Toward the end of the nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth century, the pictorial tradition in American photography was divided between the East and West Coast contingents. The hub of activity surrounding the Photo-Secession in New York, led by Alfred Stieglitz, initially overshadowed the efforts of the West Coast Pictorialists who were considered less daring and polished. Eventually West Coast Pictorialism developed its own flavor and was set apart by its magnificent landscapes and decidedly "Western" subjects.
Arthur F. Kales was an active West Coast American Pictorialist and a Fellow of the British Royal Photographic Society who lived and worked in California. Between 1922 and 1936 he wrote articles on Western American Pictorialism for the English annual, Photograms of the Year. Kales graduated with a degree in law from the University of California at Berkeley in 1903, but had been interested in photography from a young age. He experimented with alternative processes that produced the atmospheric, hazy effects admired by Pictorialist photographers, and became interested in gum and platinum printing in college. In 1920 Kales learned the bromoil process, and thereafter produced almost exclusively bromoil transfer photographs. Kales first exhibited at the London Salon of 1916, and continued to show his work with the Los Angeles Camera Pictorialists, the Pictorial Photographers of America, and other camera clubs internationally. Despite his success publishing articles and exhibiting photographs, Kales remained an amateur photographer, in keeping with the principles of many camera clubs who frowned on the commercial aspects of photography. In 1928 Kales exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and in 1930 Pierrot Forlorn-Ted Shawn was included in a show at the New York Camera Club.
By creating shimmering light effects and achieving subtle gradations of silvery tones, Kales epitomizes the ethereal, atmospheric effect popularized by the Pictorialists in his portrait of the famous dancer and choreographer Ted Shawn (Edwin M. Shawn, 1891-1972). In keeping with Pictorialist standards of the idealized subject, the photograph actually portrays Shawn's interpretation of the theatrical character, Pierrot. Derived from a stock character of the Italian commedia dell’arte, Pierrot became tremendously popular in the French pantomimes as a pathetic, but appealingly naive and eternally unsuccessful suitor. The glowing figure of Pierrot emerges from profound darkness, an isolated mourner who dreams longingly of his unrequited love, Columbine.