Photographie, where he interacted with some of the leading photographers in

Europe. Within a few years he became frustrated with the conservative views of many of the photographers around him, and in 1888 he joined with Maurice Bucquet to form the new Photo-Club de Paris. He founded the Photo-Club de Paris with fellow photographer C. Puyo and was a prominent force in French pictorial photography. He was also a member of London’s Linked Ring, and of the Photo-Secession. The members of the Photo-Club advocated the aesthetics of Pictorialist photography, and soon the Photo-Club was playing a similar role in France as that of the Photo-Secession in the U.S. In 1889, while visiting the Exposition Universelle in Paris, he met a young woman from Detroit, Michigan, named Julia Adelia Delano. Adelia, as she was called, was a member of the important Delano family in America and a distant relative of future American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Little is known about their courtship, but on 2 May 1893 Robert and Adelia were married in Paris. They lived in the family mansion on Rue François Premier. Their first son, Robert-Charles, was born in 1894, followed by son Jacques François in 1898. Jacques later became a very

well-known fashion illustrator About 1890 Demachy became one of the first Frenchmen to own an automobile, a Panhard. He owned four of these vehicles throughout his life, keeping the same model until it was old enough to become a classic car. In 1894 he began to use the gum-bichromate printing process recently introduced by A. RouillÊ-Ladevèze at the Paris Salon. He developed a style that relied upon heavy manipulation of the image both during the development of the negative and again while printing. As he experimented with the process he wrote about his findings and about the aesthetics of the gum print, helping to popularize it among French photographers. Later that year he, along with Constant Puyo, Le Begue and Bucquet, helped organize the first Paris Salon founded on the artistic principles of the Photo-Club de Paris. In 1895 he had his first exhibition of gum prints at the Photo-Club de Paris. This helped to promote his increasingly international status, and later that same year he was elected to The Linked Ring in London. In 1897 he published first book, with co-author Alfred Maskell, Photo-aquatint or Gum Bichromate Process (London: Hazell, Watson & Vinery)

In 1898 he began corresponding with Stieglitz, often complaining about the lack of true artistic photography in France. The two would continue writing each other for more than fifteen years An influential photographer of the time was Dr. Peter Henry Emerson, who fostered a more subjective approach to photography than hitherto. As a result, there was an emphasis on minimum detail and soft focus. The invention of the Talbot-Klic process coincided with Peter Henry Emerson’s pursuit of Naturalistic Photography. Emerson, a physician turned photographer, was the proponent of controversial ideas concerning photography and art. In his book entitled: “Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Arts” (1889) Emerson claimed that a sharp and uniform image does not accurately represent the way the world appears to our eyes. He believed that for a photograph to be “truthful” it should be soft and impressionistic, bringing it closer to what he considered the appearance of nature. Because grain-gravure prints are not as sharp as actual photographs, Emerson preferred the gravure process. He admired the softened

image and liked the delicate tonal scale possible with gravure. It was Emerson who first believed that gravures should be considered original prints. Emerson’s gravures were used to illustrate five books between 1887 and 1895, and can be considered some of the earliest examples of pictorial and fine art photographs Inspired by Emerson’s ideas and images, photographers began to explore the expressionistic potential of photography. This movement, known as Pictorialism, was characterized by painterly techniques involving soft focus lenses and heavily manipulated printing processes like gum bichromate and bromoil. Pictorial photographers considered themselves serious amateurs—motivated by artistic forces rather than those of financial gain. In Europe they formed salons and clubs like The Linked Ring Brotherhood, The Royal Photographic Society (of England) and The Photo-Club of Paris. And in America in 1902, Stieglitz established the group called the Photo-Secession. He chose the name “Secession” because of its use by some societies of avant-garde artists in Germany and Austria to denote their independence from the academic establishment.

In 1905 Demachy became a member of The Linked Ring and was an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society. His photographs were also reproduced Stieglitz’ Camera Work. He exhibited his work and lectured internationally before giving up photography in 1914 in order to pursue drawing. His work can be found in such collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Photogravure proved to be an effective tool for the pictorialists, aiding in their mission to convince a skeptical audience that photography had significant expressive potential. For once, the qualities of gravure enabled them to more accurately reproduce the subtle and beautiful character of their images in books, journals and limited editioned portfolios. The value of photogravure in establishing photography as a fine art was emerging. However, for some photographers this was as far as one should go; it was perfectly admissible to control one’s photography at the camera stage, but one should not tamper with the photograph at the printing stage beyond employing very modest negative re-touching techniques.

This was not sufficient for other photographers, and Robert Demachy, together with other photographers such as George Davidson and Alfred Maskell began to experiment at the printing stage as well. A familiar phrase attributed to Demachy is:

“The end justifies the means,” which sums up his approach to picture making. His photographic work was quite diverse; he exhibited portraits, street scenes and figure studies, and wrote a a number of books and about a thousand articles on photography. He is an interesting photographer to study because his work epitomises the controversy which existed in the world of photography at the turn of the century. Demachy had little time for the “straight print” photographers, especially if they presumed to call themselves artists. No straight print, he declared, with “its false values, its lack of accents, its equal delineation of things important and useless” could really be called art.

“A straight print may be beautiful, and it may prove.. that its author is an artist; but it cannot be a work of art... A work of art must be a transcription, not a copy, of nature...This special quality..” (which makes it a work of art) “is given in the artist’s way of expressing himself... If a man slavishly copies nature, no matter if it is with hand and pencil or through a photographic lens, he may be a supreme artist all the while, but that particular work of his cannot be called a work of art...” However, perhaps to counter argument, he also made the observation that manipulation was not necessarily art: “Too many pictorialists will meddle with their prints in the fond belief that any alteration, however bungling, is the touchstone of art....” In addition to deliberately using soft focus lenses to blur and soften the image, he also used printing processes which required manipulation. The final result was by no means pure photography, because the finished result in many of his pictures was achieved by using brushwork together with photography. An example of this technique is his Figure Study from an Etched Negative, a gum print produced in 1906. One can readily see

the long diagonal lines etched over the body greatly reducing photographic detail. Among his favourite subjects was young ballet dancers, in a style very much reminiscent of Degas’ work. He also made studies of people.

Une Balleteuse A powerful image is En Bretagne, which must be a composite from a number of negatives. Demachy was not concerned with the faithful reproduction of detail.

A good negative was just the starting point for the eventual image. He strove for a painterly quality, like in oils or pastels and acheived it with the Gum-Bichromate method of printing and a lot of re-touching His compositions are simple, with strong subjects, and no clutter. The lighting is often dramatic, with strong shadows. He likes to depict people, movement, or both. Another common characteristic is a blurring of the boundaries between his figures and their setting.

His most famous image is his 1904 shot, Speed, of a solitary sports car of the time, throwing up a cloud of dust as it speeds by a telegraph pole on a deserted road.

Demachy was, with Émile Joachim Constant Puyo, the leader of the French Pictorial movement in France. His aesthetic sophistication and skill with the gum bichromate technique, which he revived in 1894 and pressed into the service of fine art photography, were internationally renowned. With the gum medium, he was able to achieve the appearance of a drawing or printmaking process—in this

photograph, he has added marks characteristic of etching during intermediate stages of development—in order to advocate photography’s membership in the fine arts by revealing the intervention of the photographer’s hand in the printmaking stage of the photographic process. In 1914 he gave up photography to concentrate on drawings. He continued to exhibit his photographs, however, and was considered among France’s foremost photographers for several decades.

Bibliography Leggat, Robert Š1999 Last Updated 9/23/2008 Wulfert, Robert


Gum Printing


Gum Printing