Modernist photography  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Modernism, history of photography, art photography

Historians point to Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Paul Outerbridge, Edward Weston as founders of modernist photography.

United States

American modernism

At the beginning of American modernism, photography was still struggling to be recognized as a form of art. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz described it as following: "Artists who saw my earlier photographs began to tell me that they envied me; that they felt my photographs were superior to their paintings, but that, unfortunately, photography was not an art. I could not understand why the artists should envy me for my work, yet, in the same breath, decry it because it was machine-made." (Stieglitz:8). In 1902, Stieglitz founded the Photo-Secession group with members such as Edward Steichen, Gertrude Käsebier and Clarence Hudson White, which had the objective of raising the standard and increasing the awareness of art photography. At that point, their main style was "pictorialist", which was known for modifying photos through soft focus, special filters or exotic printing processes, to imitate the style of paintings and etchings of that time. For means of publication, Stieglitz, as the driving force of the movement, started the magazine "Camera Work", in which he would publish the works of artists whom he considered representative for the movement. He also ran three galleries one after another, namely "291" (1905-1917), "The Intimate Gallery" (1925-1929) and "An American Place" (1929-1947). Especially 291 served as a meeting point for artists and writers and was the first to exhibit the early modernist art works of European artists, such as Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso, in the United States. A further link to the European avant-garde was established by Man Ray. Born in America and inspired by the work he saw in Stieglitz’ galleries, Ray emigrated to Paris in 1921 and together with artists of the European Dada and Surrealist movements created new photographic techniques such as rayographs, a procedure during which objects are placed directly on photosensitive paper.

In the early 1920s the photographers moved towards what they called "straight photography". In contrast to the pictorialist style, they now rejected any kind of manipulation in the photographic process (e.g. soft lens, special developing or printing methods) and tried to use the advantages of the camera as a unique medium for capturing reality. Their motifs were supposed to look as "objective" as possible. Turning the focus away from classic portraiture and the pictorialist style, the photographers started using their pictures as means for representing the harsh realities of every day life, but at the same time tried to search for the beauty in the detail or the overall aesthetical structure. Machines and factory work, sky scrapers and technical innovations became prominent motifs. In 1932 some younger photographers (e.g. Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston) started Group f/64 based on the ideals of straight photography, which became the most progressive association of its time.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Modernist photography" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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