Heinrich Kühn

Big Pictures

EXHIBITION Feb 24 — Apr 21, 2007

At Kicken I the exhibition “HEINRICH KÜHN: BIG PICTURES” spotlights the sensational discovery of large format works made by Europe’s most venerated representative of Pictorialism. On display are 12 extremely rare, early large format prints by photographer Heinrich Kühn.
Carl Christian Heinrich Kühn (1866-1944) was born into a wealthy mercantile family in Dresden. He went on to become one of the most important and influential photographers at the turn of the last century. This was an era characterized by cooperation and participation on an international level that was unique in the field at the time. Kühn shared an enduring friendship with the great American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, corresponding with him extensively about exhibitions, questions of aesthetics and technique, as well as about the politics affecting the field. Kühn also remained
in contact with other international colleagues including Eduard J. Steichen, Frank Eugene Smith, and Gertrude Käsebier. That Kühn’s work garnered significant recognition in America is evidenced by the fact that Stieglitz exhibited it in his New York gallery “291“ and by the inclusion in 2 issues of Camera Work, Stieglitz’s quarterly publication.
Today, Kühn’s photography serves to effectively clarify the intent of artists working in the often misunderstood Pictorialism epoch. These photographers were not attempting to imitate the look and subject matter of painting; their interests lay in setting the benchmark by which photography could be viewed as a valid form of artistic expression.
The artistic appeal of Kühn’s works is generated in large part by his use of gum bichromate printing, a reversal process developed in 1855 that affords a variety of delicate tonal values and polychromatic possibilities, and that produced more “natural looking” reproductions. The soft focus quality of gum prints also creates an “impressionistic effect”. Kühn caused a sensation among art audiences in Berlin when in 1896 he was the first to exhibit gum prints.
Kühn’s keen understanding and careful use of the modeling effects of light become readily apparent upon viewing his work. By keeping his compositions as austere as possible, he allows the essence of his subjects to unfold in an atmosphere that imparts a nearly perceptible feel of timelessness.
In 1902, Kühn wrote a book about gum printing that provides us with an explanation for his intense dedication to the use of a natural tonal scale in his work. An indication that this interest would also become a dominant theme of his later work is evidenced by his definition of photography written in
1921: “By photography we understand a pictorial representation expressed in an unbroken intermingling of tones, created and conveyed by the effect of light.”* [Heinrich Kühn: “Über die Technik der Lichtbildnerei“(The Photographic Technique), 1921]