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Thread: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

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    What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ during the period 1890 – 1930 And beyond?

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    MIke Sherck's Avatar
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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    I've heard it described as the depiction of the scene without manipulations intended to make the photograph look more like a painting, etching, or product of some other art form. I believe that this was the idea behind Edward Weston's crusade against "pictorialism", which he defined as the effort to make a photograph look like a painting, etching, etc. Group F/64, Paul Strand, Steiglitz, etc. were all involved in the struggle, which for many of them was central to their effort to get photography accepted as an art form, next to painting, etc.

    But I could be wrong. I wasn't there and don't have an art education. Or a photography education, for that matter. I sometimes display competance, but that's only for the tourists.

    Mike
    Politically, aerodynamically, and fashionably incorrect.

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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    I think that "Photographic Modernism" has to be understood as just another expression of Modernism itself. Modernism was the belief in and a seeking to express the reality behind appearance, the universals of life beyond superficial cultural embellishments, das Ding an sich (the thing itself). Pictorialism was viewed as the acme of artifice and artificiality. There was a conviction that form is universal and therefore one could equally capture the true reality of life in the curves of a nude body or the depths of a flower blossom or the fleeting shapes of shadows if only these could be rendered with absolute clarity and honesty. Because of these perspectives, the early modernist photographers (including Weston, Strand, and others) were driven to make reverently sharp, high-resolution images exploiting what they felt to be the unique capacity of photography to reveal ultimate truths.

    Of course, Postmodernism was the rejection of the notion that such universal truths even existed. Instead of hiding behind cultural idiosyncrasies, reality, insofar as it existed at all, lay precisely in them, hence the ascendency of multiculturalism, behavioral diversity, deviant forms. I think that there is something of a connection between Modernism and Platonism, where objects in our ordinary experience are viewed as pale reflections of a perfect transcendent reality. On the other hand, Aristotelian philosophy and Postmodernism views the reality of an object as the aggregate of the varieties in which that object may actually be found in our ordinary experience. Thus, in this latter world view, one searches out the extreme expressions or manifestations of an object in order to define the domain of its reality.

    Naturally, there is a lot more to this topic than I've touched on, but these are the features that immediately come to my mind. Hopefully, others will bring out more.

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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    Martin, your work left me speechless.

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    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    What Martin said.

    I think the European version of photographic modernism was a bit different ... the European photographers seemed much more closely connected to the different art ideologies that were defining European painting and other arts at the time. So you'll see photography from the continent representing all the various -isms of the modern period ... surrealism, expresionism, constructivism, futurism, dada, etc. etc..

    My sense is that the Americans were trying to define photography as something more independent from other media, even if shared with those media the most basic philosophies of modernism.

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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    My understanding was that the F64 group and straight photography, while modern, was not strictly modernist. American Modernism as applied to photography for me is best appreciated by Weston's abstracts and the advertising photographers that came out of White's school of photography.
    Atjet, Weston, Dorothea Lange, Laura Gilpin, Margeret Bourke-White, Margaret Watkins and Paul Outerbridge Jr. would be examples.
    Regards
    Bill

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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    Modernism has to do with the artist's chosen media and the limitations it imposes. Modernist photographers accept both the limitations & the advantages of the camera and film whereas Pictorialists always seem to be apologizing for their chosen media.

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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    Hi thanks for all of your ideas and thoughts, they have been really helpfull listing artists always helps to inspire. I'm very interested in the relationship between Photographic Modernism and the other art movements that were almost within it such as DaDa and Surrealism.

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    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    take a look at work by guys like laslo moholy-nagy, man ray, alexander rodchenko, maurice tabard, albert renger-patzsch, el lissitzky, and umbo. they were more closely tied to the various european -isms than most of the american modernists.

    of the americans, i think paul strand and charles sheeler, and maybe walker evans (in some of his less typical work) were the americans most obviously influenced by those movements.

    a wonderful book if you can find it is The New Vision, published by MoMA in the '80s. it's a catalog of the ford motor company collection of american and european photography from between the world wars. it's printed by richard benson and is a gorgeous encyclopedia of modernism.

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    Re: What is to be understood by the expression ‘Photographic Modernism’ ?

    I've got nothing intelligent to add about modernism, but Martin, I just looked at your web portfolio. What a interesting and beautiful body of work.

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