Reputations made and lost: the writing of histories of early twentieth-century British photography and the case of Walter Benington

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Crow, Robert
  • Subject: TR

Walter Benington (1872-1936) was a major British photographer, a member of the Linked Ring and a colleague of international figures such as F H Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Alvin Langdon Coburn. He was also a noted portrait photographer whose sitters included Albert Einstein, Dame Ellen Terry, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many others. He is, however, rarely noted in current histories of photography. \ud \ud Beaumont Newhall’s 1937 exhibition Photography 1839-1937 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is regarded by many respected critics as one of the foundation-stones of the writing of the history of photography. To establish photography as modern art, Newhall believed it was necessary to create a direct link between the master-works of the earliest photographers and the photographic work of his modernist contemporaries in the USA. He argued that any work which demonstrated intervention by the photographer such as the use of soft-focus lenses was a deviation from the direct path of photographic progress and must therefore be eliminated from the history of photography. A consequence of this was that he rejected much British photography as being “unphotographic” and dangerously irrelevant. Newhall’s writings inspired many other historians and have helped to perpetuate the neglect of an important period of British photography. As a result, the work of key photographers such as Walter Benington is now virtually unknown.\ud \ud Benington’s central involvement with the Linked Ring and his national and international exhibition successes demonstrate his significance within post-1890 British photography. Recent moves in the writing of histories of photography have called for the exploration of previously unknown archives and collections. A detailed examination of a cross-section of Benington’s work will illustrate that he was a photographer of great distinction and marked individuality fully worthy of a major reappraisal.
  • References (84)
    84 references, page 1 of 9

    Walter Benington, The Church of England (1903) Platinum. 195 x 145 mm. RPS collection, gift of A L Coburn (1930) (photo: RPS). See also Plate I

    Beaumont Newhall, Installation photograph of Herbert Matter's entrance installation for 'Photography 1839-1937.' Gelatine silver print, 1937 (photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York)*

    Willi Ruge - Poster for FiFo - Film und Foto - Internationale Ausstellung des Deutschen Werkbunds, Stuttgart, 1929 (photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York)*

    Beaumont Newhall. Photography 1839-1937 (New York: MoMA, 1937) Front Cover. (photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York)*

    Beaumont Newhall, Photography, 1839-1937 (New York: MoMA) Title page (photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York)*

    George Davison, The Onion Field (1889) Photogravure print 154 x 205 mm. Gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn GEH NEG: 23472. 67:0080:0006 (photo: George Eastman House) H P Robinson, Morning Mists (1893) from Die Kunst in der Photographie 1902 (photo: courtesy PhotoSeed Archive) A Horsley Hinton, Threatening Weather (1901) from Photographische Rundschau (photo: courtesy PhotoSeed Archive)

    Walter Benington, Fleet Street (1897) from Amateur Photographer 16 June 1908: 608. See also Plate II Fred Holland Day, Nubian Chief (1897) Platinum print 207 x 184 mm. Gift of 3M Company: ex-collection Louis Walton Sipley GEH NEGS: 28794 25877. 77:0211:0001 (photo: George Eastman House)

    Edward Steichen, In Memoriam (1901, printed 1904) Gum over platinum print 498 x 403 mm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933. Accession Number: 33.43.48 (photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) *

    Fred Holland Day, Beauty is Truth (1900) Photogravure. 187 x 172 mm, The Camera Club, New York. Gift of Albert Boni. Object number 115.1944.1 (photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York)*

    Walter Benington, Keeper of the Harem (nd) from Amateur Photographer, 16 June 1908: 598

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