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The onion field 1890, from Camera Work, no 8, April 1907

printed 1907


George Davison


1854 - 1930


George Davison was one of the founding members of The Linked Ring Brotherhood, a group of photographers who severed their association with the Photographic Society of Great Britain to set up their own salon, feeling the concerns of the society to be too focused on technical issues rather than on matters of artistic merit.

Davison’s work was influenced by Peter Henry Emerson’s ideas of selective focus in photography which emulated the eye’s vision of nature. Davison adapted these theories to espouse an impressionist aesthetic. He believed photography to be in a unique position to evoke nature through direct experience which, when distilled by an artistic sensibility and handling of the medium, could provide an enhanced impression of nature by portraying its essence.

‘The onion field’ (originally titled ‘An old farmstead’) was the first impressionist photograph that Davison exhibited in 1890. He took the image using a pinhole camera – where a small hole on a piece of metal replaced an ordinary lens – which diffused sharp detail to provide an image of landscape through an overall soft focus, accentuated by the collective patterning of onion flowers.

While Emerson would come to resent his ventures into naturalistic photography when seeing its impressionist extremes in works such as Davison’s, it met the approval of Alfred Stieglitz, champion of a new generation of pictorial photographers, who reproduced ‘The onion field’ as a photogravure 17 years later in the pages of his illustrious journal ‘Camera Work’.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Other Title

An old farmstead


printed 1907

Media category


Materials used



15.4 x 20.4 cm image; 19.4 x 26.6 cm sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1979


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

George Davison

Works in the collection


Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Renée Free and Rose Peel, Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Sydney, 1993, 7.

Michael Frizot (Editor), A new history of photography, Köln, 1998, 295 (illus.).

Denise Mimmocchi, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'International pictorialism', pg.53-69, Sydney, 2007, 56, 61 (illus.).

Alfred Stieglitz (Editor), Camera Work, no 18, New York, Apr 1907, (illus.).