THE FIRST HALF-CENTURY
During the nineteenth century, photography struggled to establish
itself as art but failed to find an identity. Only under extraordinary
conditions of political upheaval and social reform did it address the
most basic subject of art, which is life itself. In forming an
independent vision, photography would combine the aesthetic principles
of the Secession and the documentary approach of photojournalism with
lessons learned from motion photography. At the same time, modem
painting, with which it soon became allied, forced a decisive change in
photography by undermining its aesthetic assumptions and posing a new
challenge to its credentials as one of the arts. Like the other arts,
photography responded to the three principal currents of our time:
Expressionism, Abstraction, and Fantasy. But because it has continued to
be devoted for the most part to the world around us, modern photography
has adhered largely to realism and, hence, has followed a separate
evolution. We must therefore discuss twentieth-century photography
primarily in terms of different schools and how they have dealt with
those often-conflicting currents.
The course pursued by modern photography was aided by technological
advances. It must be emphasized, however, that these have increased but
not dictated the photographer's options. George Eastman's invention of
the hand-held camera in
and the advent of 35mm photography with the Leica camera
made it easier to
take pictures that had been difficult but by no means impossible to take
with the traditional view camera.
Surprisingly, even color photography did not have such revolutionary
importance as might be expected. It began in
with the introduction of the "autochrome" by
Louis Lumiere (1864-1948),
who with his brother had created a new art form, the
cinema, in 1894. The
autochrome was a glass plate covered with grains of potato starch dyed
in three colors which acted as color filters, over which was applied a
coating of silver bromide emulsion; it yielded a positive color
transparency upon development and was not superseded until Kodak began
to make color film in 1932,
using the same principles but more advanced materials.
The autochrome was based on the color theories used by Seurat and even achieved Divisionist effects, as we can
see if we look hard enough at Young Lady with an Umbrella (fig.
1214), an early effort.
Except for its color, the picture differs little from photographs by the
Photo-Secessionists, who were the first to turn to the new process.
Color, in fact, had little immediate impact on the content, outlook, or
aesthetic of photography, even though it removed the last barrier cited
by nineteenth-century critics of photography as an art.
Young Lady with an Umbrella.
Autochrome. Societe Lumiere
The School of Paris
(1856-1927), who turned to the camera only in
1898 at the age of
42. From then until his death, he
toted his heavy equipment around Paris, recording the city in all its
variety. Atget was all but ignored by the art photographers, for whom
his commonplace subjects had little interest. He himself was a humble
man whose studio sign read simply, "Atget—
Documents for Artists," and, indeed, he was patronized
by the fathers of modern art: Braque, Picasso, Duchamp, and Man Ray, to
name only the best known. It is no accident that these artists were also
admirers of Henri Rousseau, for Rousseau and Atget had in common a naive
vision, though Atget found inspiration in unexpected corners of his
environment rather than in magical realms of the imagination.
Modern photography began quietly in Paris with
Atget's pictures are marked by a subtle intensity and technical
perfection that heighten the reality, and hence the significance, of
even the most mundane subject. Few photographers have equaled his
ability to compose simultaneously in two- and three-dimensional space.
Like Versailles (fig.
his scenes are often desolate, bespeaking a strange and individual outlook. The
viewer has the haunting sensation that time has been transfixed by the
stately composition and the photographer's obsession with textures.
While Atget's work is marginally in the journalistic tradition of Nadar,
Brady, and Riis,
its distinct departure from that earlier photography can only be
explained in relation to late-nineteenth-century art. His pictures of
neighborhood shops and street vendors, for example, are virtually
identical with slightly earlier paintings by minor realists whose names
are all but forgotten. Moreover, his photographs are directly related to
a strain of Magic Realism that was a forerunner of Surrealism. Atget has
been called a Surrealist, and while this characterization is misleading,
it is easy to understand why he was rediscovered by Man Ray, the Dada
and Surrealist artist-photographer, and championed by Man Ray's
assistant, Berenice Abbott.
As a whole, however, Atget's work is simply too varied
to permit convenient classification.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
began photographing in his native Hungary as early as
1915, and his style was
already defined when he came to Paris ten years later. Blind Musician
(fig. 1216), made in
Hungary in 1921, is the
kind of picture Atget sometimes took, and it uses much the same devices, above all the careful composition that isolates the subject
within just enough of its surroundings to set the scene.
Atget's direct successors were two East Europeans. The older of them,
Atget's other successor, was also conditioned by Paris, its views and
its habits. He was born in Transylvania and studied art in Budapest, but
was a Frenchman at heart even before arriving in Paris in
1923. Several years later, while
working there as a journalist, he borrowed a camera from Kertesz and
took a series of evocative photographs of the city by night. He soon
turned to the nightlife of the Parisian cafes, where he had an unerring
eye for the exotic characters who haunt them, "bijou" of Montmartre
(fig. 1217) shows the
same sense of the typically aberrant as At the Moulin Rouge (see
fig. 990) by
Toulouse-Lautrec, whose art certainly influenced him.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The photographic style of Gyula Halasz, known simply as
the son of a wealthy thread manufacturer. He studied
under a Cubist painter in the late 1920s
before taking up photography in
1932. Strongly affected at first by Atget, Man
Kertesz, and even the cinema, he soon developed into the most
influential photojournalist of his time, and he still thinks of himself
primarily as one. His purpose and technique are nevertheless those of an
"Bijou" of Montmartre.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The culmination of this Paris school is
Henri Cartier-Bresson (born
Cartier-Bresson is the master of what he has termed "the decisive
moment." This to him means the instant recognition and visual
organization of an event at the most intense moment of action and
emotion in order to reveal its inner meaning, not simply to record its
occurrence. Unlike other members of the Paris school, he seems to feel
at home anywhere in the world and always to be in sympathy with his
subjects, so that his photographs have a nearly universal appeal. His
photographs are distinguished by an interest in composition for its own
sake, derived from modern abstract art. He also has a particular
fascination with motion, which he invests with all the dynamism of
Futurism and the irony of Dada.
The key to his work is his use of space to establish relations that
are suggestive and often astonishing. Indeed, although he deals with
reality, Cartier-Bresson is a Surrealist at heart and has admitted as
much. The results can be disturbing, as in Mexico, 1934 (fig.
1218). By omitting the man's face, Cartier-Bresson prevents us from
identifying the meaning of the gesture, yet we respond to its tension no
Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mexico,
His subject matter is human foibles, which he unmasks
with the best of humor. Who has not seen the man in Side Glance
(fig. 1219), sneaking a
glimpse of the voluptuous nude while his wile comments on the more
serious painting before them?
If Cartier-Bresson has a peer in any area, it is in the ironic wit of
Robert Doisneau. Side Glance.
1953. Gelatin-silver print
The Stieglitz School
(1864-1946). From his involvement with the
he was a tireless spokesman for photography-as-art,
although he defined this more broadly than did other members of the
movement. He backed up his words by publishing the magazine Camera
Work, and supporting the other pioneers of American photography by
exhibiting their work in his New York galleries, especially the first
one, known as "291."
bulk of his early work adheres to Secessionist conventions, treating
photography as a pictorial equivalent to painting. During the mid-1890s,
however, he took some pictures of street scenes that are harbingers of
his mature photographs.
The founder of modern photography in the United States was
Stieglitz, whose influence remained dominant throughout his life
His classic statement, and the one he regarded as his finest
photograph, is The Steerage (fig.
taken in 1907
on a trip to Europe. Like Ford Madox Brown's The Last
of England (see fig. 959),
painted more than a half-century earlier, it captures
the feeling of a voyage, but does so by letting the shapes and
composition tell the story. The gangway bridge divides the scene visually, emphasizing the contrasting activities of the people
below in the steerage, which was reserved for the cheapest fares, and
the observers on the upper deck. If the photograph lacks the obvious
sentiment of Brown's painting, it possesses an equal drama by remaining
true to life.
The Art Institute of Chicago
This kind of "straight" photography is deceptive in its simplicity,
for the image mirrors the feelings that stirred Stieglitz. For that
reason, it marks an important step in his evolution and a turning point
in the history of photography. Its importance emerges only in comparison
with earlier photographs such as Steichen's Rodin (see fig.
1033) and Riis'
Bandits' Roost (see fig. 1027).
The Steerage is a pictorial statement independent
of painting on the one hand and free from social commentary on the
other. It represents the first time that documentary photography
achieved the level of art in America.
Stieglitz' straight photography formed the basis of the American
school. It is therefore ironic that it was Stieglitz, with Steichen's
encouragement, who became the champion of abstract art against the urban
realism of the Ash Can School,
whose paintings were at face value often similar in content and appearance to his photographs. The resemblance is
misleading. For Stieglitz, photography was less a means of recording
things than of expressing his experience and philosophy of life, much as
a painter does.
This attitude culminated in his "Equivalents." In 1922
Stieglitz began to photograph clouds to show that his
work was independent of subject and personality. A remarkably lyrical
cloud photograph from 1930
corresponds to a state of mind waiting to find full
expression rather than merely responding to the moonlit scene. The study
of clouds is as old as Romanticism itself, but no one before Stieglitz
had made them a major theme in photography. As in Kasebier's The
Magic Crystal (see fig. 1032),
unseen forces are evoked that make Equivalent a
counterpart to Kandinsky's Sketch I for "Composition VII" (see
1930. Chloride print.
The Art Institute of Chicago.
who, although not Stieglitz' protege, was
decisively influenced by him. During the 1920s
he pursued abstraction and realism as separate
paths, but by 1930 he
fused them in images that are wonderful in their design and miraculous
for their detail.
Stieglitz' concept of the Equivalent opened the way to "pure"
photography as an alternative to straight photography. The leader of
this new approach was
Pepper (fig. 1222)
is a splendid example that is anything but a straightforward record of
this familiar fruit. Like Stieglitz' "Equivalents," Weston's photography
makes us see the mundane with new eyes. The pepper is shown with
preternatural sharpness and so close up that it seems larger than life.
Thanks to the tightly cropped composition, we are forced
to contemplate the form, whose every undulation is revealed by the dramatic
lighting. Pepper has the sensuousness of Black Iris III by
O'Keeffe (see fig.
that lends the Equivalent a new meaning. Here the shapes are
intentionally suggestive of the photographs of the female nude that
Weston also pioneered.
Center for Creative
To achieve uniform detail and depth. Weston worked with the
smallest possible camera lens openings, and his success led to the
formation, in 1932, of the
West Coast society known as Group f/64, for the smallest lens opening.
Among the founding members was Ansel Adams
(1902-1984), who soon became the foremost nature
photographer in America. He can rightly be regarded as the successor to
Timothy O'Sullivan (see fig. 942),
for his landscapes hark back to nineteenth-century
American painting and photography.
Adams was a meticulous technician, beginning with the composition and
exposure and continuing through the final printing. His justifiably
famous work Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (fig.
1223) came from pure serendipity
which could never be repeated, a perfect marriage of straight and
Equivalent photography. As in all of Adams' pictures, there is a full
range of tonal nuances, from clear whites to inky blacks. The key to the
photograph lies in the low cloud that divides the scene into three zones, so that the moon appears to hover
effortlessly in the early evening sky.
Moonrise, Hernandez, New
The Museum of
Modern Art, New York
who began to depict urban and inciustrial architecture around
1925 under the inspiration of
Futurism. Several of them soon took up the camera as well. Thus,
painting and photography once again became closely linked. Both were
responding to the revitalized economy after World War I which led to an
unprecedented industrial expansion on both sides of the Atlantic. During
the subsequent Depression, industrial photography continued surprisingly
to grow with the new mass-circulation magazines that ushered in the
great age of photojournalism and, with it, of commercial photography. In
the United States, most of the important photographers were employed by
the leading journals and corporations.
Stieglitz was among the first to photograph
skyscrapers, the new architecture that came to dominate the horizon of
America's growing cities. In turn, he championed the Precisionist
(1904-1971) was the first staff
photographer hired by Fortune magazine and then by Life
magazine, both published by Henry Luce. Her cover photograph of Fort
Peck Dam in Montana for the inaugural November
23, 1936, issue of Life remains a classic
example of the new photojournalism (fig.
The decade witnessed enormous building campaigns, and
with her keen eye for composition, Bourke-White drew a visual parallel
between the dam and the massive constructions of ancient Egypt, an idea that had
already appeared in a painting of 1927
by Charles Demuth, My Egypt. In addition to their
architectural power, Bourke-White's columnar forms have a remarkable
sculptural quality and an almost human presence, looming like colossal
statues at the entrance to a temple. But unlike the pharaohs' passive
timelessness, these "guardian figures" have the spectral alertness of
Henry Moore's abstract monoliths (see fig.
Bourke-White's rare ability to suggest multiple
levels of meaning made this cover and her accompanying photo essay a
landmark in photojournalism.
Fort Peck Dam,
The flourishing magazine business also gave rise to fashion
and glamour photography, which was developed into an art in its own
Edward Steichen, America's most complete photographer to date.
Steichen's talent for portraiture, seen in his early Photo-Secession
photograph of Rodin (see fig. 1033),
makes Greta Garbo (fig.
1225) a worthy successor to Nadar's Sarah
Bernhardt (see fig. 940).
The young film actress would have her picture taken
countless times, despite her desire "to be alone," but none captures better the magnetic
presence and complex character seen in her movies. The photograph owes
much to its abstract black-and-white design, which focuses attention on
her wonderfully expressive face. But Steichen's stroke of genius was to
have Garbo put her arms around her head in order to suggest her
(for Vanity Fair
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Wayne Miller.1955. Wayne Miller's
picture of childbirth (fig. 1226)
from this epoch-making show captures the miracle of life
in one dramatic image. It records with shocking honesty the newborn
infant's abrupt entry into the world we all share. At the same time, the
hands that reach out to help him are a moving affirmation of human
One of Steichen's contributions to photography was to
organize the "Family of Man" exhibition, which opened in New York in
1226. Wayne Miller.
of Man" exhibition.
James Van Der Zee.
The nature of the Harlem Renaissance, which flourished
in the 1920s (see page
793), was hotly debated by
black critics even in its own day. While its achievement in literature
is beyond dispute, the photography of James Van Der Zee
(1886-1983) is often regarded
today as its chief contribution to the visual arts. Much of his work is commercial and
variable in quality, yet it remains of great documentary value and, at
its best, provides a compelling portrait of the era. Van Der Zee had an
acute understanding of settings as reflections of people's sense of
place in the world, which he used to bring out a sitter's character and
dreams. Though posed in obvious imitation of fashionable photographs of
white society, his picture of the wife of the Reverend George Wilson
Becton (fig. 1227), taken
two years after the popular pastor of the Salem Methodist Church in
Harlem was murdered, shows Van Der Zee's unique ability to capture the
pride of African-Americans during a period when their dreams seemed on
the verge of being realized.
1227.James Van Der Zee.
The Wife of the
Pastor of Salem Methodist Church.
With the New Objectivity movement in Germany during the late
and early 1930s,
photography achieved a degree of excellence that has not
been surpassed. Fostered by the invention of superior German cameras and
the boom in publishing everywhere, this German version of straight
photography emphasized materiality at a time when many other
photographers were turning away from the real world. The intrinsic
beauty of things was brought out through the clarity of form and
structure in their photographs. This approach accorded with Bauhaus
principles except with regard to function.
(1897-1966), New Objectivity's
leading exponent, is a marvel of technique and design that deliberately
avoids any personal statement by reducing the image to an abstraction;
the content lies solely in the cool perfection of the presentation and
the orderly world it implies.
Potter's Hands (fig.
(1876-1964), whose Face of Our
Time was published in 1929,
concealed the book's intentions behind a disarmingly
straightforward surface. The 60
portraits provide a devastating survey of Germany
during the rise of the Nazis, who later suppressed the book. Clearly
proud of his position, the man in Sander's Pastry Cook, Cologne
(fig. 1229) is the very
opposite of the timid figure in George Grosz' Germany, a Winter's
Tale (see fig. 1083).
Despite their curious resemblance, this "good citizen
" seems oblivious to the evil
that Grosz has depicted so vividly. While the photograph passes no
individual judgment, in the context of the book the subject's unconcern
stands as a strong indictment of the era as a whole.
When applied to people rather than things, the New Objectivity could
have deceptive results.
Pastry Cook, Cologne.
was the most diverse photographer of his time. The work
of this one-armed photographer (he lost his right arm in World War I and
had to struggle to take his pictures) incorporated nearly the full range
of modern photography before 1945,
except photojournalism, which is concerned with passing
moments that to him were merely incidental. Sudek was the Atget of
Prague, which provided his main subject matter. From pictorialism, he
learned to become a master of light, which he invested with the poetry of Vermeer,
while the New Objectivity taught him to photograph simple objects with
the reverence of Chardin. A romantic at heart, he sought to reveal the
secret life of nature. Sudek preferred to work in series over the years
and would often return to the same place to document its changing face
and uncover new meanings. He was a recluse who became even more
secretive during World War ff, when his movement was severely restricted
by the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. The most characteristic
photographs from his later years are of private worlds, be they the
cluttered studio where he lived, or gardens, his own as well as those of
the artists, writers, and musicians who were his friends. Branches of a
tree seen through his rain-swept window (fig.
1230) may be taken as a metaphor of the
photographer himself. To Sudek. trees were primordial symbols of life
that weather life's difficulties, much as he had survived personal
View from Studio Window
The Heroic Age of Photography
can be called the heroic age of photography for its photographers'
notable response to the challenges of their times. Their physical
bravery was exemplified by the combat photographer
1954), who covered wars around the world for
20 years before being
killed by a land mine in Vietnam. While barely adequate technically, his
picture of a Loyalist soldier being shot during the Spanish Civil War
the horror of death at the moment of impact. Had it been taken by
someone else, it might seem a freak photograph, but it is altogether typical of Capa's battle close-ups; he was as fearless as Civil
War photographer Mathew Brady.
The period from
for people and her sensitivity to their dignity
made her the finest documentary photographer of the time in America.
Death of a Loyalist Soldier.
Photographers in those difficult times demonstrated moral
courage as well. Under Roy Stryker, staff photographers of the Farm
Security Administration compiled a comprehensive photodocumentary
archive of rural America during the Depression. While the FSA
photographers presented a balanced and objective view, most of them were
also reformers whose work responded to the social problems they
confronted daily in the field. The concern of
At a pea-pickers' camp in Nipomo, California, Lange discovered
2,500 virtually starving migrant
workers and took several pictures of a young widow with her children,
much later identified as Florence Thompson; when Migrant Mother,
California (fig. 1232)
was published in a news story on their plight, the
government rushed in food, and eventually migrant relief camps were
opened. More than any Social Realist or Regionalist painting, Migrant Mother,
California has come to stand for that entire era. Unposed and
uncropped, this photograph has an unforgettable immediacy no other
medium can match.
Fantasy and Abstraction
"Impersonality," the very liability that had precluded the acceptance
of photography in the eyes of many critics, became a virtue in the
1920s. Precisely because photographs are produced by mechanical devices, the camera's images now seemed to some
artists the perfect means for expressing the modern era. This change in
attitude did not stem from the Futurists who, contrary to what might be
expected, never fully grasped the camera's importance for modern art,
despite Marey's influence on their paintings. The new view of photography
arose as part of the Berlin Dadaists' assault on traditional art.
Toward the end of World War I, the Dadaists "invented" the
photomontage and the photogram, although these completely different
processes had been practiced early in the history of photography. In the
service of antiart they lent themselves equally well to fantasy and to
abstraction, despite the apparent opposition of the two modes.
, but by the 1870s they were
already being used in Prance to create witty impossibilities that are
the ancestors of Dada photomontages. Like 1
Piping Man (see fig.
1074) by Max Ernst (who,
not surprisingly, became a master of the genre), Dadaist photomontages
utilize the techniques of Synthetic Cubism to ridicule social and
Photomontages are simply parts of photographs cut out
and recombined into new images. Composite negatives originated with the
art photography of Rejlander and Robinson
These imaginative parodies destroy all pictorial illusionism and
therefore stand in direct opposition to straight photographs, which use
the camera to record and probe the meaning of reality. Dada
photomontages might be called "ready-images," after Duchamp's
ready-mades. Like other collages, they are literally torn from popular
culture and given new meaning. Although the photomontage relies more on
the laws of chance,
the Surrealists later claimed it to be a form of
automatic handwriting on the grounds that it responds to a stream of
Most Surrealist photographers have been influenced by the Belgian
painter Rene Magritte, whose mystifying fantasies (fig.
1077) are treated with a Magic
Realism that is the opposite of automatic handwriting. Since Magritte's
pictorial style was already highly naturalistic, he only experimented
with the camera. Nevertheless, he had a considerable impact on
photography because his illusionistic paradoxes can be readily emulated
in photographs, such as the photomontage lonely
by the German-born
The purpose of such visual riddles
is to challenge our conception of reality, showing up the discrepancy
between our perception of the world and our irrational understanding of
lonely metropolitan. 1932.
became a double-edged sword in political propaganda, used by Hitler's
sympathizers and enemies alike. The most acerbic anti-Nazi commentaries
were provided by
(1891-1968), who changed his name from the German Herzfeld as a sign of
protest. His horrific poster of a Nazi victim crucified on a swastika (fig.
1234) appropriates a Gothic image of humanity punished for its sins
on the wheel of divine judgment. Obviously, Heartfield was not concerned
about misinterpreting the original meaning in his montage, which
communicates its new message to powerful effect.
Photomontages were soon incorporated into carefully designed posters as
well. In Germany,
had used it to make negative
images of plants which he called "photogenic drawings." The Dadaists'
photograms, however, like their photomontages, were intended to alter
nature's forms, not to record them, and to substitute impersonal
technology for the work of the individual. Since the results in the
photogram are so unpredictable, making one involves even greater risks
than does a photomontage. Man Ray (1890-1976),
an American working in Paris, was not the first
to make photograms, but his name is the most closely linked to them
through his "Rayographs." Fittingly enough, he discovered the process by
accident. The amusing face in figure 1235
was made according to the laws of chance by dropping a string, two strips of paper, and a few pieces of cotton
onto the photographic paper, then coaxing them here and there before
exposure. The resulting image is a witty creation that shows the
playful, spontaneous side of Dada and Surrealism as against Heartfield's
As in the Middle
so in the Third Reich.
The photogram does not take pictures but makes them:
objects are placed directly onto photographic paper and exposed to
light. Nor was this technique new. Fox Talbot
Hungarian teaching at the Bauhaus who was deeply affected by
Constructivism, successfully combined the best features of both
approaches. By removing the lens to make photograms, he transformed his
camera from a reproductive into a productive instrument; photography
could now become, at least in theory if not in practice, a technological
tool for fostering creativity in mass education.
1235. Man Ray.
Because the Russian Constructivists had a
comparably mechanistic conception of society, they soon followed Dada's
lead in using photograms and photomontages as a means to integrate
industry and art, albeit for quite different purposes.
Like many of the Russian artists in the 1920s,
Moholy-Nagy also saw light as the embodiment of
dynamic energy in space. The effects conjured up by the superimposition
and interpenetration of forms in his photographs are fascinating (fig.
1236). We feel transported
in time and space to the edges of the universe, where the artist's
imagination gives shape to the play of cosmic forces created by a
supreme cosmic will.
(1898-1991), Man Ray's former
pupil and assistant, to demonstrate the laws of physics (fig.
One of the principal educational purposes of Moholy-Nagy's
images was to extend sense perception in new ways. Similar goals have
been achieved by taking pictures through microscopes and telescopes.
Such photographs have helped to open our eyes to the invisibly small and
the infinitely far. Wondrous scientific photographs were taken from
Like Marey's motion photographs of 50
years earlier (see fig. 1035), they are arresting
images, literally and visually. Their formal perfection makes them
aesthetically compelling and scientifically valid, and they have proved
to be even more educational than Moholy-Nagy's photograms.
Transformation of Energy.
PHOTOGRAPHY SINCE 1945
was marked by abstraction for nearly two decades,
particularly in the United States. Aaron Siskind
(1903-1991), a close friend of the Abstract
Expressionist painters, recorded modern society's debris and decaying
signs. Hidden in these details he discovered cipherlike figures (fig.
that are ironically
similar to the ideographs of some forgotten civilization no longer
intelligible to us.
Photography after World War
approached even closer to the spirit of Abstract
Expressionism. An associate of Adams and Weston, he was decisively
influenced by Stieglitz' concept of the Equivalent. During his most
productive period, from the mid-1950s
to the mid-1960s,
White evolved a highly individual style, using the
alchemy of the darkroom to transform reality into a mystical metaphor.
His Ritual Branch (fig. 1239)
evokes a primordial image: what it shows is not as
important as what it stands for, but the meaning we sense is there
1238. Aaron Siskind.
New York 2.
White. Ritual Branch.
(1918-1978), the foremost
photojournalist of our time, was a compassionate cynic who commented on
the human condition with "reasoned passion," as he put it. Tomoko in
Her Bath (fig. 1240),
taken in 1971 in the
Japanese fishing village of Minamata, shows a child crippled by mercury
poisoning being bathed by her mother. Not simply the subject itself but
Smith's treatment of it makes this an intensely moving work. The imagery
lies deep in our heritage: the mother holding her child's body goes back
to the theme of the German Gothic Pietd (see fig.
497), while the dramatic lighting
and vivid realism recall a painting of another martyr in his bath,
Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat (see fig.
But what engages our
emotions above all in making the photograph memorable is the infinite
love conveyed by the mother's tender expression.
The continuing record of misery that photography provides has often been
the vehicle for making strong personal statements.
1924). His book The
Americans, compiled from a cross-country odyssey made in
1955-56, created a sensation upon
its publication in 1959,
for it expressed the same restlessness and alienation as On the
Road by his traveling companion, the Beat poet Jack Kerouac,
published in 1957. As this
friendship suggests, words have an important role in Frank's
photographs, which are as loaded in their meaning as Demuth's
I Saw the Figure
5 in Gold
Yet Frank's social point of view is often hidden behind a facade of disarming neutrality. It
is with shock that we finally recognize the ironic intent of Santa
Fe, New Mexico (fig.
the gas pumps face the sign SAVE in the barren landscape
like members of a religious cult vainly seeking salvation at a revival
meeting. Frank, who subsequently turned to film, holds up an image of
American culture that is as sterile as it is joyless. Even spiritual
values, he tells us, become meaningless in the face of vulgar
Eugene Smith. Tomoko in Her Bath.
The birth of a new form of straight photography in the United
States was largely the responsibility of one man,
Frank. Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Fantasy gradually reasserted itself on both sides of the Atlantic in
mid-1950s. Photographers first manipulated the
camera for the sake of extreme visual effects by using special lenses
and filters to alter appearances, sometimes virtually beyond
recognition. Since about 1970,
however, they have employed mainly printing techniques,
with results that are frequently even more startling.
regarded as the quintessential English photographer, he was born in
Germany and did not settle in London until 1931.
He decided on a career in photography during
psychoanalysis and was apprenticed briefly to Man Ray. Consequently,
Brandt remained a Surrealist who manipulated visual reality in search of
a deeper one, charged with mystery. His work was marked consistently by
a literary, even theatrical, cast of mind which drew on the cinema for
some of its effects. His early photodocumentaries were often staged as
re-creations of personal experience for the purpose of social commentary
based on Victorian models. Brandt's fantasy images manifest a strikingly
romantic imagination. Yet, there is an oppressive anxiety implicit in his landscapes, portraits,
and nudes. London Child (fig. 1242)
has the haunting mood of novels by the Bronte sisters,
Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. At the same time, this is a classic dream
image fraught with troubling psychological overtones. The spatial
dislocation, worthy of De Chirico, expresses the malaise of a person who
is alienated from both himself and the world.
Manipulation of photography was pioneered by
1934), a more recent leader of this movement, was
inspired by Oscar Rejlander's multiple-negative photographs, as well as
by Stieglitz' Equivalents. While Uelsmann s work has a playful side
close to Pop Art, for the most part he involuntarily expresses
archetypal images from deep within the subconscious. The nude lying
within the earth in Untitled (fig.
seemingly conveys a dream in which the psyche
retreats into the womblike sanctuary of primal nature. Each part of the
photograph is a faithful record; it is their juxtaposition that gives
the image a new reality.
Brandt. London Child.
Jerry Uelsmann (born
Uelsmann once participated in one of Minor White's classes, and their
photographs are not as far removed visually or expressively from each
other's as they might seem. The principal difference lies in their
approach to the Equivalent as a means of achieving a poetical inner
truth: White, like Stieglitz, recognizes his symbols in nature, whereas
Uelsmann creates his symbols from his imagination. Paradoxically, it is
Uelsmann's untitled print, not Ritual Branch, that is instantly
recognizable, but neither yields an ultimate meaning.
by Joanne Leonard (born
suggest a meaning that is personal in its reference; it
was made during the breakup of her marriage. We will recognize in this
disturbing vision something of the tortured eroticism of Fuseli's The
Nightmare (see fig. 899).
The clarity of the presentation turns the apparition at
the window into a real and frightening personification of despair. This
is no romantic knight in shining armor, but a grim reaper whose
ancestors can be found in Diirer's woodcut The Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse (see fig. 713).
Contemporary photographers have often turned to fantasy as
autobiographical expression. Both the image and the title of
Romanticism Is Ultimately Fatal (fig.
David Wojnarowicz. (fig.1245) by
David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992).
Gifted with a singularly bizarre imagination, he was
obsessed with the horrific, which consistently informs his work. At the
time of this photograph, Wojnarowicz was already afflicted with AIDS,
which claimed his life two years later. Of the countless images devoted
to this dread disease by painters and photographers, none so fully captures its nightmarish terror. The macabre
costume, made by Wojnarowicz himself, conjures up an awesome demon of
death from some primitive tribal ritual that appears out of nature as if
by magic. Like Munch's The Scream (fig.
1004), here is an expression of irrational fear
so gripping in its power as to lift personal suffering to a universal
plane. It serves as an unforgettable reminder that, just as in the art
world, soon virtually everyone will have been touched by the loss of
cherished friends and colleagues to AIDS.
Even more shocking is Death in the Cornfield
1245. David Wojnarowicz. Death in the
Artists as Photographers
1937) has been making since
1982 are like revelations that overcome the
traditional limitations of a unified image, fixed in time and place, by
closely approximating how we actually see. In Gregory Watching the
Snow Fall, Kyoto, Feb. 21, 1983
each frame is analogous to a discrete eye movement
containing a piece of visual data that must be stored in our memory and
synthesized by the brain. Just as we process only essential information,
so there are gaps in the matrix of the image, which becomes more
fragmentary toward its edges, though without the loss of acuity
experienced in vision itself. The resulting shape of the collage is a
masterpiece of design. The scene appears to bow curiously as it comes
toward us. This ebb and flow is more than simply the result of optical
physics. In the perceptual process, space and its corollary, time, are
not linear, but fluid. Moreover, by including his own feet as reference
points to establish our position clearly, Hockney helps us to realize
that vision is less a matter of looking outward than an egocentric act
that defines the viewer's visual and psychological relationship to the
surrounding world. The picture is as expressive as it is opulent.
Hockney has recorded his friend several times to suggest his reactions
to the serene landscape outside the door.
The most recent demonstrations of photography's power to extend our
vision have come, fittingly enough, from artists. The photographic
collages that the English painter
David Hockney (born
Hockney s approach is embedded in the history of modem painting, tor
it shows a self-conscious awareness of earlier art. It combines the
faceted views of Picasso (see fig. 1049)
and the sequential action of Duchamp (see fig.
1059) with the dynamic energy of
Popova (see fig. 1054).
Gregory Watching the Snow Fall is nonetheless a distinctly
contemporary work, for it incorporates the fascinating effects of
Photorealism and the illusionistic potential of Op Art. Hockney has
begun to explore further implications inherent in these photo collages,
such as continuous narrative. No doubt others will be discovered as
well. Among these is the possibility of showing an object or scene
simultaneously from multiple vantage points to let us see it completely
for the first time.
the Snow Fall, Kyoto, Feb. 21, 1983.
1983. Photographic collage
Photography, too, has taken up the theme of image as "text." Given
the close association of words and photographs in Conceptual Art, such a
move was perhaps inevitable. It was abetted, however, by the new
importance attached to semiotics, which has opened up fruitful new
avenues of investigation for the artist. How do signs acquire public
meaning? What is the message? Who originates it? What (and whose)
purpose does it serve? Who is the audience? What are the means of
disseminating the idea? Who controls the media?
Photographers, especially in the United States, raise these questions
in order to challenge our received notions of the world we live in and
the social order it imposes. Unlike Joanne Leonard or David Hockney,
post-modern photographers are "re-photographers" who for the most part
do not take their own pictures but appropriate them from other mediums.
To convey their message, these new Conceptualists often follow the
formula established by Baldessari of placing image and text side by side
Sometimes their pictures are intended as
counterparts to paintings, and are enlarged on an unprecedented scale,
using commercial processes developed for advertisements, which may also
serve as sources. Here it is the choice of image that matters, since the
act of singling it out and changing its context from billboard to
gallery wall constitutes the comment. In both cases, however, we are
asked to base our judgment on the message; the means of delivery
deliberately shows so little individuality that it is often impossible
to tell the work of one artist from another. In the process, however,
the message often becomes equally forgettable.
whose pictures are instantly recognizable for their
confrontational approach. Untitled ("You Are a Captive Audience")
exemplifies her style. It usually involves a tightly cropped close-up in
black and white taken from a magazine or newspaper and blown up as
crudely as possible to monumental proportions, so that the viewer cannot
escape its presence or the message, which is stenciled in white letters
against a red background. The conjoining of unrelated text and image is
clearly intended for radical ends. The challenging statement is intended
to provoke acute anxiety by playing on people's latent fears in our
society of being controlled by nameless forces, especially such large,
impersonal power centers as the government, the military, or
That is not a problem with Barbara Kruger (born
are quieter but correspondingly more
thought-provoking. Centering on social issues, they address the human
condition without engaging in polemic. Lemieux has a particular gift for
perceiving new possibilities of meaning in old photographs and
illustrations. Truth (fig. 1265)
is an image about sound—or,
rather, the lack of it. The photograph, derived from a book on the
history of radio, is a visual counterpart to the saying, "Hear no evil,
speak no evil, see no evil." Transferred to canvas, it acquires a very
different meaning in its new context. Stenciled in bold letters is the
Russian proverb, "Eat bread and salt but speak the truth," which means
roughly, "Be frank when accepting someone's hospitality." The lettering
transforms the image from an amusing publicity photograph into an
ominous-looking propaganda poster. Contrary to initial impressions, the
issue is neither Russia nor Communism—
the photograph features the famous American entertainer
Jack Benny—but the role of
the media in modern life. They enter our homes as guests without being
candid: here the performer covers his mouth in order to speak no evil.
Shielded by the medium itself, he distorts truth by selectively
concealing information, not by telling a deliberate falsehood. Truth
emerges as a matter of relative perspective, determined both by who
controls it and who hears it.
1264. Barbara Kruger.
("You Are a Captive Audience").
Kruger's work is like a sharp blow to the solar plexus: the message is
direct, the response immediate, especially the first time around. The
themes of Annette Lemieux (born
Lemieux. Truth. 1989
Among her best works are the early photographs
that were staged in imitation of old movie stills. They are so
skillfully realized that they look like the real thing. In them she
fulfills the secret American dream of being star, caster, set designer,
producer, and photographer, except that she does so almost vicariously.
As her own star, she can assume any role she wants, and the choice is
Not all post-modern photography is attached to words, nor is it taken
simply from other sources. A curious in-between case is provided by
shows her predilection for 1940s
movies portraying beautiful women as vulnerable heroines. The picture is
a perfect period piece, down to the last detail of costume, setting, and
lighting. Only after we have looked at it for a while do we realize that
the photograph raises intriguing questions about the image of women
projected on the silver screen. Whether the message is feminist has been
the subject of considerable debate. Is Sherman's use of herself merely
an exercise in narcissism and her reliance on stereotypes no more than
an example of shallow consumerism? Or is there a feminist sense of irony
in her posing? However we choose to interpret it, the photograph is
strangely affecting in its aura of nostalgia and the sense of mystery it
communicates. Here the timeless image of the woman looking in the mirror
is updated to receive among its most provocative—and
Sherman offers voyeurism at second hand, so to speak, a fantasy
compounded that forever precludes authentic experience. In that sense,
it is a paradigm of post-modernism.
Unfitted Film Still #2. 1977