( Originally Published 1903 )
Suggestion with its phantom guide-posts leads us through its varied mazes to the dwelling-place of mystery. Here the artist will do well to tarry and learn all the oracle may teach him.
The positive light of day passes to the twilight of the moon and stars.
What things may be seen and forms created out of the simple mystery of twilight !
Its value by suggestion may be known technically to the artist, for through the elimination cf detail, the work is sifted to its essence and we then see it in its bigness, if it has any, and if not we dis-cover this lack. When the studio light fails our best critic enters and discloses in a few moments what we have been looking for all day long.
There should be in most pictures an opportunity of saying that which shall be interpreted by each one according to his temperament, a little place where each may delight in setting free his own imagination.
To account for the popularity of many pictures in both color and black and white on any other ground than that of mystery seems of times impossible. The strong appeal made to all classes by subjects containing mysterious suggestion is evidenced by the frequency of awards to such in photographic and other competitions.
The student of photography asks if blurred edges, empty shadows and vaporous detail mean quality. They certainly mean mystery, which when applied to an appropriate subject signifies that the artist has joined his art with the imagination of the beholder. He has therefore let it out at large usury.
A cottage near a wood may be a very ordinary subject at three in the afternoon, but at eight in the evening, seen in palpitating outline against the forest blackness or the low toned sky, it becomes an element in a scheme of far larger dimensions. The difference between the definite and indefinite article, when coupled with that house, is the difference in the quality of the art of which we speak.
Mystery by deception is a misguided use of an art quality.
In photography one man delights in the etching point and cannot stop until he has made a net work all over his plate and led us to look at this instead of his picture, which, if good, would have been let alone—a clever device of throwing dust into our eyes. Another produces what appears to be a pencil drawing, and a very good imitation some of them are, but at best a deception. To make something look like something else is a perversion of a brilliant discovery in photographic processes, which offers the means for securing unity (and in this word lies every principle of composition) by adding to or subtracting from the first product.
This may involve the destruction of two-thirds or three-fourths of the plate or it may demand many an accent subtly supplied before unity is satisfied, before the subject is stripped of its non-essentials or before it may be regarded complete. Let such good work go on—and the other sort too, if you will, the stunts, the summersaults and the hoop performances, but in the dignity of photographic competitions give the deceptions, the imitations of other things, no standing or quarter.
No one will deny the interest there is in a sensitive, flexible line and in the rendition of mass by line. But photography is an art dealing with finished surfaces of perfect modelling, and workers in this art should preserve the "nature " of their subject. The man who feels line had better etch or use a pencil.