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Changing Role of Photography in the 20th Century

History Of Photography 1 Essay 3 2011 Lecturer: Chad Rossouw Title: THE CHANGING ROLE OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY Handing in date: Monday 19th September 2011 Student: Katinka Bester “The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep. ” –Paul Strand Photography in the early 20th century fast became a dominant medium in documenting the changes in a mass growing society. Artists like Paul Strand and Alexander Rodchenko were avid participants of the movement called straight photography, composing nuanced images from ordinary moments.

This new exploration in imagery led to the presentation of a photo through a clearer eye, without the manipulation of a negative. This essay outlines the aspects of a formal analysis on photographs taken by Paul Strand and Alexander Rodchenko, enlightening how these photographs changed elements of the 20th century. Further onwards in the essay I will clarify how these elements were applied to a contemporary social and political issue. Straight photography is photography in which the image is not obviously manipulated.

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In straight photographs, the mechanical objectivity of the camera and lens takes precedence over the creativity of the artist in the altering of the print to achieve artistic effects (Merrell, date unknown, 342). The adventure of European Pictorialism lasted for thirty years. Its practitioners were united primarily by the establishment of aesthetic concepts that were intended to give photography legitimacy as a medium of artistic expression on the same footing as painting and the graphic arts. The Pictorialists sought to create effects with the use of framing, composition, backlighting, lengthened perspectives, and low camera angles.

They perfected special lenses, enabling them to restrict their camera’s vision. Picture’s were given an artistic touch by means of out-of-focus effects, blurring their photographic sharpness in favor of a mysterious , poetic atmosphere and modern versions. The pictorialists however were divided by a disagreement, centering on the use of ‘sharp’ or ‘soft’ focus. The partisans of straight photography disagreed with those who advocated manipulating the print to achieve the desired effect. The British in general, considered the subject itself more important than the way it’s treated.

In the 1880’s the British photographer Peter Henry Emerson became the first to make a stand against any kind of photographic manipulation. Emerson’s extremely simple photographs of English landscapes have a hidden lyricism, in which manipulation of the print plays no part. This aesthetic of simplicity attracted many British photographers. The most remarkable of the British Straight Photographers was Frederick H Evans, known for his interiors of English Gothic cathedrals, photographed in soft focus (See image 1).

The purity of his work was due to platinum printing process, which is less easy to manipulate than gum bichromate (a printing process based on light sensitivity of dichromates) and faithfully reproduces subtle nuances. For Evans straight photography was the medium for any artistic value. The German-Born Baron Adolphe de Meyer was another representative of straight photography, preferring optical and chemical means to control the treatment of light and the reproduction of transparent substances in his still life’s(See image 2). Image 1 Image 2

Strand and Stieglitz were part of a movement called Photo-Secession. Secessionists and their participants in pictorial photography had counterparts in Europe, including England, Germany and France. Together they formed an “international” movement that was essential to the furtherance of critical discourse premised on stimulating or applying artistic effects. This fusion of art and photography would be the catalyst for a profusion of popular and sentimentalized pictures that continued to prevail in regional photo clubs well into the 20th century.

Out of the earlier specialized network of artist photographers and their supporters, however, came a resistance to any direct tampering with the negative and print surfaces for aesthetic ends. A form of respect for maximum depth of field, high resolution, maintaining the initial exposure, gave rise to modernist rhetoric in the next wave of critical material on photography. Proponents of this movement included Stieglitz, who renounced pictorialist devises for “straight” approach. It would come to be known to future generations. Paul Strand would accompany Stieglitz to the new direction. By the 1920’s,

Strand, Stieglitz, and other members like Imogen Cunningham, would contribute to a critical and theoretical engagement with their craft. They attracted many people of the new generation of writers, scholars and practitioners in their response. The short lived Group called f. 64, formed in 1932 to champion the straight approach (Focal Press, 2008, 125). Geometric Backyards, New York, 1917, Platinum print, Paul Strand Paul Strand believed in the redemptive power of art that is rooted in the reality of everyday life, and was an articulate advocate for a “pure” aesthetic in creative photography.

Believing in the absolute unqualified objectivity of photography. Strand started creating tightly structured compositions, printed in rich chiaroscuro, innovative for their authenticity and dynamism(PHAIDON, 2004, 91 ). When he made this picture in 1917, strand was living in his family’s townhouse on West 83rd street in New York. For 24 years he had seen the view from the back window, but it was only after the summer of 1916, when he had made abstractions from porch shadows in Connecticut that he would see in backyards and shadows this way.

In this photograph you will find two backyards separated by walls surrounding it. This is an indication of cluster-living, middle-class houses and backyards. In this particular backyard, there contains a set of washing hanging from a stretched out washing line, held on by washing pens. It seems like the backyard was mainly used as a space for this. The photograph contains a fair amount of geometric shapes, referring to the shape of the washing materials, the layout of the background with grass and stone, contrasting each other.

The other significant feature of this image, is the contrasting levels between black and white, measured by the amount of natural light falling on different textures and surfaces. The shadows almost trick the eye of a sense of space. The angle of the image can be responsible for that. The camera’s angle is an almost odd way to construct art, especially in the years of the 1900’s. This is a true indication of straight photography. Pure shapes, sharp focus and tightly structured compositions. This underlying theme of linear lines and sense of direction of lines and movement though the soft fabric, is seen in this image.

There is no obvious focal point, but the tones could be a guideline to where and how your eyes move throughout this image. The sense of repition of lines, shapes and chiaroscuro can bring a sense of space and shape and beautiful abstractions. If I look at the overall value of the image, I would say the dark and light values are almost weived into each other, blending in to evaluate and bring out important details. I can definitely say it is a new type of framing that came into the 1900’s. Here the framing is becoming more skew, cutting off objects to produce a more artistic and strange new art.

Alexander Rodchenko was one of the founding members of Russian Constructivism. After the October Revolution of 1917, he became increasingly involved with government sponsored organizations that advocated the integration of art with everyday life, which led him and other artists to reject traditional art forms. By 1925 he had renounced painting as elitest, embracing the photographic medium as the revolutionary tool that would enable the masses to discover the modern world of science and technology.

Conventional, straight-on shots “from the navel” could not, he believed, revolutionize perception; rather, vantage points from above, from below, and on the diagonal were the means by which to surprise the viewer into discovering the new world. Yet it was in photography in its purest form that Rodchenko found his true talent. He is noted to have said, “only the camera is capable of reflecting contemporary life”. Indeed, whether it be in the intimate portrait of a friend or a stylistic shot of a Soviet sports event, I think Rodchenko certainly captured something of his time.

Mosselprom was one of his photographs to resemble how the revolution was changing. It’s a theme that he would use very often. Rodchenko was known as a Russian Constuctivist. Russian Constructivism was a movement that was active from 1913 to the 1940s. It was a movement created by the Russian avant-garde, but quickly spread to the rest of the continent. Constructivist art is committed to complete abstraction with a devotion to modernity, where themes are often geometric, experimental and rarely emotional. Mosselprom, Moscow, 1926, Alexander Rodchenko Gelatin-silver rint This is a building of some sort, which is separated by different levels built top of each other. This in the era Rodchenko was living, was a change and as a former Russian Constructivist, it was his task to evoke it through his talent for photography. He was known for his extreme angles and point-of-view’s.

In this particular image, there is a sense of importance by looking at the angle that is shot from above. He also, similar to Strand, make use of levels of light and dark, to create repetitive shapes that almost become abstract. The structure of this image acts in lines, because of the angle, the lines in which it follows are seemingly diagonal with odd straight lines with abruption of the other. If you look at the juxtaposition of this image, it will bring forth a sense of power overlooking the viewer, which is very effective.

This is something Rodchenko could very easily accomplish. Provenance[Walker, Ursitti and McGinnis Gallery, Washington, D. C. ]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, June 19, 1990 Signatures, Inscriptions, and MarkingsInscriptions: Artist’s inkstamp, print verso, blue ink, C: “[wording in Russian]” | | | The 1920’s brought forth many new technological advances. Builders could now use steel, iron, and glass. Alloys, or blended metals, were discovered and produced, and the elevator was invented. These new materials had great and long lasting influences on modern architecture.

This image showcased the new innovative advantages, although its unclear to state if this specific building had an elevator. Elevators were installed to replace stairs. A gradual modernization of technical systems took place. Plagiarism Declaration I know that plagiarism is wrong. Plagiarism is the use of another person’s ideas or published work and to pretend that it is one’s own. This therefore amounts to theft. Each significant contribution to, and quotation in this work that I have obtained from other people’s published works or unpublished sources has been attributed, and has been cited and fully referenced.

This article / research report / book manuscript is my own original work and I expect OSSREA reviewers to regard it as such and that I alone am responsible for any incomplete references that may remain in my work. Signed:…………………………… Date:…………………………… References: 1. Photography A Cultural History, Mary Warner Marien, copywright © 2002 Laurence King Publishing 2. 20th Century Photography, Museum Ludwig Cologne, © 2005 TASCHEN GmbH 3. Impressionist Camera, Pictorial Photography, 1888-1918, Merrell, date unknown 4.

The Photobook: A History Volume 1, Phaidon 2004 5. Bernd and Hilla Becher, Life And Work, Susanne Lange, 2007, The MIT Press 6. The Concise Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, Focal Press, 2008 Practical component During WW1, Paul Strand was a member of the Army Medical Corps, where he was introduced to X-ray and other medical camera procedures. After the war, Strand collaborated with Charles Scheeler on a documentary film called Mannahatta in 1925. He continued with his work as a motion picture cameraman when he worked on the film The Wave in 1933.

The Wave depicted the economic problems confronting a fishing village near Vera Cruz. He began to work as a freelance cinematographer. A career he followed until the 1930’s. He created an industry for making news and short features and with the onset of the Depression strand became active in politics. He was aware of the revolutionary social ideas being tested in Mexico through his visits. Strand saw the opportunities to make still photographs and to produce govemment sponsored documentary films. Later Strand attemped to assist a Russian director Sergei Eisenstein in the Soviet Union in 1935.

The then collaborated with other filmmakers to produce a series of pro-labor and antifascist movies. In 1936 Strand joined with Berenice Abbot, a member of the movement Straight Photography, to establish the Photo League in New York. Its initial purpose was to provide the radical press with photographs of trade union activities and political protests. Later the group decided to organize local projects where members concentrated on photographing working class communities. Rodchenko’s early photographic work was creating montages.

He took photographs with the eyes of a painter, and constructed inside the frame images that opened a new window on reality. Influenced by the fluidity of film, he experimented with changing perspectives: from the ground, from the tallest tower and building, from right angle and close-up. His photographs captured a moment of production, the gears shifting, oiled machinery, or a quiet moment in a worker’s day. Rodchenko took his camera out into the streets to record the optimism of a new society, to show that future liberation was possible though the industry. He understood the power of the documentary.

As the revolution gave way during the late 1920s to bureaucratic control and then the dictatorship of counter-revolution, Rodchenko was along with all the avant garde, attacked. Their experiments were demolished as part of the old world. As workers’ control was dismantled and life again came under the fist of domination the artists were driven out of public life. The openness of discussion and disagreement that was essential to the revolution in its first days was silenced. The rest of the artists came together around a magazine called Lef (Left Front of the Arts) and then New Lef towards the end of the 1920s when the attacks increased.

In 1933 it became illegal to take photographs on the streets of Russian cities without a permit and Rodchenko found it more and more difficult to get a permit. He took photographs of sporting events where you see the regimentation and the seeds of Stalinist conformity and the horrendous creation of Socialist Realism. Even here Rodchenko continues to experiment. Slowly he was forced into taking pictures only from the balcony of his apartment. Again through his eyes we can see the changing city, the streets, buildings and open space. .


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