Essay On History Of Photography
Initially perceived as a technological invention, at the end of the 19th century photography was considered a space of technical innovations. Several inventors, such as Daguerre, Fox Talbot or Niépce were competing against each other for generating new technique of capturing live images that would remain imprinted on various surfaces, such as paper, glass or plate (Gernsheim 15). The period between 1880 – 1920 that marked the World War I event, produced significant social and technological changes, driven by politics. In a war context, technological innovations were very encouraged, which favored the development of photographic techniques in this period. As a political weapon, photography was used as a propagandistic technique to manipulate social changes, to create new thinking systems meant to support various causes of the war (Cooke “Propaganda as a Weapon”). Moreover, the existence of various amateur photographic clubs, such as “The Linked Ring” in England or “The Camera Club” in America, formed and supported by wealthy individuals, contributed to the rapid advance of photography between 1880 and approximately 1920 (“Pictorialalism and Allegorical Themes” 1).
An important photographic movement that formed in the late 19th century was the pictorialism. Its main theme was to position photography as art, making photographs look like paintings. Inspired from Romanticism or Classic painting, pictorialism photography created moralistic, spiritual or pastoral images, under the “pictorial effect” as defined by Henry Peach Robinson (Hannavy 1126). As techniques, this movement utilized the gel – coated lenses in intense darkroom manipulations or gum biochromate processes, reflecting the climate and light while softly representing the captured images (“Pictorialalism and Allegorical Themes”).
The surrealism’s themes were related to the superiority of human intelligence, breaking the limits of the pictorial photographic style to represent construction, buildings or bridges, reflecting the urbanism in the 20th century (“Photo Secessionists” 1). The techniques specific to this movement included the manipulation of the negatives for accentuate the artistic individualism with the purpose of creating an aesthetic effect (Shi 287).
The World War I realities were presented in art and also in photographic art, through the avant-garde movement. The themes of the avant-garde movement included the expression of aggression, fear, anxiety, fury, sexuality, social change. The conventional photography was replaced with abstract photographic representations, following the Dadaist or Surrealism influences meant to utilize science to represent reality (Shi 289; “Between the Wars” 1).
Representative for the pictorialist movement, Julia Margaret Cameron broke the gender barriers in Victorian Britain and created her own photo studio in her house. She focused on representing women’s beauty and her achievements refer to capturing famous women of her time, such as Marianne North and Marie Spartali (both painters), Anne Thackeray (author) and other intellectual women (Hannavy 259).
Julia Margaret Cameron - Anne Thackeray
Focused on creating an association between painting and photogaphy, Henry Peach Robinson wrote many texts on the photographic art that inspired his predecessors and critics (Hannavy 77). Gertrude Kasebier, another pictorialist, is esteemed for her photographic portraits that reflect fine art (Hannaby 391).
Between pictorialism and secessionism, Alfred Stieglitz represented individuals and urban settings, remaining famous for his “The Steerage” photograph that illustrates immigrants arriving in New York (Warren 1495). Another secessionist photographer, Holland Day shocked with his religion inspired photographs that showed naked white and black men (Hannavy 391). The brief photographic career of Alvin Langdon Coburn marked various photographic experiments and innovations, such as the mix of gum printing and platinum papers or mirroring techniques for special effects (Warren 290).
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, an abstractionist and Dadaist adept, explored the mechanisms of positive- negative relationships, distorting perspectives and integrating technology in art and created the photogram (Warren 1241). Alexander Rodchenko’s surrealist innovation stays in the fact that he manipulated the photographic space, creating inverting and distorting perspectives for making visible the the unseen dimensions through unusual angles (Warren 1215).
Alexander Rodchenko – Fire Escape with a Man
Robert Capa was a war photographer and his achievements in the avant-garde movement are marked by the expressive photographs that he created during World War II, which present the sense of death (Warren 238).
Holland Day’s “Ebony and Ivory” is a controversial photography that challenges the Victorian Moravians of the British society. Day’s photography illustrates a young naked black man sitting, with one leg stretched and another bent near his chest, who looks at what seems to be a Greek God’s statuette that he holds in his left hand. This photography initiated a change towards nudism in photography.
A surrealist American artist, Man Ray’s photography presenting a female figure that seems to look into a mirror with different angles, creating multiple individualities of the same person is a revolutionary photographic technique. It seems to employ a mirroring effect that boosts specific particularities of the figure, while blurring or erasing others.
Creating a meeting point between life and death on the battleground of World War II, Robert Capa surprised death in his “Falling Soldier”. This is an innovative photography, illustrating a man on the battlefield who has been shot and is about to hit the ground. His shadow accompanies him to the ground, while his weapon hangs inanimately in his right arm. The photography introduces the movement in this art, inspiring others to capture moving scenes.
Between the Wars: The European Modernist Movement and the Avant Garde 1918 – 1948. History of Photography. N.d. Class Material.
Hannavy, John. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography. New York: Taylor Francis Group, LLC. 2008. Print.
Pictorialism and Allegorical Themes. History of Photography. 2014. Class Material.
Photo Secessionist 1902 – 1917. History of Photography. N.d. Class Material.
Shi, David, E. Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850 – 1920. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995. Print.
Warren, Lynne. Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Photography. New York: Taylor Francis Group, LLC. 2006. Print.
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