Photography has been the subject of varied intelligent. Modern societies are saturated with photographs. From holiday snapshots to newspapers, adverts, and the pristine walls of the fine art galleries, photographs can be found everywhere, performing an extraordinary range of functions. A critical fascination with the medium has inspired many quite different responses to photographs. Pictorial photography’s deep entrenchment in outdated, painterly aesthetic standards can be ascertained by time period of 1889-1920 to other contemporary art movements time periods. For example impressionism captured changing and fleeting movements through light and colour the pictorial photographers appointed its tenets of intense observation of light to render more classical designs. By the early 1900’s fauvism, cubism, expressionism, and futurism had emerged in painting – all aesthetics that challenged representational and imaginative art in their own distinct ways: fauvism promoted brilliant and abstract colour, cubism emphasized geometric planes, expressionism isolated figures and linear decorative lines, and futurism was fascinated with modern technology and industry.
By 1911 constructivism, an aesthetic movement grounded in design, construction and abstraction emerged in Russia. While after the First World War, ‘Dadaism’ which attacked the concepts of art that advocated coherence, order, and beauty, developed in Germany, France and America.
Indeed, by 1901, some photographers even condemned manipulated printing processes and argued for straight photography that would explore those properties endemic to its own material. In the context of these experimental trends in painting and photography from approximately 1900-1920, the association of pictorialism with amateurs excluded them form any kind of formal experimentation, or innovation by promoting a visual standard based on classical norms. It was taken for granted that photography was exclusively a visual art, and therefore that the aesthetic qualities of images should be the primary subject of exploration.
Consequently a fine-arts approach to photography, involving the study of important works produced by significant artists, commanded the critical attention of people who wrote thoughtfully on the subject. During the last sixty years the photographers agreed upon as being “important” have been organized into museum exhibitions and gallery shows edited into coffee- table books with spectacular reproductions, amassed in private and institutional collections, and discussed by critics and scholars. Ideally, the formal features of photograph should illuminate the subject matter, reveling something about subject not otherwise perceived, as in Edward Steichen’s famous portrait of J.Pierpont Morgan – ‘a formal tour de force,’ that seems also to provide insight into the character of that captain of industry. Steichen’s photographs; were regarded solely for their aesthetic value because the sitters were unknown to most viewers.
In the mid-1930’s Beaumont Newhall was asked by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to organise an exhibition on the ‘history of photography’ based on the photographic holdings of the museum. He subsequently wrote what became the most popular and mostly widely read history of photography in the United States of America (1938). Newhall’s book was instrumental in the construction of the most influential version of photography’s fine- arts canon. Newhall in his foreword makes it clear that which photography is “a vital means of communication and expression” his interest lie exclusively in exploring it “contribution to the visual Arts”. This dichotomy between communication and expression has dominated thinking about photography. While Newhall and others expanded and refined their canon, the basic assumption underlying the dominant art-historical approach has remained unchanged: a photograph is interesting and significant only if it succeeds as an aesthetic expression. In 1937, Newhall published a book, “The History of Photography: From 1839 to Present” as an illustrated catalog. This publication dedicated to the memory of Alfred Stieglitz, was designed to have a considerable and lasting international influence on perceptions regarding the pantheon of heroes marking the aesthetic progress of the medium.
In 1942, Helmut Gernshiem published his first book, ‘New Photo Vision’ an anthology of his own creative work as a photographer. He went on to research to publish a series of books which became the foundation knowledge of a generation of students and enthusiasts of the medium. Gernshiem published work, much of it produced in collaboration with his wife Alison, includes on Julia Margaret Cameron, Caroll Lewis, Roger Fenton and Alvin Langdon Coburn. During 1970, photography started to enjoy wider acceptance within critical circles, marked by the establishment of a growing number of educational study courses, by more frequent museum and commercial exhibitions, and through projects devoted to the promotion of and analytical debate concerning photographs. The complexities of the subject were explored by a new generation of collectors who had made a considerable contribution to the understanding of photography, embracing its vernacular applications as well as its accepted pantheon of masters. A particular impact was made by the American collector and curator Sam Wagstaff in enriching the potential to appreciate photograph as carrying the weight of diverse artistic, sociological and phenomenal cross- references. Among many transformations of “accidental” art canonical images are two seminal examples: Alex Alland Sr’s exhibition and publication of salon quality prints of Jacob Riis’s ‘Slum Snapshots’ (1974) and Szarkowski’s, ‘From the Picture Press’ in which press photographers, usually seen as grainy supplements of news stories, became aesthetic objects. What is interesting in the history of photography, “On the Invention of Meaning in Philosophy”, Howard Becker’s “Photography and Sociology” and more recently, Naomi Rosenblum’s “A World History of Photography” are signposts of a significant departure from earlier assumptions.
In 1989, photography as a practical medium was 150 years old and the anniversaries was celebrated in many countries with exhibitions and publications and have serve to reinforce and broaden recognition and understanding of the history of photographic image-making and the impact of these images in our culture. During the last twenty five years, the dominant art- historical approach to photography, and to all the arts for that matter, has been under dispute from a number of theoretical vantage points. Studies of photography based on Ethnographic, Sociological, Psychological, Marxist, Feminists, Postmodern and other points of view have broaden our horizons. In the words of Antoine Claudet, a French photographer said:Photography indeed can invent, create and compose as well as copy. In fact, particularly in portraiture, the machine copies what the true artist has invented, created, and composed, which could never have been copied or represented if the photographer had not possessed genius.
Photography has become the focus of considerable philosophical and critical analysis in recent decades. In many cases photographs have been promoted as the bearers of socio-political messages independently for their visual qualities and much debate as centered on the semiology of images. Today it is widely acknowledged that photography can and does have a variety of functions, only one of which is the production of art, and that images reward us when we contemplate them.
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