Thursday, July 5, 2007

Photography - An Art!!!!

In the late 19th century when photography was becoming increasingly popular, there was a huge backlash by artists and critics who scorned, scoffed, sneered and decried at the labeling/designating photography as an art-form. They argued that the camera-work was so precise and believable that it left no room left for “artistic interpretation”, which is a defining characteristic of art ... And since photography is machine-made ... it does not have the same status than other man-made art-forms like paintings.

Many photographers took innovative measures to establish photography as art-form. To demonstrate that artistic sensitivity, imagination and individual style were possible with camera ... many photographers began manipulating the photographic process ... Thus in late 19th century, a trend emerged where photographers started "imitating paintings" of their time ... They favored darkroom techniques to get some control over the results they desired to achieve using innovative techniques like …

[1] Softening and blurring parts of photographs during printing process to achieve softness of the paintings ...
[2] Another approach was applying a needle directly to negatives and scratching pencil-like lines or shading around figures ...
[3] Some even used multiple negatives to produce prints ...

Adherents of these techniques photography came to be known as “pictorials”. Most of the pictorialists favored subject-matter made popular by impressionist painters like hazy landscapes, nudes, and groups of children playing around ...

But then some photographers like “Henry Peter Emerson” denounced the approach of the pictorials. Emerson believed that photography was an art form as legitimate as painting … But was against the techniques used by pictorials. He advocated that photographers should “rely only on naturally occurring effects of light and subject, never resorting to contrived costuming or hand retouching of the print”. He emerged as an advocate of “straight photography” … and believed that photographic images should not be tampered with or subjected to handwork, or it looses its integrity …

Two most prominent names associated with straight photography are of:
[1] Alfred Stieglitz ... [and his "Photo Secessions"]
[2] Ansel Adams .... [and his "Group f/64"]
* Terms "Photo Secession" and "Group f/64" ... elaborated in the previous post!!!

In the struggle for securing a place for photography in the art-world, the most important name is of Alfred Stieglitz . He probably did more than any other individual to get photography recognized as art-form and at the same level as other arts.

Stieglitz was insistent that "photographs should look like photographs" ... only then the medium of photography would be considered with its own aesthetic credo and so would separate photography from other fine arts such as painting. This approach by Stieglitz gained the term "STRAIGHT photography".

Stieglitz early styles, methods, and subjects encompassed soft-focus Pictorialist photographs or images etched into printing plates directly from the negatives ... But in his late career, Stieglitz was known for sharp-focus "straight" photography, and found plenty of subjects by looking out his New York City high-rise window or walking around his summer home. In 1902 he founded "Photo-Secessions" with a group of talented avant-garde artists. In 1905 he directed the Photo-Secession Gallery in 291 Fifth Avenue, New York ... A gallery that came to be known as the "291", and exhibited not only the work of contemporary photographers, but also works of the most celebrated painters like Picasso, Rodin, Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec ... and thus after a long struggle photography was earned the status of an art!!!

* Stieglitz was the first photographer to be recognized as an artist by American museums, beginning in 1924 when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acquired a set of photographs directly from the artist.

Another prominent name associated with "straight photography" is that of Ansel Adams ... Adams was the co-founder of Group f/64, a movement based on loyalty to "straight photography", in reaction against pictorialism .... He eschewed soft-focus lenses and impressionistic, diffused images ... for sharp-focus, documentary style photographs. He advocated the use of "previsualization" .... that the image must first be created in the mind's eye and that the photographer should know exactly what the picture will look like before he ever shoots the picture ... he developed a processs called "zone system" to produce an image that had beautiful rich black tones, and a large tonal range (grays) that made these prints stand out. Thus Ansel adams pushed the envelop of straight photography ...

* The terms, "Group f/64" , "Photo secessions" and "Pictorials" ... are elaborated in the earlier post!!!

Reference: Alfred Stieglitz, click here ...

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