Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture
























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 1888 and the advent of 35mm photography with the Leica camera in 1924 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 1907 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was applied a coating of silver bromide emulsion; it yielded a positive color transparency upon development and was not superseded until Kodak began to make color film in 1932, using the same principles but more advanced materials.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.

1214. Louis Lumiere. Young Lady with an Umbrella.
Autochrome. Societe Lumiere

The School of Paris

Eugene Atget.

Modern photography began quietly in Paris with Eugene Atget
(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.

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. 1215), 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.

Eugene Atget. Versailles. 1924.
Albumen-silver print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Andre Kertesz

Atget's direct successors were two East Europeans. The older of them, Andre Kertesz (1894-1985), 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.

1216. Andre Kertesz.
Blind Musician.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York


The photographic style of Gyula Halasz, known simply as Brassai (1899-1984), 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.

"Bijou" of Montmartre.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The culmination of this Paris school is Henri Cartier-Bresson (born 1908), 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 Ray, 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 artist.

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 less powerfully.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mexico, 1934.
Gelatin-silver print


Robert Doisneau.

If Cartier-Bresson has a peer in any area, it is in the ironic wit of Robert Doisneau (1912-1994). 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?

1219. Robert Doisneau. Side Glance.
Gelatin-silver print


The Stieglitz School

Alfred Stieglitz.

The founder of modern photography in the United States was Alfred Stieglitz, whose influence remained dominant throughout his life
(1864-1946). From his involvement with the Photo-Secession onward, 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." The 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.

His classic statement, and the one he regarded as his finest photograph, is The Steerage (fig. 1220), 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.

Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage.
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 (fig. 1221) 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 fig. 1045).

Alfred Stieglitz. Equivalent.
Chloride print.
The Art Institute of Chicago.


Edward Weston.

Stieglitz' concept of the Equivalent opened the way to "pure" photography as an alternative to straight photography. The leader of this new approach was Edward Weston (1886-1958), 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.

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. 1089) that lends the Equivalent a new meaning. Here the shapes are intentionally suggestive of the photographs of the female nude that Weston also pioneered.

Edward Weston.
Center for Creative Photography,
Tucson, Arizona


Ansel Adams.

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.

1223. Ansel Adams.
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York






Margaret Bourke-White. 

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 painters 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.

Margaret Bourke-White
(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. 1224). 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. 1141). Bourke-White's rare ability to suggest multiple levels of meaning made this cover and her accompanying photo essay a landmark in photojournalism.

1224. Margaret Bourke-White.
Fort Peck Dam, Montana.

Time Warner, Inc.


Edward Steichen.

The flourishing magazine business also gave rise to fashion and glamour photography, which was developed into an art in its own right by 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 enigmatic personality.

1225. Edward Steichen.
Greta Garbo.
(for Vanity Fair magazine).
The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Wayne Miller.

One of Steichen's contributions to photography was to organize the "Family of Man" exhibition, which opened in New York in 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 existence.

1226. Wayne Miller.
"Family 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.

7.James Van Der Zee.
The Wife of the Reverend Becton,
Pastor of Salem Methodist Church.





With the New Objectivity movement in Germany during the late 1920s 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.

Albert Renger-Patzsch.

Potter's Hands
(fig. 1228) by Albert Renger-Patzsch (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.

1228. Albert Renger-Patzsch.
Potters Hands.

August Sander.

When applied to people rather than things, the New Objectivity could have deceptive results. August Sander (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.

1229. August Sander.
Pastry Cook, Cologne.


Josef Sudek.

Josef Sudek
(1896-1976) 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 tragedy.

1230. Josef Sudek.
View from Studio Window in Winter.




The Heroic Age of Photography

Robert Capa.

The period from
1930 to 1945 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 Robert Capa (1913 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 (fig. 1231) captures fully 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.

1231. Robert Capa. Death of a Loyalist Soldier.
5, 1936

Dorothea Lange. 

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 Dorothea Lange
(18951965) for people and her sensitivity to their dignity made her the finest documentary photographer of the time in America.

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.

1232. Dorothea Lange.
Migrant Mother, California.



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.


Photomontages are simply parts of photographs cut out and recombined into new images. Composite negatives originated with the art photography of Rejlander and Robinson, 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 aesthetic conventions.

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 consciousness.

Herbert Bayer.

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 metropolitan (fig. 1233) by the German-born Herbert Bayer (1900-1985). 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 its significance.

1233. Herbert Bayer.
lonely metropolitan.



John Heartfield.

Photomontages were soon incorporated into carefully designed posters as well. In Germany,
posters 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 John Heartfield (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.

1234. John Heartfield.
As in the Middle Ages,
so in the Third Reich.
Poster, photomontage.


Man Ray.

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 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 grim satire.

1235. Man Ray
Gelatin-silver print.


Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

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. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), a 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.

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.

1236. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

Berenice Abbott.

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 1939 to 1958 by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Man Ray's former pupil and assistant, to demonstrate the laws of physics (fig. 1237).

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.

1237. Berenice Abbott. Transformation of Energy.





Aaron Siskind.

Photography after World War
II 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. 1238) that are ironically similar to the ideographs of some forgotten civilization no longer intelligible to us.

1238. Aaron Siskind.
New York 2

Minor White.

Minor White
(1908-1976) 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 remains elusive.

1239. Minor White. Ritual Branch.

Documentary Photography

W. Eugene Smith.

The continuing record of misery that photography provides has often been the vehicle for making strong personal statements. W. Eugene Smith
(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. 859). But what engages our emotions above all in making the photograph memorable is the infinite love conveyed by the mother's tender expression.

1240. W. Eugene Smith. Tomoko in Her Bath.
December 1971

Robert Frank.

The birth of a new form of straight photography in the United States was largely the responsibility of one man, Robert Frank (born
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 (fig. 1070). 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. 1241): 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 materialism.

1241. Robert Frank. Santa Fe, New Mexico.




Fantasy gradually reasserted itself on both sides of the Atlantic in the 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.

Bill Brandt.

Manipulation of photography was pioneered by Bill Brandt
(1904-1983). Though 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.

1242. Bill Brandt. London Child.

Jerry Uelsmann.

The American Jerry Uelsmann (born 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. 1243) 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.

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.

1243. Jerry Uelsmann.
. 1972

Joanne Leonard.

Contemporary photographers have often turned to fantasy as autobiographical expression. Both the image and the title of Romanticism Is Ultimately Fatal (fig. 1244) by Joanne Leonard (born 1940) 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).

1244. Joanne Leonard.
Romanticism Is Ultimately Fatal,
from "Dreams and Nightmares."


David Wojnarowicz.

Even more shocking is Death in the Cornfield (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.

David Wojnarowicz. Death in the Cornfield.


Artists as Photographers

David Hockney.

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 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 (fig. 1246), 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.

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.

David Hockney.
Gregory Watching
the Snow Fall, Kyoto, Feb. 21, 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 (compare fig. 1167). 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.

Barbara Kruger.

That is not a problem with Barbara Kruger (born
1945), whose pictures are instantly recognizable for their confrontational approach. Untitled ("You Are a Captive Audience") (fig. 1264) 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 corporations.

1264. Barbara Kruger. Untilled
("You Are a Captive Audience").

Annette Lemieux.

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 1957) 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 soundor, 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 Bennybut 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.

1265. Annette Lemieux. Truth. 1989

Cindy Sherman.

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 Cindy Sherman (born 1954). 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 illuminating.

1266 shows her predilection for 1940s and 1950s 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 provocativeand puzzlingexpressions ever. 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.

Cindy Sherman.
Unfitted Film Still
#2. 1977


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