Linton- Life in the Collections
38) Visual Communication and the Graphic Arts: Photographic Technologies in the Nineteenth Century.
New York - London 1974 / 1982
Using William Ivins’ and Marshall McLuhan’s pioneering media theories as starting points, Estelle Jussim examines the impact of photography and its related technologies on the graphic arts of the late 19th century. The main merit of this study, which was then highly acclaimed by the critics, was the revaluation of the hybrid imagery of this era. Jussim sought to rescue its central subject, the engravers of the New School of photoxylography, with a series of convincing arguments from complete oblivion. But unfortunately her engagement for artist-engravers such as Timothy Cole and Elbridge Kingsley and their forward-looking media-reflective experiments fell on deaf ears, as the sphere of influence of this publication was confined to historians of photography and design specialists. It didn’t reach the reinforcements of art history, although photo- or hyperrealism, the latest shaping of Pop art, just had their popular breakthrough.
Linton, as the formative critic and opponent of the New School, of course had to play the role of the diehard conservative in Jussim’s perspective of photographic history. She had coined the term Lintonesque for an old obsolete tradition of engraving. Lintonesque meant a standardized vocabulary of structural codes for certain predictable contents and a characteristic mixture of black- and-white line syntax, against which the exponents of the New School had rebelled. When Jussim speaks of him as a “dean of American wood engraving,” who by 1872 had established “the decorative conventions of wood-engravings,” she largely distorts his trendsetting influence and seriously misinterprets his ambitions. Linton himself never had practiced a style which could have been called Lintonesque. To have examined the history of wood engraving not only from the North American perspective and to have studied Francis Barrymore Smith’s Linton biography would have contributed much to come to a more careful evaluation. But in view of the fact that the whole domain of reproduction graphics of the late 19th century was at this time in total disrepute, the pioneering impulses, which still arise from this study, cannot be praised enough.