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3 Tutorials that teach Modern Photography
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Modern Photography

Modern Photography

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will consider some examples of modern photography.

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Tutorial

An overview of modern photography.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of "Exploring Art History with Ian." My name's Ian McConnell. Today's lesson is about modern photography.

As you watch the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you are ready, we can begin. Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify members of the early 20th century photography movements, and identify examples of early modern photography.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is street photography. A style of photography focused on capturing realistic images using unaltered prints.

Camera Work. An early 20th century magazine published by Alfred Stieglitz that featured the work of the most important photographers for that period.

Photo session. A term that is used to describe an occasion where every photographer will take professional photographs.

f/64. A group of photographers in the San Francisco area who are united by a similar style of sharply-focused compositions.

Your big idea for today is that modern photography was in many ways an extension and departure from the pictorialist movement of the 19th century.

And the photography that we'll look at today, or the art that we'll look at today, dates from between 1907 and 1942.

We'll be traveling to New York City, the home of Alfred Stieglitz, Big Sur California, where Edward Weston lived and died, San Francisco, California, where Imogen Cunningham lived and died, and where Ansel Adams was born in 1902.

As you recall from our earlier lesson on 19th century photography, photographers developed a style of photography called pictorialism, which imitated the style of prints and paintings in an attempt to have photography considered a true art form. Alfred Stieglitz was part of this movement, and devoted his life to promoting photography as an art form, in the process establishing a group known as the Photo Secession and a journal known as Camera Work.

During the 20th century, there was a movement to promote the photograph as an art in and of itself. In other words, there wasn't the attempt to imitate prints or paintings. One of the first examples of this is a photograph considered one of the greatest ever made, this image titled "The Steerage." Steerage refers to the lower levels of the boat. And it's an important image, marking the shift from pictorialism and the acceptance of photography as a true art form gaining significant traction within the art community.

So a movement completely opposed to pictorialism developed early in the 20th century called straight photography. It was largely promoted by a photographer named Paul Strand, who was inspired by cubism and taking ordinary objects and making them appear abstract through cropping, which is cutting off portions of the picture. Strand displayed his work within Stieglitz's journal Camera Work, which was portraying more and more examples of modern photography.

Straight photography departed from the pictorialist emphasis on assembling a composition, and instead kept images largely unaltered, relying instead on photographic technique. The work of Edward Weston is a great example of this in how he chose subjects like food, nudes, seashells, and other familiar objects, and photographed them in a way that made them appear abstract.

Weston and photographers Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams were members of a group called f/64, which promoted straight photography over pictorialism. It involved the unique aspect of western American themes. One of the first examples is Cunningham's "Succulent" photo, which displays the careful attention to clear focus, or sharp focus, and contrast of light and dark to frame the image. That's a wonderful example of how the photographer's skill could elevate an image from merely pedestrian to high art, in much the same way as earlier still-life painters.

Now, likely the most famous photographer to emerge from this group is the photographer Ansel Adams. Like the Hudson River School from the 19th century, Adams's photographs of the majestic beauty in unadulterated nature brought awareness to the American public of the breathtaking grandeur of the American landscape. His work remains closely associated with the environmental group The Sierra Club, who successfully lobbied for the preservation of millions of acres of American wilderness, thanks in part to the photography of Ansel Adams.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's terms? Can you identify members of the early-20th-century photography movements? Can you identify examples of early modern photography?

And once again, our big idea for today is that modern photography was in many ways an extension of and departure from the pictorialist movement of the 19th century.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations

Image of Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stieglitz-Steerage291.jpg    Image of Imogen Cunningham, Succulent, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Succulent_Imogen_Cunningham_1920.jpg; Image of Edward Weston, Pepper #30, fair use according to wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Weston-pepper30.jpg; Image of Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Public Domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adams_The_Tetons_and_the_Snake_River.jpg; Image of Camera Work Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Camera_Work_cover.jpg; Image of Photo-Secession Public Domain; Image of Woman Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Strand-_Portrait,_Washington_Square_Park,_1917.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Photo-Secession

    An early twentieth-century movement founded by Alfred Stieglitz that involved the promotion of photography as a form of art.

  • Straight photography

    A style of photography focused on capturing realistic images using unaltered prints.

  • Camera Work

    An early 20th-century magazine published by Alfred Stieglitz that featured the artwork of the most important photographers from that period.

  • Photo Session

    A term that is used to describe an occasion where a photographer will take professional photographs.

  • f/64 Group

    A group of photographers in the San Francisco area who were united by a similar style of sharply-focused compositions.