Beauty over Facts
Émile Joachim Constant Puyo (1857 – 1933) was a French photographer who, as the leading advocate of the Pictorialist movement in France, managed to establish photography as an artistic medium. Puyo was very active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, being the president the Photo Club of Paris from 1921 to 1926 and participating in numerous exhibitions and publications worldwide.
As in most cases of distinguished artists Puyo descended from a prominent bourgeois family in Morlaix, however, he Puyo studied at the École Polytechnique before joining the French Army as a commandant, serving with the French Army in Algeria during the 1880s. His artistic talent emerged from an early age, he actually started drawing when he was in childhood. His keen interest in photography started when he applied cameras to take shots of his paintings, or shoot his travels in North Africa. By 1895 he had managed to gather a large circle of photographers around him, with whom he started considering photography as a means equal to drawing or sculpture, forming the Pictorialism Movement.
In 1894, Puyo joined the Photo Club of Paris, founded by Maurice Bacquet, and helped organize a Salon for the club. This gave him the chance to write theoretical articles on the French Pictorialist movement, final publishing his first book in 1896m called Notes sur la Photographie Artistique. The book was about techniques to use photography in creating a work of art. He went on writing or co-writing books for the Club explaining oil pigment processes and the use and development of special soft-focus lenses that achieved impressionistic effects. All these happened after his retirement from the military in 1902.
His main theory was that regardless of the technique used to create a photograph, it must be an object of beauty. Beauty over facts was enriched by manipulation of a photograph, which was considered an expression of individuality, eliminating the role of the camera as a machine. Impressionism also influenced Puyo, as a contemporary artistic tendency of his era, as well as Art Nouveau.
Puyo’s work has been exhibited at museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Centre Atlantique de la Photographie in Brest. A large number of Puyo’s photographs are on display at the Morlaix Museum, founded by his father in the 1870s. The decline of Pictorialism in favor of straight, not manipulated photographs after World War I, was a source of continuing frustration for Puyo but as president of the Photo Club during the 1920s, he remained passionately dedicated to the Pictorial style.
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