A. Aubrey Bodine doing his thing
From the streets, docks and denizens of Baltimore to Midshipmen graduation ceremonies of the Naval Academy in Annapolis; from the skipjack oyster dredgers in full tilt on the storm swept bay to almost Constable-like scenes of rural Maryland; from charming studies of sweet Amish children to the sweat and toil of Baltimore dockworkers, Bodine saw, captured and enhanced.
Tangier Sound, 1948
The Gentle People, 1952
The alchemy of Bodine’s work came from a skilful congruence of his photo-journalistic eye with his painterly aesthetic and mastery of darkroom techniques. The aesthetic, for the most part, was due to the influences of Pictorialism.
An essentially European movement, Pictorialism sought to distance photography from science and position it, if not in the art world, then adjacent to it. To do this, Pictorialists like Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Demachy, Josef Sudek, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, looked to – and tried to emulate – painters, etchers and engravers. Some would argue that the best of the Pictorialists’ work often paralleled that of the Impressionists.
Toucques Valley, 1906, by Robert Demachy
In any case, Bodine aesthetically signed up to, and began promoting and practising, the Pictorialist agenda through his own work. First locally through the Baltimore Camera Club, then via entries of images in competitions such as the Photographic Pictorialists of America’s New York Salon in 1925. With success: his impressionistic ‘Symphony in Reflections’, along with another image, was accepted.
Symphony in Reflections, 1925
Baltimore Harbor, 1955
Oxen, Calvert County, Maryland, 1953
Are we talking early Photoshop here? Absolutely. But Bodine knew when enough was enough, knew just where and how to apply his amazing imagination and inventiveness. He was a master of darkroom techniques – ironically an aspect of the very science that Pictorialists wanted to distance themselves from, but used to achieve their ends. As early as 1858 there were processes which gave the Pictorialists the means to attain the art they sought. The gum-bichromate process, for instance, gave images the quality of charcoal, ochre or wash finishes. In 1878 a platinum salt process allowed photographers to achieve a lead-pencil drawing, or pencil-and-wash look. Unquestionably Aubrey Bodine knew and used these techniques and many more, although I suspect that today’s fascination with HDR would have struck even him as seriously overblown.
Rowing at Ebb Tide, 1944 – Bodine ‘removed’ a small rowboat and two pilings
Aubrey Bodine died in 1970. Two years later Texas Instruments patented a film-less electronic camera. In 1990 the first version of Photoshop was released.