Photography As An Art Form
For much of its early history, people argued about whether photography should be considered art. Some, including many artists (many of whom used photographs as guides for their own work), considered photography a purely mechanical process, produced by chemicals rather than human sensibility. Others said that photography was similar to other printmaking processes like etching and lithography, and no one argued that they were not art. Still, at large expositions, curators usually hung the photographs in the science and industry sections rather than with the paintings.
An 1893 showing of photographs in Hamburg, Germany's art museum still provoked controversy. But that was about to change. In 1902, American photographer Alfred Stieglitz formed the PhotoSecession in New York City. The group's shows and publications firmly advocated the view that photography was art. Their magazine, "Camera Works," which used high-quality engravings to reproduce photographs, proved extremely influential, showing that photography could be used for artistic purpose.
Artistic photography reflected many of the same trends as other branches of art. By the end of World War I in 1918, leading-edge photography had moved away from the soft-focus pictorialism of the nineteenth century. It became more geometric and abstract. Photographers began concentrating on choosing details that evoked situations and people. Lighter, more versatile cameras enabled photographers to take scenes of urban streets. Photography proved important in documenting the Great Depression. Many photographers concentrated on stark depictions of the downtrodden.
At the other end of the spectrum, this interest in spare but elegant depictions of everyday objects worked well with advertising, and many art photographers had careers in advertising or taking glamorous photographs for picture magazines.
Landscape photography also flourished. The best known twentieth century landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, created a system for precisely controlling the exposure and development of film to manipulate the amount of contrast in negatives.
These developments helped give photography a separate and unique identity. The Museum of Modern Art in New York formed a department of photography in 1940, showing that the medium had been accepted as an art form. Since then, art photography has thrived, with many artists making important contributions in areas ranging from landscape to street photography to surrealist photomontage.
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