Modernism in Photography

Sunday, March 19th 2023

Modernism in photography is an artistic movement that emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was characterized by a desire to break away from traditional art and focus on experimentation, innovation, and the exploration of new forms of expression. In photography, this meant moving away from Pictorialism and towards a more straight and objective approach to image-making. The timeline of modernism in photography is as follows:

  • 1880s-1910s: Pictorialism, a style of photography that imitated painting and used soft focus and manipulation to create dreamlike or romanticized images, was dominant during this period.

  • 1910s-1920s: The emergence of modernism in photography is often traced to the work of photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand. They began to emphasize the formal qualities of the photographic image, such as line, shape, and texture, rather than its ability to mimic painting.

  • 1920s-1930s: Modernist photography continued to develop, with photographers such as Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham exploring new forms of abstraction and formalism.

  • 1940s-1950s: Modernist photography continued to be influential after World War II, with the emergence of the New York School of photography, which included photographers such as Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, and Irving Penn.

  • 1960s-1970s: Modernist photography began to give way to Postmodernism, with the emergence of conceptual and performance art.

Prominent figures in modernist photography include:

  • Alfred Stieglitz: a photographer and gallery owner who championed modernist photography and helped to promote the work of artists such as Paul Strand and Georgia O'Keeffe.

  • Paul Strand: a photographer who helped to define modernist photography with his straight, objective approach to image-making.

  • Edward Weston: a photographer known for his explorations of form and abstraction, as well as his stunning images of landscapes and nudes.

  • Imogen Cunningham: a photographer who explored the formal qualities of the photographic image and helped to establish photography as a legitimate art form.

  • Ansel Adams: a photographer known for his iconic images of the American West, as well as his pioneering work in photographic technique and environmental conservation.