Cities

Photographers

Albums

Complete texts

Urban Photography in 19th century Bruges, II

The Mentality of the Images

As a Reminder

My interest in about a thousand 19th-century archival photographs of Bruges stimulated my senses, left me feeling estranged and raised more questions than it answered. The photographs posed problems and generated ambitions that were very diverse, sometimes contradictory in nature. From the beginning, my ambition was to be neither historically inclined nor a theoretical visitor to this body of work, but to defend and support an understanding of the images. Probably for this reason, it has resulted in an awkward simultaneity of several levels of perception at once: photographically critical insights in parallel with methodology, a structural approach alongside historical research, urbanism versus architecture, printed cards and lithography. Following the first section, here are a few major lines of direction, indicating the state of affairs with which Part 2 resumes.

1. Today, the sources of this material are no longer commercial, but institutional enterprises. The photographs are now preserved in archives and museums, each with their own specific objectives. Municipal archives are there for the city, not for the photography, as would be the case for museums. In the archives, one is concerned with subject matter. In museums, they are interested in the image. One can only do justice to these photographs by way of a combined attention to both subject and image. The starting point is always that a photograph is a form that imports some sense to its subject matter. Remove either of the two, the form or the subject, and we can no longer have a sense of the image. In the archives, one forgets that the photographer could do nothing else but make targeted choices; in the museum, people forget that the photographer had no choice but to record the subject he was asked to record. Without a stereoscopic reading of form and subject, these pictures remain unreadable. Especially from the perspective of today's increasingly self-aware culture of photographic images, it is crucial to stand up for the significant import of the subject matter. Not only does the importance of urban photography need to be defended, but also the import of urban photography in each city's own history. Urban photography was not just a documentation of an immovable patrimony, but was itself a photographic patrimony, with its own crucial role in the mentality of each city.

2. It is the heuristic premise of this study that urban photography actively provided a contribution of its own to the self-awareness of the city and its politics. Photography was a fully-fledged part of the culture of Bruges: its visual statements deserve the same attention as 19th-century printmaking or painted cityscapes, as the 19th-century novels in which the city was so often both decor and protagonist. The dichotomous wrangling with the new city was taking place at the same time that the old city absorbed the primary commitment of a large part of 19th-century culture. In novels, poetry and painting, its paradoxical presence was being questioned in every possible manner. It is therefore unthinkable that photographers and their clientele could possibly have escaped that sensibility.

Which forms did photography develop in order to play an active role in all this? Are those forms aesthetically distinguishable? Gaining insight into the aesthetics of these images is as important as insight into their politics. This is a maximized interpretation of what photography can do, an interpretation barely confirmed by the photographers' official commissions from the city. Municipal authorities were very economical with photographic commissions. With the rare exception, I have seen virtually no photographs that were used as preliminary studies for, or in defence of, urban policy. It seems as though the photograph was not a very good argument. Its effect was always purely punctual, in a broad ideological context, as a creation of an atmosphere in which to interpret a global sense of the city. This explains the tremendous interest in photography on behalf of visitors. Urban photography articulated a style for experiencing the city, a style that formed an implicit foundation for municipal policy. Part 2 is about that style, including an investigation into the issue of the restoration.

3. The objectives of museums and archives unravel our relationship to this visual heritage, but the economy of the photographic energy itself produces a further shredding. One need only think of the difference between a photographer and a painter: the latter usually concentrated on a single work, while the former repeatedly worked on a series of exposures - in the 20th century this was with rolls of film, in the 19th century with a number of glass plates. The photographer worked in the framework of a neatly arranged session, the painter on an individual work. The series was not only a unit of practicality, but also a unit for defining substance and content. Later, this principle of the series would progress further. Having taken various exposures, the photographer then made up a set for presentation. This final set was the actual work of the photographer, but the logic of commerce, which weighed far more strongly in photography than its omniscient narration, meant that photographers could easily remove their images from the presentations and sell them individually. This 'by piece' principle on the part of the photographer-trader is diametrically opposed to the principle of the series, which defined the photographer-author's work and thought. The coherence of the series was consequently set aside for the benefit of the separate piece. This explains the very low number of coherent series', the images having been torn apart, the disassembling of the visual discoveries of the photographs after they were handed down. With all this, we have lost one of the most important keys to the city's specifically photographic articulations. This is also the reason for the distinctions between the different sources we are looking at: the very few (crucial) complete series', a number of incomplete series', usually preserved as fragments, but most of all, a great deal of 'loose' material.

Researching a Photographic Archive

Two types of problems govern the study of photographs in an archive or museum collection: the tension between the archive as a whole and the selection taken from it, and the tension between the original print and the reproduction produced for further reference.

It is essential to first look at all the images in the archive. Preselections made by the archivists only produce an interpretation of the collection. It is in the marginal extremes that surprising insights arise. The result of such an initial acquaintance is a global sense of the material and the lines of strength of the collection as a whole. Some images stand out for their quality, others for their interrelationships, but the primary thing is always the aesthetic power of the images. This quality determines the power of expression of any picture. That a gaping chasm separates the aesthetic sensibilities of the 19th century and the 21st century is obvious, but once that banal conclusion is drawn begins the formation of an historic sensibility and identification: it is to a certain extent possible to feel the past. Every public collection moreover has the task of making its heritage accessible to new generations - who obviously also have different sensibilities. But people still have to invest that patrimony with their own sensitivities. Such an historic patrimony now lies before us, and it is now that we have to experience and use it.

A second tour of the entire archive - preferably with a fair bit of time in between - serves to produce a broad selection of the material with which we will set to work. Intuitive responses from the first session are put to the test. Strong individual works and series' are selected for reproduction. In this phase, irreversible paths are selected, problems may not be anticipated and solutions may be made more difficult. At the same time, other paths are clarified, other problems brought into sharper focus and certain characteristics of the archive brought into context. Here, we say good-bye to the illusion of completeness on behalf of a number of hypotheses related to person and time. Digital reproductions are provided at this point.

From here on, we work only with the reproductions. Digital prints give a good impression of the subject and the character, a less satisfying impression of the light and the details, and none at all of the specific characteristics of the object - the format, the coloration and the quality of the paper. Nonetheless, this image repository serves less to verify the way the image 'really' is than to support a labour of memory. In this investigation, the image is less alive as an ever-present object than as a remembered, internalized image.

Images are obviously also things, but far less so than people may think. They exist primarily in the imagination. In order to understand them, we have to accept the fact that their work of imagining takes place inside us. This is an investigation into a mind set, a mentality. It is impossible for us to trace them back to their factual information, and the core moment is the valuation of their feeling. To comprehend this, familiarity with the spirit of the material is indispensable. This not only comes about through permanent contact with the objects of the study, but it presumes a constantly repeated work of memory. It is a labour of years, rather than months - let alone weeks. A semiological attention to the specific organization of the visual content brings me close to the letter, but it can hardly bring me any closer to the spirit of the image.

This brings to mind the debate about the advantages and the disadvantages of the illustrated lecture on art. People often presume the necessity of standing before the original, or at the very least working with reproductions, but a great deal can be said to refute the presence of illustrations. Images only really exist in the mental space allotted them by each individual member of their audience. What he remembers, what he imagines at the end of the description he receives, is crucial. Knowledge of images presupposes their internalization, and this then means that the object is no longer present. In other words, internalization is only possible in the absence of the image, and for this, our vulgar information materialism has neither the imagination nor the patience. Nonetheless, insights come in the shape of an aftertaste, an echo. There has to be space for this to reverberate and resound, and seeing the image does not preclude that space. The actual working instrument is not the print in the visual databank, but the memory of the original, the 'dream image' in the archive.

The Narrative Monument as a Symbol of the City

The core of a European city is its monuments. Monuments polarize urban space and crystallize the city's history. Each walking tour is marked out by monuments that instantly recall the density of the past, against the diffusion of the present, the routine and trends of urban life. Facing the spatial parataxis of old and new, the monument determines the historic narrative. Every monument 'tells'. Every monument gives testimony, bears witness. The monument itself is depersonalized: novels and illustrators colour it in with human qualities. Its role is to know and to keep guard. Monuments are the protective - therefore to be protected - memory of the city. Facing the agility of the passions (modernization is nothing but this) the monument is the incarnation of tragic continuity, is tragic because it is powerless. Facing the apparent clarity of structure, the monument establishes the now-speechless density of a dreamed history: a nightmare from which the liberated can awake in the present.

Only against this Romanesque background can the photographers' options be felt in all their complexity. If one bases everything on the technical foundations of photography, these images are registrations, with chemistry and optics then establishing the image as a document. But these images are permeated with the imagination sketched above. In their structure, they aimed not for a loose collection of factuality - by which the photograph is reduced to document - but provided a framework within which to be able to envision a coherent whole, a courteous and relevant meaning. The old exposure technique allowed no room for sloppy, inattentive snapshots. The exposures had as yet no knowledge of the crumbling photographic moment, but are images to the full extent of the word, which is to say meaningful images, because they are coherent, a Gestalt.

Photography had two basic forms at its disposal, in order to structure photographic thinking about the city and its monuments: the vertical and the horizontal image - the portrait and the landscape. Vertical, the monument was presented as an isolated, exalted, a solo performance. Horizontally, an environment was placed around the monument, one with which it engaged in a multi-voiced dialogue. We recognize the basic forms of the dramatic imagining: a soloist's aria compared to the ensemble and chorus.

The City as Model: The City in Crisis

The 19th century invited the past to be a part of the present. Monuments represented that past. These silent witnesses had answers for contemporary problems put into their mouths and pressed onto their lips - how to build a democracy, how to give it shape: the past as a ventriloquist.

It was now no longer the monument - the palace or cathedral - that formed the reference point for the genius of a society. It was the city as a whole, a union of monuments and residences. The ensemble - the teamwork - was an expression of the art of harmonization, and had to provide faith in the 'doability' of democracy. The chorus of the monuments and their environment formed a statement of faith for a new policy: museums and cities were the citizens' exempla. The safekeeping, interpretation, exploitation and transformation of patrimony were essential to democratic politics.

Unlike the museum, the city implied that abstract democracy is anchored in local things. If democracy is an abstract idea, its practice takes place in local elections. Political power and symbolic reference no longer transcended, but were a municipal affair. The democratic generality unavoidably passed along the particularity, an exaltation of the local as a condition for the exaltation of a very abstract national democracy. (Photography was the technique condemned to this ideological need: it unavoidably set itself apart from the concrete and the local, and could at the same time widely distribute that particularity, whereby it again became abstract. Photography is an oxymoron: the concrete abstraction.)

Between democracy and photography lay a fundamental homology. The city too landed in a field of tension between an (abstract) theory of urbanity and the irreducible uniqueness of each separate city. In the monument, the city was ideally visible. With its monuments, each city distinguished itself from all others. The monument was its identifying mark. The first half of the century, with its lithographic-picturesque consciousness, invested in the symbolic capital of each particular city. The second half of the century objectified that symbolic investment and investigated urbanism. There was no longer a description of the city as such (that increasingly became just a matter for tourists), but an analysis of how a city achieved the order and laws of urbanism. With this, the peculiar characteristics of the local were undermined on behalf of general, structural references.

Photography was a paradoxical - not to say perverse - visual technique that was able to use only the local and unique as its subject matter, but which took place through an optical-chemical procedure that was radically uniform and universally applicable. Photographs showed concrete places, but by way of a single denominator. As the century progressed, this technique was increasingly more synchronized in its tensions between observation and law, between the exception and the rule, with tensions that were also the tensions of the democracy. The strain between particularity and things becoming uniform was a strong determining factor for how people associated with the 19th-century city. The increasing comparability of all cities - the disavowed trauma of tourism - heralded the disappearance of their differences and thus also the beginning of indifference. With this, the mortality of cities became visible: what died was the uniqueness of these creations. They continued to exist, but with ever-decreasing identity. At the end of the 19th century, the preservation of that identity was one of the central worries of the urbanists.

At that time, cities were dominated by decadence: Venice and Bruges made that connection clear (Mann, Rodenbach, d'Annunzio). The symbolic capital of the city was continuing to render itself only as the deficit of decadence. The city that modernized itself was liquidating its own symbolic capital. In this context, photography played a bizarre role. It was not in the service of the modernization, but of the declining symbolic value of the monuments. It confirmed the monument by documenting and recording it, which is to say de-symbolizing it. Photography emptied the monument of its motifs and its motives. Contemporaries barely seemed to notice that effect, but for us, the removal of the semantics of the motif by way of the photograph is more than obvious. Photography confirmed the crisis of the symbolic city by continuing to use it as its subject. On the other hand, photography reinforced the symbolic city by being in effect an asymbolic visual form. Photography thus modernized the old city while negating its truly new structure.

Between Monument and Intimacy

Monuments brought together the continuity and the survival strengths of a city, but this was also increasingly under the portent of a new mortality, the inescapable side effect of the reflection on urbanity itself. The art of building cities obviously also implied the inexperience and ignorance that cripples and destroys them. The monument in which the symbolic city was crystallized became objectified, cleaned up. What was not being torn down had to be brought back to scale. People restored monuments to an original state, stripped them of their appendages (which is to say of history!), turned them into public squares by arranging open spaces around them, like pedestals. The historic density of the monument - what it is all about - became uniform, thinned out, normalized. The monument won visibility and lost personality. It was no longer in dialogue with the urban network, but became a tautological caricature of itself. This cleaned-up, aestheticized monument continued to be an ideal object for photography, more visible than ever, but intrinsically diluted into a slogan. The period of just under a century of the urban photography covered in this study demonstrates these tensions and shifts between symbolic capital and its irretrievable destruction by functional rationalization.

The false exaltation and the factual destruction of a city's symbolic capital awakened the awareness of impermanence - of mortality - as a condition of the late 19th-century city. That the historic city could still live on as a corpse implied a different space, for completely different consideration and reflection. It was no longer the street but the interior, no longer the sober overview but the shrouded site, perfumed by light. The street was no longer a potential openness, as an historic scene, but an extension of an internalized intimacy. This intimacy is actually a mourning process, the requisite tonality of the city at the turn of the new century. Here, the mourning is not a statement about the city, but a self-supporting aesthetic and intellectual programme. It was an interpretive scheme by which the exalting discovery of local history listed and tilted in the awareness of its irrevocable unrealness. In his two novels about Bruges, Bruges la Morte and Le Carillonneur, Rodenbach, like Khnopff and Le Sidaner, was a crystal-clear guide through the mental climate of the fin-de-siècle city. The historic inner city specialized in a kind of 'being inside'. There was a conspicuous increase in a new visual form: the spy hole. There were fewer self-assured overviews, more tentative glances past a corner, a bridge, a tree. The anonymous Bruges - Promenades d'un Amateur-Photographe album illustrates that intimate view. This symbolist formation of images no longer lauded the symbolism of the monuments, but was instead a melancholy mourning for their decline.

Units of Urban Photography

By the 1920s, the fragment had become the new standard, something that the 19th century never revealed and never thought about. In the 18th century, the veduta - the prospect, or vista - had been the standard unit: a panoramic totality in which each city was described (not narrated) as a unique sum of its parts. The 19th century lived under, or to put it more strongly, lived in the shadow of the monument. The monument was central, but its power only expressed itself in the grip in which it held its environment. This implies an inherent discord: was the standard unit now the monument, or its environment? It is from this dichotomy that the difficulty in the identification of the archival material stems. Was this urban photography or was it architectural photography? The latter category had been integrating itself as an important photographic genre, with solid theoretical and historic support. The former category, in contrast, had virtually no points of reference. It is nonetheless clear that we would do no justice to the overwhelming portion of this archival material by calling it architectural photography.

Surrounding the monuments in many 19th-century photographs are complexes of buildings, appearing not as noise at the margins of the image, nor as a flat coordination, but as a clear unit, with the monument in its surroundings. The tourist terminology spoke of a 'view' (vue). 'View' was in fact a designation for the tourist activity, not a designation for the subject matter. What motifs did the view generate? Not fragments, not panoramas, but a quantity, a unit of environment. In a view, a series of elements (buildings, water, public squares, trees) can be recognized as a single living unit that is being considered, reflected on in the photograph. The tourist was led by the guide to the places where he could see that unit. From a specific vantage point (a set of optical coordinates), he saw the multiplicity of structures as a unit. That unit was also actually present, but only from that standpoint. The placement of the viewer makes the subject visible.

A view is the effect of the structures working in unison, the rare effect that separate elements can suddenly seem to belong together as a clear ensemble. This belonging together proved that harmony was possible: if it was possible between the buildings, then why not amongst their inhabitants (thinking about the city was always thinking about democracy)? This belonging generated an environment (also in the sense of an embrace, an atmosphere). The environmental effect usually started out from a monument that radiated circles of atmosphere and symbolic associations, fanning outwards. Conversely, the surroundings reinforced the building like a resonating box. The rich - but forgotten and so difficult to feel - tradition of lithographic urban views (such as the Vedute Pittoresche della città di Bologna album by Antonio Basoli, from 1833, or the Album Pittoresque by Joseph Octave Delepierre, 1837-1840) brought the 'descriptive' staging of the 'view' to perfection. Photography then went on to build further on that tradition.

There is in fact a problem in the transition from the urban print to the urban photograph. Draughtsmen and lithographers both could subtly modulate their subject matter - altering proportions, adding or deleting details, light and shadow, dramatizing clouds. With these means, they could plastically reinforce the unit of the image. In principle, such means were not available to the photographer, even though in practice, they tried all kinds of interventions to nullify that reality. The photographer then had his photographic framework at his disposal, with which he imposed a very inflexible structure and definition onto his image. The poetry of the photograph is not demonstrably a creation of the photographer, nor is it comparable to that of the lithograph. Indeed, the poetry of the photograph can convincingly be attributed to the subject itself. If the lithographer staged, then the photographer appeared only to frame. The lithographic print spontaneously accentuated the monument, while the photograph fatally laid out all the elements in an identical mode. The lithographic print was an aria with a user's manual. The photographic print was a chorus determined by the part-song of the chosen theme.

Corpus 3: An Anonymous Masterpiece: Bruges - Promenades d'un Amateur-Photographe

This album, now in the Bruges Municipal Archives, is unsigned and undated. All 27 pages, with stitched cardboard covers and each bearing a single photograph, have been cut out, without being numbered. The original structure of the album is consequently no longer recoverable. The pages are now found throughout the entire archive, with the exception of ten images still in the original cover. The photographs were glued in, with a subtle cream-coloured border about a centimetre thick, on a sheet of off-white. An attractive, handwritten title page with the text, Bruges - Promenades d'un Amateur-Photographe, gives us the author's purpose, as well as his intention to remain anonymous. The maker made himself known to be a person who took walks and was an amateur photographer.

With this description, the maker in fact presented himself as a professional photographer with no commercial ambitions, typical of the fin de siècle. Such a position was defended and upheld by such photographic clubs as the Cercle Photographique de Bruges (1887-1922), which would begin publishing the magazine Vers l'Art in 1905. The local elite were members. The designation of the promenade or 'walk' also says a great deal. New photographic equipment was by this time available to the marching photographers. Previously, photography had been a laborious, physically demanding activity allowing no reconciliation with the freedom and the improvization of the casual walk. In this period, the walking tour and the bicycle tour were new recreational activities, a new way of getting to know the city and its surroundings. It was certainly no coincidence that prior to this album, it is impossible for us to find so many images of the outskirts of Bruges, with greenery, parks, gardens and pastures.

These pictures were taken in the summer, in strong sunlight. That atmosphere is extremely rare in the other material. The attention it paid to the parks and greenery of the city permitted a gentle play between stone and trees: the city as a garden (was there some connection with the municipal parks service?). Inside the city, the photographer saw monuments from exceptional perspectives. He redefined the views. He made the city into what was in principle an endless series of possible views, which were as many alternatives to the canonized views of the city. The album shows surprising variations, subtle shifts, new poetic suggestions concerning familiar monuments. At work here was a photographer who used vantage points and framing on behalf of a very intimate declaration of his love for the city.

The images are more often vertical than horizontal. The photographer exploited the 'above and below' arrangement in preference to the prevailing 'next to'. The pictures have a vertical, rearing dynamic, indeed not that of the majestic portraits of monuments by Fierlandts or Daveluy, but in a progressive build-up from below to above, from close by (in front) to far away (at the top of the image), from left or right front to high centre. The photographer cared more about what was in front (low and close to his vantage point) than about the height in the image. For this reason, he emphatically anchored his images in the weave of the city, which was, after all, the primary material for each of his walks.

His promenades were not like those of the tourists, but circled around them. The series therefore did not take over the city and make it its own, but tried to explore and feel it; did not spell out the city's identity in its monuments, but conversed with the city from as many vantage points as hypotheses. It questioned the life in the shadow of its history. This is also the tenor of the work of Khnopff and Rodenbach, but in their work, life had bowed to melancholy. Here, it is sunny and discrete. The album is loving and slightly paternalistic.

The series is unique in the ability of its images to say 'I' - not an authoritarian I, measuring itself as an equal to the subject, but one that mused, experienced these monuments as background. The photographer continually made connections between the place where the walker stood and the monument, as a reference point. This lends many of the pictures a refreshing movement from close by to far away, from the daily life of the city to its historic character. No other series speaks with such grace and charm, nor in such an intimately experienced manner. None of the images is actually naïve. The whole is most of all serene. The series adds an extremely original voice to the canon of our visual image patrimony.

Bruges and the Neogothic Restoration

The modernization of Bruges did not take place in its adaptation and renewal, but in the renovation of its historic identity. Historicizing was simply an aspect of the modernization: the one implied the other. Bruges is today still a conscious construction of the 19th century. The city that thinks of itself as old is an historic fantasy. It is not a phenomenon of the past, but the result of political choices and conflicts, of urban and architectural theories, of art history and contemporary artistic sensibilities, as well as religion. Artists, art historians, architects, ideologists and the clergy played a major role in the debate. Based in Bruges, British neo-Catholics defended a Catholic restoration, and had branches all over Europe. T.H. King, and even more importantly, James Weale, lived in Bruges and strove to realize a project that was religious, social and aesthetic in nature. The fascinating tale of this hundred-year ideological colonization - broken off by World War I - deserves far more attention than it has thus far received. Key figures in this neogothic project were Jean-Baptiste Bethune, Louis Delacenserie and Canon Adolf Duclos. They made themselves heard in publications and at congresses that commanded broad international followings. In addition, they made use of illustrations produced in both traditional graphic printmaking and photographic techniques.

How was photography used by the neogothic revival? The municipal theatre, completed in 1869, which had been the subject of so much objection (the architect was Gustave Santenoy) was the last effort made to bring the city up to date. It was built under a liberal city government. In the 1870s, a Catholic City Council came into power. A severe neogothic restoration consequently became official policy for decades to come. Under Major A. Visart de Bocarmé (1876-1924), alderman for public works, A. Ronse (1876-1903), and the city architect, Louis Delacenserie (1870-1892), the city carried out a subsidized policy of restoration and renovation 'in the Bruges style'. Repeatedly, objections from the Royal Committee for Monuments and Landscapes to interventions they felt were too uniform and orthodox were ignored. This was municipal policy intended to combat the plastering over of facades and promote the use of brick. In pamphlets and policy measures, the city rejected everything that was not local (styles, such as French or Italian were considered alien), not Christian (a classicist style with no religious meaning) and not part of the city's own specific tradition (the modern, liberal style). Urbanist issues clearly had a broader commitment at stake: the building of a city of orthodoxy.

Was this neogothic architecture (new construction and rigid restoration) photographed? It was - unavoidably so, given that there were ever more such interventions being undertaken - but rarely as a contemporary architectural subject. Photography (as far as it is represented in the collections we refer to) shied away from all current developments inside and outside the city. There are no pictures of the Stübben neighbourhood, of the Zeehaven, nor of local industry (with the exception of Lebon's distillery series), nor of either of the two railway stations. Delacenserie's major projects were rarely recorded. Photography simply did not consider the neogothic one of its themes. Was this because it did not fit in with the Bruges image, or because the whole city was becoming neogothic, so that every photograph was a self-evident reinforcement of the restoration's success? By 1900, Bruges must have had a profoundly muted appearance. It had become a neogothic city, a fantasy city, so that the décor-like impression that is so conspicuous in the Neurdein photographs cannot be attributed to the photographic form, but to the subject matter itself.

Tourists were scrupulously not pointed in the direction of the neogothic, for the neogothic was a success only in as far as it did not attract attention as being something new. But for a limited audience of architects, government functionaries and clients, a specifically architectural photography did evolve, and it can be placed principally after the end of the 19th century. The Album Ronse by Alfons Watteyne, the Cornelius Gurlitt album with work by an unknown photographer, Aubry's photographs in l'Émulation, the Maes publications of unsigned photographs: this is a surprising body of objects of prestige, following a very different form and presenting a completely different image of Bruges. Most emphatically, these are not urban, but architectural photographs.

In these architectural photographs, the care with which these works developed their views of an environment was no longer of interest. The building itself was cut out of its context and made autonomous. The standpoint of the architectural photographer did not identify itself with that of the walking visitor. Instead, the perspective was now determined entirely by the building. The photographer did not promenade past the façade, but had to photograph it from the standpoint of the architect's drawing board. In the same way that no standpoint is assumed in the vertical design of a façade, the architectural photographer intended to neutralize all standpoints. The vantage point feels slightly forced, artificial and abstract. The analysis of the building takes precedence in its synthetic impression. Not having been thought up as a result of the walking tour, the visit or trajectory, these images are extremely stable in character. They register their subject, do not glide past it. The accent lies in the internal, decorative dynamic of the facade (in, for example, the Maes photographs), in the specific effect of the volume of a monument (very evident in the Gurlitt album). It was no coincidence that Duclos published their Art des façades, for the façade was the calligraphy of Bruges. The Album Ronse likewise presented itself as a book of models for the calligraphy of Bruges façade design.

This photography did the opposite of what urban photography did: it banned history. The city's historic identity had been engulfed by its restoration. The past had been made contemporary by the builder and the photographer, made part of the contemporary moment in which the city and the photograph were both created. This photography, in short, was a kind of turning around of the past, not of what had passed, but of what had a future. Suddenly, it was no longer a narrative, and it was certainly not a picturesque photography that people could perceive, but a photography that was businesslike, objectified and collated. These were not an articulated succession of images, but a serial parataxis; not a syntagma, but a parallel circuit. In them, there is no city with streets and vistas to be found. The spatial dynamic of the trajectory and the viewing hole through the grooves of façades have been replaced by the dynamic of the volumes themselves, which the Gurlitt album worked through in a fascinating way. The monuments here exchanged their potential for fantasy into a plastic potential for form, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional. The monuments were no longer being brought into relationships and in dialogue with elements beyond themselves, but were viewed exclusively as an internal structure.

The buildings in these pictures were sooner seen as examples of types than as unique constructions in a place-specific history. Equally, in the Album Ronse, a typological reading was introduced as the standardized method for recording facades: the unique building had by now been resolved into a model. In the Maes images, decoratively inserted words, such as 'Maison' and 'Fenêtre', made this taxonomic approach very explicit. Historical narrative had been replaced by the dictionary.

The basic form for these photographs is their frontality. The diagonal, the tangential, the cross-motion that in a stroke binds various motifs to one another had been replaced by a frontally-placed dissection table on which the building was bound fast and cut open, as an example. This produced wondrously rational photographs that bear witness to great insight into architecture, but no insight whatsoever into the city. The building no longer spoke in dialogue, but in monologue. The subject was no longer the complexity of society (between past and future, and amongst citizens in a democracy), but an art-historical definition of a style.

It is no coincidence that the intimist, symbolist (and dead) city was formulated at the moment when the hard neogothic project definitively dominated the entire city. The neogothic destroyed the old, symbolic capital of history by making it contemporary. As an answer to this, it generated a symbolist rescue of at least its ghost. Edmond Fierlandts and Alderic Goethals had recorded the inexhaustible symbolic capital that history had gathered together, but three decades later, it had been intrinsically mortgaged off. The restoration laid a death mask across the face of the city.

1870: A Paradigm Shift: 'Photometry'

By 1870, photography had been introduced into all manner of public and scientific institutions as a scientific instrument - related to other instruments of observation, such as the microscope, the telescope and later, radiography. Astronomy, psychiatry, biology, criminology, anthropology and art history are but a few of the fields in which photography no longer served merely as an indirect support, but was now central to their organization. In all of these areas, photography was being employed as a reliable form of reproduction. The camera had become an observation tool, no longer a means of representation. Technically, photography had now become sufficiently manageable for people to be able to provide it with perfected observation protocols. In particular, it was now possible to impose ever more precise temporal controls on exposures, as the camera could be coupled with a clock mechanism. The uniformity and stability of photographic printing made photography a useful extension of the observing scientific eye. This explains the suggestion that in the reproduction of works of art (both two-dimensional and three-dimensional), a comparable scientific approach had now also established itself, producing new visual forms. What took place was nothing less than a radical breach with the picturesque, a paradigm shift towards taxonomic thinking.

Here, 20th-century photography began heralding its incipient arrival, a photography characterized by the elimination of semantics. For its scientific analysis, photography would cut the subject loose from its imaginary and empathic context and de-symbolize it into an exposed thing in its own right. In fact, this shift in the way photography was being employed is paradoxical, because photography was the ultimate instrument with which to register the unique. Indeed, it could not abstract that uniqueness into type and scheme. Photography, as the most reliable reproduction of the concrete, was dedicated to the service of an investigation of the abstract average, of a given type, school or style. Twenty years earlier - in 1850 - we had already seen another paradoxical application of photography, as an extension of the narrative mode, of the picturesque. Then too, a principle incompatibility had been at work, in that photography in fact confirmed or possessed few means for narrative.

In both modes, photography succeeded in expanding its own ontological boundaries and developing forms that, in the one case, awakened a great narrative and symbolic resonance and, in other cases, presented its subject matter according to the specific pertinences of the given investigation. Neither of the two modes truly succeeded in achieving the established objective, in producing either narrative or scientific photographs. For this reason, it is easy to read initiatives that were set up as scientific projects as aesthetic and vice versa, that the narrative images can easily be seen as reproductions. A photograph never became a lithographic print, and a photograph was never a structural reduction. But this partial failure gave photography new ambitions, resulted in a changed self-awareness of the medium and generated a new photographic thinking in terms of form. Photography that was specifically focused on architecture must also be thought about in the light of this scientific approach.

Photography for Architects: Prestige Publications

The perfecting of photoengraving, in phototype for example, made the development of new initiatives possible. Beginning in the 1890s, the Brussels-based architectural magazine, l'Émulation, began publishing what would eventually become a total of ninety handsome photographs, in large format. Printed separately on light, cardboard-reinforced paper, with attractive line framing, the objective was clear. Each photograph was not just a document, but also a prestigious printed object.

The photographs are of restorations and new building construction - this was a magazine for architects. The style of the pictures is extreme: perfect detail, precise framing and identification of the architectural object, at the expense of any references to the city or context, and an absence of any trace of city life, movement or activity. The lighting is even. The subject is firstly the façade, but often a vantage point was selected that accentuated the volume of the whole. These are not narratives, but strict, descriptive summaries, not dramatization, but an at once sobering and very exalting objectivity.

For the first time, photography here clearly spoke out on behalf and in the service of the architecture, not the tourist. In contrast to the city, which is a collective creation, architecture is the creation of an individual. It was precisely that collective and anonymous creator, the collective voice of the past, which was rejected in this new photography. The idea of the construct prevailed over the idea of the organism.

In the same triumphant style, under the leadership of Cornelius Gurlitt, the Historische Städtebilder published a series of interpretations of the historic monuments of Bruges. The sharpness and severity of these images (photographer unknown) gave all the monuments it included a contemporary patina. What felt like a very modern image outshone the age of the monuments themselves. No longer was anything being read in the past tense. Everything was in a timeless 'now'. In Der moderne Denkmalkultus, Aloïs Riegl discussed the contradiction between the value of age and the value of newness. In this architectural photography, the old appeared 'as new'. The value of age had been brought up to date by the very sobriety of the images. This created a play on time, a game not unrelated to that of photography itself. The past was not evoked in an historic fantasy, but had returned in the modern world. The photographic strategy dismissed every possibility of retrospection; the building had lost its power to attract the past and instead saw its historic character absorbed into the present. Urban photography is in fact chronotopic. This architectural photography cuts out all temporality. The dramaturgy of time had been abolished in an even and undisrupted 'now'.

These perfect images carried no ballast whatsoever, allowed no disturbance to enter their frame. They resonated in no conceivable sense, had been radically sanitized, disinfected. These are the cleanest, the most pristine of all the pictures taken of Bruges. In the same way that the restoration divested an edifice of its accretions, so too did these photographers strip down their subjects. The varnish is gone. The monument is in the nude, revealed. In these photographs, an entirely new visual presentation had been developed. It had shifted from city to building, from organism to construct, from time-bound to timeless, from dramatic synthesis to analytical formalism.

The Participatory Mode: Printed Postcards and City Monographs

In this same period, two further developments were taking place, which need to be seen in mutual contrast: the cards printed by the Nels firm, among others, and the city guides with photographic illustrations, including Promenades dans Bruges (1898), with text by Charles de Flou and photographs by Véron De Deyne and Jean Malvaux. As a product for the masses and by way of their illustrations, printed cards introduced the day tourist. Both the person purchasing the card and what can be seen in the image comprised part of what was taking place in the touristic city. The cards induced a participatory logic, far removed from earlier images, that were ever observing and studious, not 'I was here', but 'this is how it is or was'. The printed cards moreover slipped a number of non-photographic layers on top of the photography, in the form of colouring, text and sometimes collage. They united printing and photography, instead of separating them.

The city guides used inexpensive, heavily rastered photoengraving, published photographs alongside drawings, set images in the middle of the text, often removed the frame of the exposure by putting it in a vignette (giving the photograph a vignette form) and contouring (outlining or following the lines of the motif in the photograph). As a result, the photographs were given an emphatically plastic continuity with the text. In this most impure use of photography, the image ran over into text, and the act of looking became very close to the act of reading. The photographs were 'organically' slipped between texts, imitating the absence of a frame by looking through a gradual and soft transition into the white of the paper. What a contrast to the architectural photography, where the frame was so flawlessly precise, where the tracing of the line of the frame further accentuated its importance, and the sharpness and quality of the printing allowed for no suggestive lack of clarity whatsoever!

Printed cards and city guides therefore were a contradictory step, in many ways, to the typological architectural photography. They cancelled out distances, implied continuities between the tourist and the card, between the image of the city and being in the city. The reading of the city was replaced by forms of participating in the city.

The printed word and photographic images can stand side by side, without effort and enduring for a long while. In the city guides, and also in publications on urban structure, drawings are also found alongside photographs, the two alternating as problem-free equals. In Camillo Sitte's book, Der Städtebau (1889), a photograph of the Roman Pantheon is juxtaposed with a line engraving of the Via degli Strozzi in Florence and a charming art-nouveau engraving of the Wollestraat (Wool Street) in Bruges. For more than a half century after the birth of photography, these two visual languages performed cheek to cheek. They borrowed one another's purposes and effects in a high-spirited and untroubled 'impurity'. Only in the 1920s would there come an end to nearly a century of such 'impurity'.

This visual confusion was determined not only by the technical possibilities inherent to printing. Other ideas about photography also played a role. The photograph was continually being pushed towards the older print form, towards an image that was far less informative and affirmative. This allowed a suggestive, saturated handling of photographs that is no longer conceivable today. With great success, by the way, that tendency became the foundation for the photographic illustrations in Rodenbach's novel. Sharp, precise city images became un-sharp, dreamlike suggestions (see Paul Edwards' contribution to De Witte Raaf, issue xxx).

Corpus 4: Serial Projects: Watteyne and the Album Ronse [1]

Alfons Watteyne Jr. (1874-1964) compiled a sumptuous album with 106 photographs of the Bruges facades that had been renovated with restoration grants under the auspices of Alfred Ronse (alderman for public works, 1876-1904). Together with Ronse, Delacenserie (city architect, 1870-1892) and later Charles Dewulf (city architect, 1892-1904), the Catholic mayor, A. Visart de Bocarmé, had an appropriate team to carry out his very specific urban policy. With intellectual and art historical support from Adolf Duclos (and his Rond den Heerd magazine) and Bishop J.J. Faict, and with James Weale still in Bruges until 1878, the neogothic plan was carried out with extremely well-honed focus. The Watteyne album, a gift from Les Catholiques Reconnaissants, was an explicitly Catholic homage to the neogothic success story. The fact that it includes only private residences accentuates the civil success: the neogothic had become the standard architecture of the city's inhabitants, not just that of the government and the church.

This photographic homage nonetheless took advantage of a stylistic option of its own, in a strict, uniform presentation of dozens of facades, recorded according to an identical, dry protocol. There are no atmospheric views - such as Berssenbrugge would later produce of comparable facades. There is no attempt at interpretation, just consistent, neutral inventory. The photographer's style is emphatically anonymous. He pinned down façade after façade, frontal and centred in the image. Never is a context implied or indicated, to the left or to the right. Never is a dialogue introduced between different facades. Nor are any of the city's monuments introduced into the picture as a reference point. The result is an impression of the city such as we had thus far not come across in the archives: a scientific showcase instead of a narrative.

The inventory precluded a story, and with it any possible beginning or ending. It is an open series, without evolution in types or theories of restoration, without internal articulation, without hierarchy, but with stock, bureaucratic neutrality. This type of series is fascinating to our conceptualized aesthetic, satisfies our preference for a neutral-value reading and presentation, for mechanical, bureaucratic logic. The figure being referred to here was certainly Atget. Without specifically putting Watteyne in the same category, the synchronization found in Atget's project and a number of photographers in other cities is conspicuous: Watteyne in Bruges, Alexander Simays in Maastricht, August Stauda in Vienna. This was not the sumptuous architectural photography of the prestige publications discussed above. This photography found thoroughness, comparison and neutrality more important than refined selection, subtle analysis or an eye for nuance and complexity.

Corpus 5: A Discovery: Clément Salmon, Municipal Engineer and Photographer

In a review of the photographs in the archives, a group of forty pictures stands out. They are very varied, but they are connected. A number of them have the initials C.S. inside the image, while others bear the complete signature, C. Salmon, in the same handwriting. Some had been pasted onto cardboard and have traces of rust from thumbtacks. The images are dispersed throughout the archives. One portion of the photographs comes from two sets of records expropriated in 1911. A handwritten description by Salmon of one of the houses is included in the folder, along with blueprints and photographs. The photographs are arranged in two series': A) for the Arents House, and B) for the House with the Seven Towers. These are numbered photographs that show an attractive progression of the street, the façade, the back of the house, the entryway, the stairwell and the various levels of the house. The pictures were taken in winter.

What do the initials or the signature in the photographs actually mean? Was Salmon using them to authorize or confirm the validity of the document in the folder, or was he in fact claiming authorship of the images themselves? A modest inquiry confirms the suspicion that when someone signed an image, it was usually the person who made it. Was Clément Salmon also a photographer?

Salmon (1864-?) was Bruges' first municipal engineer. He succeeded Charles Dewulf, the city's last official architect, in 1904. Salmon studied civil engineering in Leuven, worked on railroads in France and Greece for the Société Parisienne Entreprise des Chemins de Fer, as well as in Antwerp, and in 1900, he began working for the technical services department of the city of Bruges. His appointment was controversial, the dissention centring on the contradiction between architecture and engineering. The former represents an artistic sensibility, the latter functionalism. People felt the city's aesthetic plans were being threatened by a technician.

In the Directory of Photographers in Belgium, collated by Steven Joseph and Tristan Swilden, Clément Salmon, 'engineer-architect', is listed as the author of the 1899 publication, La Photographie des couleurs au point de vue pratique et industriel (Brussels). His residence is listed as 'Louvain'. Leonard Salmon (Limal, 1853-?) was also active in Leuven as an optics specialist and photographer, and as one of the founding members of the Photoclub de Louvain. Were the two men related? There are several indications that Clément Salmon may have taken photographs of his own.

Does the subject matter clarify anything about the photographer and the municipal engineer? The glued photographs once adorned a wall, thereby serving as an inspiring reference. According to Jaak Rau, [ref.?] the pictures came from the department of technical services. The house where James Weale lived is visible in one of the photographs. Was this an ode to an admired and enlightening example? In the provincial archives, there is a 'Salmon' photograph with an assignment for A. Duclos penned by hand on the back. Duclos had made his doubts about the appointment of a city engineer instead of a city architect publicly known.

By the time Salmon was appointed in 1904, the Ronse neogothic policy was the norm, the Stübben district had been designed, and Duclos, after a long posting in Pervijze, was back in Bruges. The Flemish Primitives exhibition had been held two years before. The campaign to restore the Gruuthuse house - begun in 1883 by Delacenserie - was now complete. Around 1910, the site became an important focus of Salmon's attention, following the city's acquisition of the Arents House. It is the subject of various photographs - besides those in the expropriations folders. Salmon was in charge of planning and construction of the garden and the connection between the Gruuthuse estate and the Arents House. One of the photographs shows the Groenerei waterway, photographed from the Arents House in the direction of the garden. The later Saint Boniface Bridge (1910-1911, Salmon & Vièrin) is pencilled in, and the handwriting of the codes and calculations is Salmon's. It is a fascinating document on the practical use to which photographs were put.

These pictures are more than a collection of working instruments. The use of some images (provided as gifts with the commission, pasted and hung on the wall), the choice of some subjects (the Weale residence), but especially the visual quality of the various exposures all indicate a serious investment in photography. It is not unthinkable that Salmon was also a member of the Brugse Cercle Photographique and that as such, he was a greater devotee of their poetic sensibility than of Watteyne's business-like strategy.

To date, the Salmon pictures include a number of city views, several architectural images and - remarkably - a large number of interior views with a conspicuous use of winter daylight shining in, providing a stunning tribute to the residential bourgeois interior, and which at the same time also has a noticeably intimate tenor. This engineer, to whom people so objected, had a very sensitive eye for light and for an intimate urban atmosphere. Objective fragmentation of the city into its architectural components was reversed into a subjective concentration on the spirit of the building.

On the Reading of Urban Photography

In browsing through hundreds of archival photographs, it is essential to see the differences amongst them, and to ponder and verify their relevance. There are differences in presentation (in album form or as detached series'), in structure (in closed or incomplete series'), in format, printing techniques, papers used, in whether the printing was photographic or photomechanical, and so on. So far, it has been what the photographs literally show that has claimed my attention. It was, after all, with the subject matter that the photographer said something about that subject matter. It was with what he recorded that he showed why he recorded it. The choice of his subject matter was already an interpretation thereof (as all realistic aesthetics contend). The elements shown within the frame formed a configuration. This gives us the key to the image: what one showed was already its interpretation.

As in portraits, the presence or absence of objects was the determining factor for what one presented in that portrait. Objects and passers-by consequently played the roles of significant extras. As in portraits, the use of even or of dramatizing light gave a crucial turn to the image. So too did the climate of the lighting in the architectural photographs (the choice of season, time of day, exposure, the presence or absence of sunlight) determine the mentality of these images.

Characters and Objects

These photographs, produced very slowly by a conspicuous apparatus mounted on a tripod, had an exceptional relationship to the coincidences and the timeliness of the environment and life of the city. The majority of the photographs held contemporary life at bay, outside the image. They did not wish to show what was related to time, only the elements that remained beyond time. They let it be known that the entire tradition saw the city as what remained, almost polemically cut out against the living city - the Trojan Horse of the fashionable, the modern, the trivial. In this material, we see conspicuously little of contemporary fashion, objects, means of transport (no carriages, no horse-drawn trolleys, no trams). It looks like a straightforward censure of urban life and gives an impression of a dead city. A few exceptional and rare pictures show what the city really looked like: lively and vivacious, with ordinary dress quite unlike the bourgeois costumes, with shops and shanties, with different generations of men and women. It could therefore be recorded, but people chose not to record it: their intent was to show the city, not the life of the city.

People had been far more tolerant with lithographic prints, which almost never lacked picturesque personalities in the actual clothing of the day, draping themselves at the feet of the monuments in stereotyped roles in a light and comical tone. This same censure applied to objects: no new building constructions in the photographs (one of Goethals's photographs with building structures emphasizes that obscuration), no advertising (one picture by Fierlandts is a surprise because it does show advertising), no objects in the streets, save a lone element here or there, just set down and looking a little too pretty - a wheelbarrow, a cart, a barrel. These too belonged to the vocabulary of the picturesque. They carry the status of the still life, not real life. The photographer had left or set them in the image to play a specific role. 'If they are in the image, they are only there because the photographer decided they should be there.' (Pool Andries). Their presence is no coincidence, but always intended. They convey meaning and intent.

In a few of the photographs in the Daveluy album, there is a uniformed man, who clearly came along as an extra to provide a certain accent for some of the images. He plays the role of man out taking a walk, his uniform neutralizing several figures standing on the pavement watching the whole picture-taking procedure. He himself stands staring at the Jan Van Eyck monument with potent wonder. At once, you see the theatricality chiselling its way into the image. There are coincidental, 'photographic' passers-by, but the figure on foot, as a role to be enacted, the audience in the image, as theatrical figures, the whole picture, as something that takes place, can all be read as a scene. This detail is a key, in the same way that understanding a certain letter combination provides the key to deciphering a secret code. In the same way that this uniformed man was overacting, so the photographer also viewed his subject, so the customer looked at the picture, and so must I. Here, the viewer was never the local resident, as he would be in 20th-century street photography, where the eye of the seeker synchronizes with the eye of the inhabitant, at the same height, the same speed and tempo as well. That was not the case in 19th-century photography, where a touch of the bombastic was always clutching at the camera and its operator. It is too flamboyant and gaudy, slightly comical (people who did end up in the picture found the photographer intriguing and amusing). The photographic eye cut straight through the perspective of those who lived in the street - indeed, set itself in opposition to them. The photographer's image had nothing to do with any visual activity on the parts of his fellow citizens, and he did not look at them, but was instead looking along with them. He analyzed, they absorbed. He eliminated, they accumulated. He produced an image planned in advance, while they curiously inspected the familiar. Photographers in fact very quickly came to understand that they undermined the grandeur of their observations by allowing that attitude to be explicitly quoted by a character in the picture, which explains the rare character of this very enlightening configuration.

Objects were also problematic. Nonetheless, everyone was familiar with the virtuosity with which, in a painted genre scene or nude, an arrangement of objects was turned into a vibrant still life. The objects were the signal of a realistic aesthetic and preserved intense emblematic potential in their fashionable appearance. When photography introduced objects of city life (often means of transport), the image blossomed with intense, resonant poetry: silent witnesses of city life, of people who lived there, their concerns and their industriousness. This provided an intriguing tension between the implications of a very traditional activity - transportation - with the absence of those who did the transporting. Both the very old labour and the old architecture were indications of a slow history, not a caustic modernity.

This reserve regarding the contemporary, the moderne and fashionable is the basic rule underlying this photography. Late 19th-century prints by Neurdein and Gustave Hermans shut out urban life as much as had the intimate images of the Amateur-Photographe and urban tourist. In contrast, the art of (impressionist) painting had by this time already developed an outspoken iconography of the modern, dynamic city, of its kaleidoscopic city life. In painting, city life and rhythm had become ever more emphatic themes of the latter half of the 19th century, but photography embraced an outlook that was diametrically opposed to contemporary painting. The fictions surrounding the historic urban décor could not be reconciled with contemporary urban living. City life was fashionable, modern and filled with symbols of its instability - in Bruges as elsewhere. Only the decor itself could support the orthodox programme. With extreme reservations where figures and objects were concerned, this photography - this most modern of media! - frontally opposed the contemporary urban iconography of the older media of painting and printmaking. It was practically reactionary in doing this, but in so doing, it - unintentionally - created the conditions for 20th-century photography: strict, radical and modern. By not admitting figures and objects, this photography envisioned itself as more objective and businesslike than it in reality was. It narrated with the drama of buildings, not with the drama of personalities or characters. That drama, however, is far more difficult to feel. Because of the misunderstanding of a neutral-seeming registration, this tradition was a prologue to modern photography. Precisely because it avoided the modernity of its own time, it became perfectly able to legitimize the modernity of the future post-war generations.

Light and Shadow

The light in the photograph was the light that was present around the thing being photographed. Whatever one photographed instantly brought its own light into the image. The lithographer could set light to his own hand, accentuate it, exaggerate it, but a photographer could not. Nineteenth-century contemporary (anti-picturesque) realism in painting, by the way, also inescapably expressed itself in terms of a new light. Painters wanted to capture the light of the subject itself, not drape a stylized light around that subject. What could not have been done otherwise in photography became the policy for painting.

Nineteenth-century picturesque prints used light to create drama. Even the clouds in the sky were filled with lighting effects. Streets and figures were made up of a brightly lit side and an aggressive shadow. The contrast was caricature, as the prints in the Album Pittoresque illustrate. The light cared nothing about whether it was believable, allowing everything to depend on the effect. It instantly let its fictional ambition be seen.

The light in photography set itself distinctly apart from that theatrical creation of light. Here there were no sharp contrasts, but rather a conspicuous coherency in the light across the entire image. Moreover, the sky in 19th-century photography was completely inexpressive. It was an empty, black space without any definition, a vacuum beneath which the subject was all the more exposed in the image. The motif was here not supported by the polarity of contrasts, not borne by a dramatic resonating box, not loaded with the tension of cloud formations, not spread out under the dome of a generous play of light. It was suspended in empty space.

If indeed any light can be identified - the images were mostly photographed in a diffuse, even light, so you never notice it - it was not a fantasy draped around the subject, but light that physically touched it, not a contrived light, but perceived light, perceived on the motif being photographed. The light therefore had a different ontological status. It also shifted from the top of the image down to the bottom, from heaven to earth. It does not hang there, above and around the picture, but is permanently fixed to the building. The light here plays an entirely different role: it sculpts the motif, drills itself into the volume by taking advantage of the contrast between the between the segments in the light and segments in shadow. The light thus becomes an instrument with which to analyze the building according to different strategies, with a decorative surface outlined by shadow. The light does not give drama and atmosphere, but objectifies, analyzes and describes. Daveluy produced am image of this kind of the Bruges City Hall.

Usually, the light was indeed diffuse, and consequently neutral. It had been set to non-active. The subject matter was not, as it were, put into the light. Its vocabulary was not conjugated with light. It was an important instrument that the photographer here stepped away from. The image was therefore more restricted, but - remarkably - actually purer and more concentrated. We do not feel the absence of a pronounced sunlight as a shortcoming. The image sits there, in uniform grey, without preferences or appreciations, without an analytical ambition, describing, and also gathering together, compiling. This diffuse light united all the elements in the image, instead of making them independent and self-sufficient. The precise definition of a classicalist view of architecture, urban and visual structure (one thinks of the late 18th-century tradition of landscape drawing by Valenciennes, Jones and others) was here replaced by a light that slid the various parts together like an accolade, rather than setting one against the other. Diffuse light interpreted a city and its architecture quite differently than bright, focused sunlight.

The photographers did not create the light in their images, but they did make choices in deciding to take their pictures under certain conditions, in diffuse light or bright sunlight, in a certain season, at a certain time of day, when the sun stood at a specific point, or in certain types of weather conditions. The anonymous album by the Amateur-Photographe, consequently, is conspicuously sunny, the Neurdien pictures preferably taken in diffuse light, and those of the Historische Städtebilder in clear weather, but not strong sunlight - enough light for analysis, but not enough for expressive contrast.

The light in 19th-century urban photography does not provide atmosphere, but climate. Atmosphere is explicit and emotional - it promotes identification with a fantasy, as in the picturesque tradition. Climate is an implicit and presumed basis in the image, a given, not an expressive addition after the fact. This light gives the image a clarity that is sooner cold than warm, and that brings out the mineral characteristics of photography, instead of adding sensual texture. Here, light is not the complex storyteller that it was in the prints. It is more about a strict amount of light, a mass, a uniform quality of light in which the motif finds itself. Only around the end of the century, with the Gurlitt album, did light become the great - extremely subtle - constructor of the images.

On the Structure of the Images

The photographer produced his images, and that producing was a kind of theatrical direction. In it, we distinguish three kinds of decisions: (1) the choice of the motif, (2) the arrangement or disposition of the motif, and (3) the 'approach' to the motif. [2] One first had to decide which city or which monument he was going to photograph, and this was a decision with significant logistical implications. The equipment had to be brought there, the assistant had to show up, and so on. This determined the location. The image was to a large degree the selected motif: for example, 'this is a photograph of the Belfort in Bruges'. Nonetheless, after the choice was made, there remained countless variations with which one might photograph the Belfort.

This explains the second decision: how he arranged the motif - with or without its surroundings, with or without objects and figures, and with what kind of light. This was the subject matter's 'mise-en-place', a direction in the sense of directing the elements around the motif. In urban photography, this decision was of essential significance: it was the crucial moment in which connections or relationships could be established between the central form and the background, between motif and environment. Given that the buildings could not be moved, this 'mise-en-place' was a question of the placement of the camera.

The import of this decision becomes very clear when we walk through the city with a set of photographs, in order to reconstruct the point from which the exposures were made. The various photographs of the Begijnhof bridge and gate, for example, show how, with a change of barely ten metres, here the Church of Our Beloved Lady rose above the bridge, and there it was the church of Saint Salvador, and how trees fell inside or outside the frame. It is always the same characteristic bridge, but crowned with different steeples. It is another image, of the city as well. There are moreover arrangements that regularly reappeared, such as the view of the monument seen through the street: the Belfort through the Wollestraat, Saint Salvador through the Steenstraat. Both are classics. The image assumed a conspicuous, orchestrated depth. Spatially, the monument became a visual solution, placed in the image like an optical objective. This form visualized, as it were, the trajectory of the tourist walking towards the monument.

A third decision concerned how the motif was approached: from a given height, following a given axis. If the first two choices mostly had to do with what was effectively seen in the picture, the third concerned how what was to be seen was shown. This choice installed the optical lines that supported the image, frontal or diagonal, from below or above, with or without something - space - in front of it. This last factor began to play a role around the end of the century (see the photographs by Berssenbrugge and Kühn in the first section of this text, in which this approach had become the core procedure of the photograph). In the majority of the pictures of Bruges, such emphatically optical drama was not employed. The nuances primarily rested in the divergence from the frontal viewpoint, in the subtle approach of a diagonal standpoint towards the monument. A soft landing of the eye on the façade was continually being anticipated. One was never frontally confronted (which makes Watteyne's strategy all the more conspicuous) or dramatically overwhelmed (as in harder framing). We see the façade appear in a slow, ambling rhythm.

By not immediately perceiving the build-up of the image in terms of a two-dimensional plane (hence as a plastic organization), but as the result of concrete actions with a camera, we can indeed walk in the footsteps of the photographer. The image unavoidably reveals something about the process by which it was made: not poetry, but poietica; not an analysis of form, but a reconstruction of decisions, of the creation process. We not only have an eye for the subjects within a photographic framework, but we also develop an attention to a collection of standpoints. In this way, a city becomes more than just the sum of its places of interest. Those standpoints have their own meaning and history. They are the incarnation of the mentality behind the images.

The Sequence as Articulated Text: The Daveluy Album

The selection of the subjects says something about the overall image that the photographer was creating. That choice explains what the public expected and what the photographer considered relevant. The indifference (or was it censure?) towards certain subjects says something about what people failed to see or simply wanted to ignore. That selection shifted over the decades. Some subjects remained, while others came and went. The incomplete series' were flexible, and a firm such as Neurdein could adjust to shifts in demand. They obediently followed their market and regularly sent photographers out to take new pictures. Completed series, contained in album form, did not have that flexibility, but were all the clearer because of it: once made, the decision was irrevocable. These were moreover limited to the volume of the album and consequently required greater precision. Finally, the sequence of the pictures in the album provided strong accents and indicated how the selection should be read.

In the Daveluy Album (1866, in the Royal Archive), the Belgian king was presented with Bruges in the form of fifteen images. The selection was small and consequently very sharp. These are the photographs: 1) the Belfort taken from the market, 2) the City Hall on the Burg, 3) the Brugse Vrije along the Groenerei, 4) the Groenerei, with a boat, the Van Zuylen tea house and the Belfort (taken from the Langestraat?), 5) the former Saint Donaas Proosdij on the Burg - now the court building, 6) the Jan Van Eyck square and the Academy seen from the Spiegelrei, 7) the statue of Jan Van Eyck, seen with a figure and the Rode Steen house in the background, 8) the Genua House in the Vlamingstraat, seen from the Academiestraat, 9) the Chapel of the Holy Blood along the Burg, 10) the Academiestraat from the Spiegelrei, with a figure, 11) the Toll House and the Genua House at the back, 12) the Vlamingstraat, with the Belfort, the Jerusalem Church and the Peperstraat (taken from the Molenmeers?), 13) the Gate of Paradise of the Church of Our Beloved Lady, the Toll House on Jan Van Eyck Square, and 15) the view of the Belfort and the Brugse Vrije, from the Groenerei, with the Meebrug bridge in the foreground.

One can see how often the Belfort tower returns as an opening theme: in a total of four pictures, numbers 1, 4, 11 and 15. The first opened the series with an imposing portrait taken from the right-hand side of the market square and devoted exclusively to the Belfort. The final photograph summarized the subjects already shown, now under the wing of the Belfort: the Brugse Vrije, a bridge and, implicitly, water. The whole series seems like an arch spanned across a principle motif and its persistent contextualization. The final image no longer shows the Belfort as architecture, but as the ultimate symbol of the city.

Another conclusion is four of the photographs (6,7,10 and 14) were taken from Jan Van Eyck Square. The Academy building received one distinct portrait, the little Toll House appears twice (at the side in nr. 8, as the main subject in nr. 14), and the statue was the explicit subject of one photograph (7). Moving around the Belfort on the Markt, the photographer concentrated mainly on two locations: the Burg itself (2,5 and 9), together with the back of the Burg on the Groenerei (3,4 and 15), and Jan Van Eyck Square. The two exceptions are the Jerusalem Church and the Paradijsportaal. The Vlamingstraat and the Academiestraat (the streets that connect the Markt and consequently the nearby Burg with Jan Van Eyck Square) fill another three pictures. There is consequently a strong spatial connection between the old commercial centre and the centre of government. Religious subjects are in the minority (three images: 9, 12 and 13) and, with the exception of the Blood Chapel adjacent to the Burg (9), were also sought outside the basic locations.

Looking at the social arenas that are implicitly referred to by the locations that were selected, we see that the seat of civil authority was the principle focus. Daveluy was implicitly telling the king a tale of municipal power. With the exception of the Toll House and the Genua House, the centre of commerce was decidedly vague, and that was veiled in artistic significance with the statue of Jan Van Eyck and the Academy building. Finally, the city's religious significance was all but completely muffled. The historically fascinating but parochial little Jerusalem Church is the only church edifice we see at all. Saint Salvador is nowhere to be seen and the Paradijsportaal just a very small, albeit much-loved segment of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe church. The transitions between the three social arenas - politic power, commerce and art, and religion - do not follow any clear classification, but are sooner subtly interwoven and alternated.

Placing the selected locations on the physical map of the city, we are also shifted back and forth: from the Markt (1) and the Burg (2,3,4,5) to Jan Van Eyck Square (6,7,8), back to the Burg (9), again back to Jan Van Eyck Square (10,11), a quick excursion to the two external locations (12,13), to return via Jan Van Eyck Square (14) and to finish at the back of the Burg (15). With this trajectory, the photographer drags us back and forth, and he accentuated that movement with four views taken along - through - a street: the Academiestraat (8,10), the Vlamingstraat (11) and the Molenmeers (12). The Groenerei (4,15) and the Spiegelrei (6) show the same kind of topography. He used the true portrait form, the strict exposure of a building, for the Belfort (1), the City Hall (2), the Proosdij (5), the Blood Chapel (9), the Gate of Paradise (13) and the Toll House (14). The series presents a very organic alternation between autonomous elements and contexts. The emphasis of the contexts lies in the streets, not the city square or on the water, which appears three times (3, 4 and 6, with a single bridge in 15).

This was not a city of walks taken along atmospheric spots, but the description of a robust identity relying on monuments that assumed historic and social density. The 19th-century statue of Van Eyck, the 17th-century Proosdij and the exotic Jerusalem Church indicated that the city had not yet developed a monotone neogothic self-image, but embraced historic density and complexity. The album dates back to the time of Boyaval, the liberal city mayor who was inclined to modernize. Twenty years later, the emphasis would have been quite different.

In Conclusion

Like every investigation, this study has been many things at once, elements opposing one another as well as generating one another. In the first place, it is a study of material principally in the collection of the Bruges Municipal Archives, with additional material from the Charleroi and Antwerp Museums of Photography. This means that the rich photographic archives of the Royal Institute for Art Heritage have not been included, and that the 178 Aubry photographs in the Albertina Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels likewise still await study. A great deal of non-photographic material has also not been referred to, including the August de Peellaert watercolours in the Steinmetz Cabinet in Bruges, lithographs by F. Stroobant, prints by L.H. Michael and the earliest lithographs of Bruges, published by Doornik. There is also work to be done in the archives of Duclos, Weale, Bethune, Delacenserie, Ronse and Vièrin, the city's cultural and political protagonists. How did the decision-makers deal with photography? Most significantly, photographs in collections outside the country are yet to be looked at. Bruges was a very popular and much-visited city. It was picturesque, later photogenic. Its visitors took their photographs with them, back to Vienna (Heinrich Kühn), Italy (Francesco Agosti), Edinburgh (John Muir Wood), London (Benjamin Brecknel Turner) and so on. In the various periods, how did they interpret this collection of appealing visual motifs?

This study is a reflection on the concrete history of photography as part of a specific period, location, culture and mentality. What traces of the conflicts and tensions of the period are found in the images? How do the images permit us to illuminate that context in an original way? The international history of photography has a need for local histories, with an open eye to the international context. This international history is often too abstract and too generalized, while local history is frequently viewed on too small a scale. It is important that the crossover of the two be taken into consideration.

This study is unavoidably a reflection on photography as a whole, on the idea, the concept of photography. What did people back then - apparently - think of photography? How do we respond today to this material, from our totally altered ideas about what photography is?

This study has taken photography seriously. It has invested photography with competences that are often denied it, for example, with the capacity to be both a documentation and to also simultaneously provide editorial commentary. This hypothesis on photography as a form that speaks about other forms is the sole hypothesis that has made this study a truly interesting one. A summary of the photographs taken in Bruges would simply be an inventory, but by seeing these photographs as a means by which a given culture of the 19th century expressed itself through one of its greatest problems - the city -, we try to raise the collection out of its status as an 'annex' in an appeal for renovation. We do not think this photography was an 'annex'.

Notes

[1] With thanks to Jan Dhondt for his research on Watteyne and Salmon.

[2] Inspired by Alain Bergala, L'hypothèse cinéma. Petit traité de transmission du cinéma à l'école et ailleurs, Paris, Cahiers du Cinéma, 2002, p. 88.

This study was made possible thanks to support from the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Special thanks also go to André Vandewalle, head of the Municipal Archive and my discussion partner in Bruges; to Jan Dhondt, Bruges City Archivist; to Marc Rykaert of the Province of West Flanders; Willy Muylaert of the Municipal Library; Brigitte Beernaert of the Belgian National Trust; Dries Vandenbroucke of Erfgoedcel. For their assistance, I also thank Gustaaf Janssens of the Royal Archives in Brussels; Marc Vausort of the Charleroi Museum of Photography; Angela Trommellini, conservator of the photography collection of the Cineteca di Bologna; Ingrid Evers of the Municipal Archives in Maastricht; and Pool Andries of the Museum of Photography in Antwerp.

Dirk Lauwaert

Back to top