The Seven Last Words (1898) by F Holland Day

The recent, exhibition of one hundred of F. Holland Day’s photographs in London caused a decided stir among the critics of the photographic periodicals. The Amateur Photographer and Photography received the work with great favor, but the British Journal of Photography made a violent attack upon the American’s work. On the whole, the amount of serious attention given to the exhibition, and the sharp differences of opinion brought out by the occasion have served to make Mr. Day’s introduction to the British public rather sensational. Hal Dane wrote in the Amateur Photographer that “there was not a mediocre thing in the whole collection.” He thought that Mr. Day showed the rare gift of restraint, the rarer gift of selection. His backgrounds, he picturesquely remarked, “rumble with the great notes of darkness.” He showed, said Mr. Dane, “a capacity for seizing and rendering just those mysteries which make for the realities.”

Mr. Day was pronounced an artist who had made the camera his slave. Photography was equally emphatic in its approval. “We consider it,” wrote the editor, “without question the most interesting photographic exhibition it has ever been our lot to see. Its influence upon British work is bound to be a great one, and although it would not surprise us if it were manifested at first by the mere copying of eccentricities in lighting, mounting, and so on, it cannot fail in the long run to be beneficial. In bringing it over Mr. Holland Day has done British photography and photographers a service which it would be difficult to exaggerate.”

Related:  This Day In Norwood History-August 27, 1948-Top-Heavy Kindergarten Enrollment Will Compel Double-Sessions

On the other hand, Mr. Day and his work were unmercifully ridiculed by the British Journal of Photography. A preposterous article about Mr. Day was quoted in which he was credited with laughable affectations, and, on the basis of this rubbish, the sincerity of the man and his work wore impugned. The British Journal of Photography also condemned his photographs of sacred subiects as offensive to English sentiment.

This 1895 photograph of F Holland Day’s school friend Isabelle Giles, seated in a Windsor chair with her hands folded, was titled “Hannah”. It was one of the prints exhibited in London in 1900, and was considered by many critics to be among the best in the collection.

In regard to this particular point his case was ably defended in a letter from Frederick H. Evans, who vouched for Mr. Day’s reverence of motive and entire absence of vulgar straining after false effect; and asked the editor whether he would make the same objections to the photographs of the Ober-Ammergnu actors. “We object to both,” was the answer; and a long argument was made to prove that it was impossible for photography to deal with sacred subjects properly and legitimately.

There are two sides to this subject. But, while the argument against the innovation has some weight, it will not be helped by the intolerant and impatient tone of the British Journal of Photography’s denunciations.

Norwood Advertiser, December 27, 1900