Pictorialism is a style of art photography. The aim of the style was not to produce a mere image of the subject, capturing a moment in reality, but to achieve a symbolic representation of states of mind or fundamental values. Pictorialism flourished between the end of the 19th century and the First World War, in Japan until about 1925; however, pictorialist photographs were still being taken in some cases until the end of the 1950s.
The declared aim of pictorialism was to establish photography as a fully-fledged means of artistic expression. Stylistically, it was initially oriented towards naturalism in painting in particular, but then also towards impressionism and symbolism.
Frequently applied stylistic features of pictorialist photographs are reduced contour sharpness, light scattered like mist, careful choice of detail, flowing transitions, preference for night and fog scenes, 'artistic' subjects (landscapes, portraits, nudes) and intensive post-processing of the prints, but possibly also of the negative before the positive is made (e.g. by Frank Eugene). Despite the often low impression of sharpness and tonal richness that pictorialist positives leave on the viewer, most of the surviving negatives of the pictures are taken with the full possible tonal range and certainly also with sharpness corresponding to the state of the art.
A noticeably often used prop in pictorialist photographs, for example in the work of Alice Boughton, Anne Brigman or Clarence Hudson White, is the crystal ball, also in a modified form such as a glass bowl, which was supposed to symbolise a state of spiritual perfection and unity.