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Matinee: Leonard Misonne Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 March 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 128th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Leonard Misonne.

This six and a half minute slide show of Leonard Misonne's work collects some of his most famous work, demonstrating his fascination with atmosphere. "Le sujet n'est rien, la lumiére est tout," he would insist. The subject is nothing, light is everything.

He was born in southern Belgium in 1870, the seventh son of Louis Missone, an industrialist and lawyer, and Adele Pirmez. He studied mining engineering at the Catholic University of Louvain but he never pursued the profession.

Instead, he started making photographs in 1890, joining the Louvain circle of photographers. In 1896 he joined the Association Belge de Photographie, exhibiting at shows organized by the group. He became a member of the Societe Francaise de Photographie in 1912.

'Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects.'

In Gilly he supported himself by managing the family fortune.

But from 1896 he devoted himself to photography, becoming a leading practioner of Pictorialism. Pictorialism responded to the dismissal of straightforward photography as an art by emulating the compositions and themes of classical painting.

He traveled extensively, visiting Germany, Switzerland and France, as well as London. He toured Belgium by bicycle and even won a few races. The images he captured during this period, many of which appear in the video, became so popular he reprinted them throughout his life.

He pursued many different printing methods, always innovating. He used carbon printing, including the Fresson process, until 1910-1915, then bromoil until 1930-1935 and finally using his own variation of bromoil called mediobrome.

E.J. Wall has described his mediobrome process:

The whole print is covered with a dope of equal parts mastic varnish and linseed oil thinned with an equal amount of turpentine, to which pigment has been added. The pigment should match the color of the print. [The dope] is wiped off locally with a clean cloth or a tuft of cotton to give various effects.

In 1887 he invented the Photo-Dessin (Photo-Drawing) processto turn a photograph into a line drawing. The process requires projecting a negative onto a drawing surface and darkening the light areas with a pencil until they disappear, a sort of manual negative printing.

He also introduced a diffused printing method called Flou-Net (Soft-Sharp), in which a screen using both ruffled celluloid strips and clear openings softens the sharp camera image.

His compositions included both bucolic landscapes and urban street scenes. "The sky is the key to landscape," he once said. "Light glorifies everything," he said. "It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects."

But he was not all work and no play. He married Valentine Labin in 1906 and together they had eight children.

Suffering from severe asthma which kept him housebound, he died in Gilly, Belgium, the city of his birth, in 1943.

In 1991 a collection of his work was published by Centre National de la Photographie as La Couleur du Temps. And in 2004 Musee de Charleroi published Leonard Misonne. En Passant....

Luminous-Lint has a number of his images on display. The variations in hue reflect the various printing methods he used.

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