Arthur Kales (1882-1936), was a prolific Arizona-born pictorialist photographer working mostly in California during the 1920s. Pictorialist photographers believed that photographs were more related to the formal elements of pictorial art such as drawing and painting than merely a functional way of portraying a subject. Pictorialists such as Kales relinquished the sharp accuracy of a typical photographic image and preferred using soft-focus and other photographic techniques to produce a more painterly image.
As early as 1853, the English painter William John Newton proposed that the relatively new-fangled camera could produce more artistic results if the photographer made an image slightly out of focus. At the same time many people would protest that a photograph was more a mere visual record of a chemistry experiment. Photography historian Naomi Rosenblum once wrote that “the dual character of the medium—its capacity to produce both art and document—[was] demonstrated soon after its discovery … Nevertheless, a good part of the nineteenth century was spent debating which of these directions was the medium’s true function.”
Born in the Arizona territory in 1882, Arthur Kales moved to California to study law at the University of California at Berkeley – receiving a law degree in 1903. While living in the Bay Area Kales became interested in the burgeoning Pictorialist movement in California. Kales moved to Los Angeles to work in advertising he came back to San Francisco in 1917 and the following year joined the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles. Kales’s photography was made up of huge range of subject matter but his work can be recognised by delicate, intricate compositions often using the Bromoil process – a variant of the oil print process where a regular silver gelatin print is bleached in a solution of potassium bichromate. This hardens the surface of the print and allows ink to stick to it. Both the lighter and darker areas of a bromoil print may be manipulated, providing a broader tonal range than an oil print.
By 1922 Kales regularly contributed to the journal, Photogram of the Year. In 1928, Kales was awarded a fellowship from the United Kingdom’s Royal Photographic Society and was given a fifty-print retrospective by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Kales, at the age of 54, died in 1936.
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