I posted this after finding Fred Holland Day’s monograph Suffering the Ideal in a used bookstore (not the best quality reproduction). His subject matter and technique, the pictorial symbolism, went out of date even in his lifetime. But what attracted me to the book and his images are the same thing that still brings people back to his images despite long being overshadowed by better photographers.
The unique blend of religious tropes and homoeroticism. Day might have been one of the first great photographers of the male nude. The friends he kept and the works he published as part of his publishing firm Copeland and Day helped fuel questions about his sexuality and marginalized him in his own lifetime. An exhibit he arranged in 1900 called New School of American Photography was called by one reviewer:
“of a diseased imagination, of which much has been fostered by the ravings of a few lunatics… unacademic …and eccentric”
His platinum prints, for which he often only produced a single image (and would lead to the loss of much of his images after a fire in 1904), rendered detailed images with a full range of soft tones. It was a popular approach for pictorialists and often set this type of work aside for other photographic approaches. Day and others working in the genre considered and promoted photography as a fine art on its own. He would abandon the process and shortly after, photography, at the outbreak of WWI when platinum became scarce.
“And if it chance that [a] picture is beautiful, by what name shall we call it? Shall we say that it is not a work of art, because our vocabulary calls it a photograph?”
– Fred Holland Day
If you are interested in seeing more of Day’s work, the Library of Congress has the best collection of images that I could find.