The onion field 1890, from Camera Work, no 8, April 1907
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
An old farmstead
15.4 x 20.4 cm image; 19.4 x 26.6 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989
International Photographs from the Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jan 1991–14 Apr 1991
Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 07 Aug 1993–24 Oct 1993
Referenced in 4 publications
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.).
Renée Free and Unknown, Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Sydney, 1993, 7.
A new history of photography, Köln, 1998, 295 (illus.).