Many artists regard the hanging of their work at the Royal Academy almost as an accolade. So too with photographers. In the 1880s, the exhibitions mounted by the Photographic Society were regarded as the premier event. However, several of its members were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Society's emphasis on scientific as opposed to aesthetic matters.

As time went on differences between the photographic scientists and photographic artists became greater and more acrimonious, and Henry Peach Robinson was becoming increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Photographic Society to recognise that there was an artistic dimension as well as a scientific one to photography. The Photographic News for 19 August 1892 pinpointed the problem:

"If photography is ever to take up its proper position as an art it must detach itself from science and live a separate existence."

Commenting upon the proceedings of the Photographic Society, Robinson wrote

"For years art has scarcely been mentioned... The feeling that art had nothing to do with the Society became so pronounced two or three years ago that one of the officials expressed his opinion that papers on art may be tolerated if they could be got and there was nothing better to be had...."

The circumstances which led to the final breakup between Robinson and the Photographic Society were relatively trivial, but they were the last straw, and led to the resignation of Robinson and George Davidson from the Society. At that time Robinson was a much respected Vice-President of the Society, and had been a member for many years, and his resignation was followed by that of several other distinguished photographers of the time.

In May 1892, a few months after the disastrous Council meeting which had culminated in these resignations, Robinson founded the Linked Ring, a brotherhood consisting of a group of photographers based in London, pledged to enhance photography as a fine art. Famous members of this brotherhood (which was by invitation only - one could not apply for it) included Frank Sutcliffe, Frederick Evans, Paul Martin, and Alfred Stieglitz.

Though the formation of this group was, as their publicity indicated, "a means of bringing together those who are interested in the development of the highest form of Art of which Photography is capable", it is also very likely that serious photographers were now trying to distance themselves from the growth of photography for all, brought about by the introduction of simple cameras. The idea that anyone could press a button and take a photograph caused the more dedicated to look for new techniques which the "snap photographers" would never aspire to.

The brotherhood put on a number of exhibitions and sought to encourage the work of innovative photographers, including work by non-members. Its first major exhibition took place in November 1893, and was known as the Photographic Salon, a title chosen deliberately, in order to associate itself with painting exhibitions, where the same term was used. The exhibition was very well received, and for a number of years - up to the group's demise, it was an important annual event for photographers both in England and abroad. The Link's annual, "Photograms of the year", became world famous.

By 1901 some of its members were boldly stating that the Linked Ring had demonstrated that "pictorial photography is able to stand alone and that it has a future entirely apart from that which is purely mechanical."

A few years after the formation of this brotherhood, a similar reaction to the photographic establishment was emerging in America, where the Photo-Secession was formed.

Many of the more influential members of the Photo-Secession also became members of the Linked Ring, and discontent began to arise because of their domination of the Ring. At the 1908 exhibition of the Salon, photographers discovered that many of the exhibits (over 60%) were by Americans. It was not so much their quantity as their style which angered many British members of the Link. F.J.Mortimer, at the time Editor of the influential magazine "Amateur Photographer", organised at its offices a "Salon des Refusés" of pictures not admitted to the Salon. Meanwhile the British members of the Link, being in the majority, changed the rules for the following year's exhibition, this leading to the resignation from the Brotherhood of several influential Americans including Stieglitz and Clarence White. The success of Mortimer's exhibition, together with internal strife within the Brotherhood after these Americans had resigned, led to the Linked Ring being dissolved. In its place came the London Salon, their first exhibition being held in 1910.

The Salon continues to this day, and its original interest, with photography as art, and to "encourage that class of photographic work where there is distinct evidence of artistic feeling and execution" remains the same. However, membership is by invitation only, and this exclusivity has resulted in many exceptional photographers who would sympathise with the aim of the organization ignoring it, considering the movement to have become somewhat pretentious.

(The picture, reproduced from Amateur Photographer, shows the Salon's exhibition hall in 1902)

© Robert Leggat, 2002.