Light, intermediality, and sensory perception in Francis Bruguière's abstract photographs and films (1921-1936)

  • Kristen Ann Adlhoch

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Abstract photographs were a key site of the re-evaluation of photography’s ontology
between the First and Second World Wars, bringing to the forefront questions of
objectivity, legibility and the photograph’s essential nature. Bridging avant-garde art
practices with literature, philosophy, and new technologies, artists sought to articulate
and explore the boundaries of traditional modes of sensory experience by employing
synaesthesia, “intermedia,” and the creative capacities of light.

This study explores art practices in which abstraction interrogated the formal qualities
and theoretical conceptions of photography, through an examination of Francis
Bruguière’s (b. San Francisco, 1879-1945) photographs and films made between circa
1921-1936. Bruguière used a wide range of techniques to undermine the verisimilitude
of the photographic medium, and frequently used his images in intermedial
collaborations, which drew upon techniques and theories from the fields of theatre,
film, psychology, and literature. Through a detailed examination of examples of
Bruguière’s photographs and collaborative projects, this dissertation demonstrates the
ways in which abstract photography was implicated in a broader desire amongst the
avant-garde to re-evaluate modes of embodied perception and multi-sensory

Chapters examine the reception of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s (1882-1966) abstract
“vortograph” series (1917), the light art of Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968), the history
and historiography of abstract photography, and the broader spectrum of intermedial
experiments with light. Bruguière’s collaborative projects, which paired abstraction
with theatre, literature and film, and his exploration of the plastic qualities of light are
scrutinised. Archival materials and primary sources inform the analysis of Bruguière’s
work and the channels of dissemination of these new modes of expression. This revised
and more inclusive contextualisation of abstract photography moves the discussion
away from formalist interpretations of the medium, instead focussing analysis on
broader practices of artistic production across media in the modern era.
Date of Award25 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorNatalie Adamson (Supervisor)

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 1st August 2022

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