Reading – Photography – A Concise History Ian Jeffrey

Chapter 1 – Seeing Nature

The first chapter discusses some of the first pioneers of photography, Fox Talbot and Hippolyte Bayard. These pioneers began taking photos during the time when photography was viewed as an invention and calling it an art form was something that was heavily scrutinised.

Out in Nature, pioneer photographers would look for already composed scenes to shoot. Working within nature, common shots were that of reflections and branching trees. Photographers seemed fascinated by the shapes and patterns that nature could produce.

Sometimes these pioneer photographers would compose their own scene. Offering up something more to the viewer by utilising the power of suggestion and symbolism within the photographed scene. It added more depth to a picture and lead better into the intended interpretation of a photograph.

Whilst, there was no previous photographers to look towards for inspiration, pioneers would look towards artists of other forms, such as painters. However, unlike paintings where an artist could be entirely in charge of their vision and work accordingly, photography was littered with life’s incidentals. This meant that taking photographs of something that was considered a beauty spot was often impeded by these occurrences dominating the picture. Repair work, street trade amongst other things would get in the way of their intended vision. This was, until photographers learnt to compose, edit and avoid such distractions. The informal view of documentary style photographs was something that was shunned, it was considered disorderly and presented a gap between what was considered official culture of the time and street life. Instead, for the remainder of the 1800’s, photographers chose to stick to more public approved subjects. Unconventional and experimental techniques were shied away from until the New Age of Photography which began in the 1920’s.

At the beginning of the 1850’s photographers began to rely heavily on a pictorial code, rather than experiment. Scenes would contain a marker figure, someone who would be either gazing into the distance, resting seated, or reading within the scene or they would be turned towards the camera . These figures not only gave an indication as to the scale but would indicate either awe or reverie or a more practical relationship with their surroundings. Photography became cliched, photographers would play it safe and take less risks.

In the beginning, Talbot enjoyed the incidentals around him. His first works were not particularly coherent as a series and rather a fleeting view of the things he happened upon.

Despite this, both Talbot and Bayard took most of their photographs in and around their homes. Documentary style photography accounts only for a small fraction of pioneering photography.

Chapter 2 – Instantaneous Pictures

Photography of the 1840’s & 1850’s was slow, incidentals in nature would not register. Seemingly this was something of a setback to some, it was considered a strength to others. The resulting photographs would be ‘purified’ and without the interference of nature. David Octavius Hill certainly took advantage of this when he teamed up with Robert Adamson to produce a collective portrait of the dissenters of the Church of Scotland. Their results were highly contrasting pictures of the subject, where they would appear light against their dark background. This gave emphasis to these notable figures who had in essence broken free from a dark surrounding, it gave the portraits an air of inward thinking rather than the outward show which portrait photography began to become.

Over time and with the advance of technology, exposures began to get faster. This aided the photographers who wanted to capture a scene in more detail. However, it wasn’t without some difficulty. In 1854 Dillwyn Llewelyn set out to capture the ‘restless waves’. In a group of four photographs entitled ‘Motion’ he depicted just that, waves were caught fixed whilst rolling, steam from a boat was visible, as were people moving along the shoreline.

With this new ability to create a more instantaneous photograph, Francis Frith travelled to Egypt and set out to depict what it was like to actually be in these remote regions of the world. He wanted to give the feel of the place and to show just what it was like to actually be there. People were visible in his pictures and it gave the feeling that these were habitable places. Others began to follow in his footsteps and a level of intimacy was evident in the photographs.

By 1860 a new medium in the way of stereoscopic photography began to take people by storm. These three dimensional ‘wonders’ were very popular and the market became saturated with photographs that were described in the British photographic press as ‘stereoscopic trash’.

At the same time that Stereoscopic photography was being explored, another photographer had her own vision. Julia Margaret Cameron wasn’t concerned with immediacy and instead she set about producing photographs that depicted people without the blemishes of life and her subjects were portrayed as handsome and distinguished. She used a soft focus as a means to ‘smooth’ the photograph and her work was viewed by many as disconcerting and was criticised. Her work, however, displays a level of inward thinking. She was insistent on the ‘idea’ of the thing and set her photographs somewhere in the imagination. Rather, than a mundane tracing of how life really was. Her subjects appeared as ‘dreamers’

In contrast to Cameron, photographers in France, Nadar (Gaspard-Felix Tournachon) and Etienne Carjat put instantaneity to good use. They specialised in depicting ‘character’ and their subjects would often be captured glancing at the camera with smiles or frowns on their faces. Their pictures captured a more real to life view and alertness of the subject in question. Whilst seemingly unique in their view in the photography world, their work was part of a well established tradition of the late 18th century of art as a whole that captured alertness in an instant moment. They did however, bring a new level to this lively and animated form of depiction, and that was to capture the ‘mood’ of the subject.

Oscar Rejlander, like Julia Margaret Cameron was obsessed with making photography a medium for art. He set out intent on materialising his vision and imagination and to work with photography as if it were a limitless medium. However, in the beginning he failed, his idea that the meaning of art should be something grand, harmonious and complete worked against the natural capabilities in photography. His work was heavily criticised and he withdrew from his attempt at ‘action and drama’ photography and instead began to concentrate on those moments when times appears to stand still. He became more of a photographer of ambience and a symbolist artist. He acknowledged the stillness and that imagination should be guided by observation and as such he became a more passive artist, like many other photographers. However, because of his initial ambition, he confronted the problem of passivity. With the conflict of being an artist and using a camera which subjected you to the mercy of events, this solution was to watch and wait. Appearances would become apparent on their own, given the time and accepting that, as a photographer you cannot be completely in control. If you try to impose yourself too much, you work against the medium of photography.

Chapter 3 – Documentary Meanings

Whilst there were some photographers intent on their ambitions as artists, they were in the minority. Most photographers viewed the medium as a convenient way to record things. The latter, however have often been more revered as pioneer photographers than their contemporaries. Photographers such as Roger Fenton and James Robertson who took photographs during war were depicting something out of the ordinary, War was not ordinary and their photographs were there to show what went on.

Fenton used his medium to show what went on ‘behind the scenes’ of war, the elements of how things worked but during the Crimean war, the majority of his pictures were portraits of army figures. The Field-Marshals and down throughout the ranks of officers. These portraits gave an air of normalcy to these human beings, they appeared moderate and unsettled, as if they were private citizens who had donned the uniforms against their own better judgement. They had a bearing to this particular War, which was carried out with little confidence and so, portray the mood very well.

In contrast to Fenton’s work, Mathew Brady, with a team of ten photographers took about to covering and photographing the American Civil War (1861-65). Spread throughout various battlefronts, they took photographs of battlefields, behind the scenes and of the main protagonists. They believed that their audience would be interested in how things were done in this war and in comparison to Fenton’s work, they emphasised an unwavering sternness and resolution and a clearly strong belief in the justness of this particular war. The portraits focused on the power of the facial expression and stance and it told the audience all they needed to know about these characters, they were strong, powerful and relentless.

W.H. Jackson took pictures of Indians in the Omaha area since 1868. In 1877 “600 Portraits of American Indians” was published and many of the portraits had been the work of Jackson. His pictures had been hard to capture, since the Indian’s were unprepared to be particularly cooperative. The resulting photographs had little intimacy and familiarity to them and depicted the Indian as warriors that would rival those of the portraits taken of the American Generals. Jackson was also one of the photographers to produce body of landscape photography depicting various American sites. Jackson, among other photographers took these pictures as surveys of the landscape and the idea behind the was that of Catastrophism. This was the theory that said the world was shaped by large scale upheavals happening periodically and this rejected the theory of Evolution, there has only been rare instances in which photographers have such a theoretical basis behind their work. But whatever is behind the pictures they still produce a detailed survey of how the American landscape looked at the time.

Chapter 4 – Small Worlds

Cameras had started to become smaller and easier to manage and photography began more accessible to everyone wishing to have a go themselves. Professional photographers had begun to think of themselves more as artists and have a voice. John Thomson had set about photographing whole societies. He begun with Cambodia and soon moved onto China, where he had photographed everyone from labourers to government officials. It wasn’t without difficulty however, the Chinese frequently attacked Thomson and his camera. His book on China gave an extensive view of the way China worked, with its manufacturing and social arrangements. It was designed to be of use to people wishing to settle in and trade with China.

Thomson then moved his attention to the outcasts of London. His book “Street Life in London” explored this dangerous and unvisited world and illustrated the social heriarchy in London. There was an accuracy to his work that photography had provided, it was unquestionable photographic proof of the existence of this underground world.

Peter Henry Emerson followed on from Thomson but had concentrated his work in East Anglia and what life was like there. His work was published in a series of articles, journals and documentary writings. Norfolk at the time was considered the last of ancient life in England, it was a beautiful spot full of free men living off the land. However, this way of life was being threatened, harsh game laws, railways had closed boatyards due to reduced traffic and tourism had overrun a way of life. Emerson was disturbed by this and it was evident in his work and writings that he felt angry but helpless to the inevitable, that this old way of life was slowly dying out. This was were his medium failed him, there was a gap between what he sensed and what he was able to record with his camera, he had to rely on his words to fill in the gaps.

Edward S Curtis, like Emerson and others, had set out to record disappearing history, he had accepted the inevitable but set about to record it before it was gone. He extensively photographed Indian Life in North America and had found that, towards the end of his work, it was apparent that this way of life was practically finished, when he photographed a Comanche chief in a collar and tie.

Chapter 5 – Truths Beyond Appearance

After 1890 keen amateur artist-photographers exploded onto the scenes. Many were members of various photographical societies around the world and had regular jobs. Photography offered a form of escape for them.

The Linked Ring was a photographical club which was established to rival what is now known as The Royal Photographical Society. Initially, it was a gentlemen’s club but had started accepting women members in 1900. Alfred Steiglitz, an American photographer was elected to the Linked Ring in 1894 where he edited many publications. In America, the only photographer to rival Steiglitz was F Holland Day who ran a publishing company. The photographers promoted by both men were mostly symbolist photographers. They chose to depict imagined scenes rather than how reality showed it. They would evoke fantasy figures such as fauns and nereids among nature. Robert Demachy, a French photographer at the time was quite different. He was interested in printing techniques (especially the gum bichromate process, which could be easily tinted) His work had a broader list of subjects and he possessed the ability to work in a number of different modes.

In the period between 1890-1910 photographers works was hard to tell apart. Landscapes were typically a misty setting with a line of trees and the sun. Photography during this period however, took on a new level of intimacy than that which had come before. Portraits were generally idealised, a vision of perfected civilisation. Refined people and beautiful children were captured among the landscape, looking peaceful and happy and at one with nature.

Snapshot photography was becoming popular and James Craig Annan was a leading exponent of this. Annan had a good eye for fleeting and transient incidents. There was an irony to his work, in that these fleeting moments were observed in the presence of a larger idea. He was a symbolist like many others which was the most popular form of art at the time.

Many photographers, however had their qualms about symbolism. Trying to concentrate purely on this did not work well with the medium. A camera was a tool which un-objectively collected everything about a scene.

Frederick H Evans was a photographer who turned away from symbolism and towards purism. His work was carefully ordered and planned. He was very vocal about the fact that his photographs were unedited and that his work was truthful and depicted scenes exactly how they were.

Both Annan and Evans and their differing approaches to photography, would be followed by many other photographers in the years to come but at least for the time being, photography had finally moved away from such an authoritative ideology that had been so prevalent before.

Chapter 6 – Looking to the Future

Stieglitz was highly opposed to what had been done with the handheld “detective” cameras of the time and said that they were only good for the ‘globetrotter, wishing to jot down photographic notes on his journey’. However, there weren’t many who shared this view. Mostly, people were quite happy with this form of ‘note taking’. An Italian photographer, Count Guiseppe Primoli was one of these. He photographed many people from all walks of life in Italy and France. His photos were curious and witty and because of his family connections he was privileged to be able to access everywhere. His photos weren’t staged, they were more of a behind the scenes view on life.

Paul Martin was England’s version of Primoli who, using a ‘Facile’ camera would shoot undetected in the Streets of London and on the Southern Coast. He would depict working people and holidaymakers simply going about their life. He used his pictures in sets and sequences as a basis for his analysis and discussion and would accompany them with his writing.

George Hendrik Breitner was very much the same, he took pictures to support his paintings of busy streets and working people. After the war of 19-14-1918 this view is met with more and more and photography had entered a new phase, that of “New photography. The interest began to focus on society as opposed to nature, although there were still those who clung to old values and continued as before with the priority of nature. Other photographers began looking towards the future, imagining a time when photography would speak a universal language and artists would, alongside engineers, would play leading roles in the world.

Franz Roh introduced this subject in the foreword to the book “Photo-Eye” he had denounced what had come before as cliched and sentimental and spoke of photographers imitating painters. He believed in a Utopian Age where every man would have the opportunity to become an artist in their own right.

Some of these New Photographers were forced to justify themselves and their work continuously, especially in Russia. Alexander Rodchenko was one of these whose vision was that of a shifting, evolving world and in his early career, would take photos from unusual angles. Later on, his view shifted away from this form of picture taking but he still held firmly onto his initial belief of the world.

Man Ray, a surrealist photographer in America had a similar view, that his work had a large social role and he was faced with the same need to justify it. Many American photographers in general, worked for the betterment of society but didn’t hold onto such a powerful ideology as surrealists, they were drawn to balance and order in traditional architecture and many followed this route in architecture and used this to depict American culture.

However, many of the New photographers actually came from Germany. The camera design was much further in advancement than the rest of Europe and the new lightweight Leica camera had the ability to show just what was possible in the world of reportage photography.

New photographers were innovators. They experimented with new processes and styles such as photograms (which used objects placed against light sensitive paper and no camera), results with this process were difficult to gauge and often surprising.

Another enterprise was that of the work by Karl Blossfeldt. He took pictures of greatly magnified plants and although New photography was mostly concerned with human invention as it’s subject, plant pictures of this time were very expressive. Plants were used to address the imagination and with the abstract views so often displayed and offered a dark side to the usual, favoured, clear light of day.

Close up views of plant heads, seeds and flowers expressed a powerful force of nature and some portrait work during this era shows a similar view of mankind. Hugo Erfurth was one of these, whose portraits of some of the leading people of the time have a sense of the portraits of the 1900’s which came before. They showed an inwardness but were also depicted as powerful people.

Photographers began to turn their eye towards the unification between man-made and nature, on organisation, diagram and precision in man made features against the irregularity of many of natures forms.

Moholy-Nagy made close-up and cross-section pictures like others, which refer to this organised and industralised culture, his photographs have a sense of misgiving to this view. occasional passers-by would add expression to the ordered view of streets, meeting points and crossings (which he often took from a high veiwpoint). There was a sense that, although these individuals live in an ordered society, they still hold their individualism. His work was not narrowly inclined towards one subject, he took several conditions into account, he used fragments which stood for a greater whole of significant elements together which spoke of the modern condition. However, with the exception of Moholy-Nagy none of the new photographers of the time looked likely to develop the universal and complex photographic language which had been idealised about. This photographical language that some envisaged was powerfully opposed by photographic purism and the practices around this, which promised to deliver truth, whilst photographic language offered up something more hectic and impure.

Chapter 7 – European Society and American Nature

August Sander, a portrait and Industrial photographer in the 1920’s used his portraits to expose differences in subjects which initially appeared alike. A lot of his work was destroyed during the Great War and then by a fire in 1946. His book “Face Of Our Time” was described as realist and showed Germany in a time of transition. His view of history was evolutionary and progressive which ultimately lead the German Ministry of Culture to order that the printing blocks be destroyed and all available copies seized. What Set Sander apart at this time was his complex work. Most other photobooks printed at the time were focused on modern society or landscape. Sander’s work on the other hand, combined history, taxonomy and his own viewpoint. His portrait style became influential to the New Objective painters in the twenties. His idea of portraiture was that it should be decorous and formal, unlike other New photographers of the twenties whose ideas of portraits was that of abstract angles and close ups.

Eugene Atget, a documentary photographer who came to photography later in life was relatively unknown during his lifetime but has since acquired the status of major artist. He dealt with ‘what was out there’ and invited his audience to study and analyse as opposed to dream. Man Ray admired his work and publicised them in amongst surrealists.

On the surface, Atgets work fits in with constructivism. He would photograph shop windows, metal signs and fountains among other things but his association with surrealism stems from his ability to bring these items to life. He was an animator of the inanimate and he brought an irony to his work in his search for the actual as opposed to the generalised. His work concentrated on the evolution of culture.

Both Sander and Atget worked in an era where they opposed the major tendencies in the art. They were respectable of their differing subjects in man and place but had society as their common subject.

Edward Weston had many similarities with Steiglitz. They both photographed clouds and the back country. The portraits of his early years were soft focus pictorials. Work from his later years evolved to sharp focus which is what he became most known for. He defined himself as a ‘straight’ photographer and his approach as ‘direct’. He looked for ‘the very quintessence of the thing itself rather than the mood of that thing’.

He wasn’t however, like Steiglitz, guided by ‘natural law’. He wasn’t as concerned with harmony integration. He never tried to plan his work in advance. He was guided by his intuition which gave his photos a personal touch and expression.

Weston’s still life’s were less ‘purist’ then he would describe him self. Close-ups of kelp, peppers and roots among other things taken isolated stock backgrounds took on a strange and ambiguous feel and gave way to a deeper and darker imagination upon viewing them.

He was not just known for his still life’s however, he was also a great landscapist and nude portraiter and a recorder of American vernacular history. His work was rarely comfortable or consoling and his landscapes often looked light sites deserted by civilisation. He tended to work objectively throughout history subjects of work. His work was an extremist art.

Ansel Adam’s work was parallel to that of Weston in many cases. He created some of America’s most famous landscapes. But his work with more peaceable than that of Weston.

Paul Strand was another similar artist to Weston. He took close-ups of still life like Weston and his work was void of senses like Weston. But his work also differed in many ways. After working many years as a cameraman and filmmaker who devoted most of his time to still photography.

Hey, like Steiglitz and Weston, concentrated on ‘true’ photographic practice and believed passionately in ‘straight’ photography.

However, he also contradicted himself and claimed that photographers should be ‘creators’ looking for forms in which to close ‘his feelings and ideas’.

Despite this contradiction he spent little time trying to resolve it and as a result his photographs embodied no such contradiction. He achieved a harmony between the two ideas. Both he and Weston disapproved of the societies in which they found themselves.

Chapter 8 – American Society

Many American photographers working with the backing of the Farm Security Administration set to work to document life and hard times in rural areas of America. They set out to write particular wrongs and with regard to individual identity.

Danish Jacob Riis who became a reporter for the New York Tribune recorded a particularly brutal side of derelict New York. He published an expose based on this called “how the other half lives”

He wrote about squalor and his hopes for American society.

Lewis Hine saw exploitation differently. He made pictures which looked to the future as they disclosed present hardship. He worked freelance for the national child labour committee which set about to save children from exploitation

His work for this committee took him far afield and he reported on child labour from all over America. He would keep detailed records of most of his encounters. For the most part he made portraits of these children and accompanied these photos with notes and captions. The children appear confident they have a story to tell and have individuality. This style of documentary portrait (a photo accompanied by text or a statement) was the standard throughout the 1930’s.

The style in favour eventually shifted away from the mechanist aesthetic and more towards a form of pastoral documentary in the 1930s. Doris Ulman’s photographs were an example of this new mode. Her photos celebrate ancient folkways and showed her subjects living real lives.

With American farms being in poor shape in the early 30s. The Farm Security Administration was formed and a group of photographers including Walker Evans were appointed to survey rural distress and poverty. Towards the end of the 30s the photographic programme expanded to the society at large, which included industry and towns. The FSA reporter’s pictures disclosed conditions with clarity and provided evidence of a society in the making.

They showed life how it was but there was an element of hope and of a promised land. As if this were a work in progress. They intertwined the ideal and the actual.

Walker Evans FSA work was complex and rich with the details of daily life. His delight was in a particular and he perceived that we sense nothing in isolation. More-so, that our senses are due to other aspects in reference to things which it is not. He believed in every man as an artist and was best known for this still lifes, storekeepers shelves and shopfronts photographed frontally and speak a way of life were examples of these. His pictures were not only evidence but more like enhancements. His work was carefully ordered in sequence and each picture and put together worked well. He photographed discreetly and cherished scenes which portrayed a care and attention.

Chapter 9 – The Human Condition

In Germany during the 1920s a knew kind of photojournalism began to take hold and dominate Europe. This was catchphrased as “human interest” photography. New photojournalism was a candid art which spoke of truths and there was an element of exposing scandals and the previously unseen. They sought to register vitality, focusing on activists such as Mahatma Gandhi.

By this time, camera technology had evolved and become faster and more able to shoot in conditions which previously had been impossible. After the appointment of Hitler as chancellor, these German photojournalists began to move out of Germany to other places in which they felt safer and more able to retain their independence. They set out to right wrongs, exposing poverty and the effects of unemployment. They were activists in their own right.

In France, photography was slightly different. Whilst human interest still played it’s part, modernity was more ambiguous. French photographers, whilst still holding an ideology, remain skilled observers of everyday life. A key photographer in France is Hungarian born Andre Kertesz. He favoured pictures that stood by themselves. His photographs had an irony to them in which the actual and the ideal both played a part.

Kertesz introduced painter, Brassai to photography who spent a lot of time photographing the French underworld, his photographs suggested what it was like to be simply an observer, watching from the shadows.

His subjects, despite their roles, where decorous, acting in an artificial society where gestures were gauged. He was committed to the little happenings and his underlying subject was conviviality. Both Kertesz and Brassai were conscious of illusion and artifice and although they took candid photos, they remained unobtrusive.

In 1935 human interest photography began to change. By 1937 the Spanish Civil War had begun and photographers began looking continually for affecting pictures of man under stress. One of these photographers was called David Seymour. He photographed the Spanish Civil War when most of his attention fell to individuals caught up in war. He spent a lot of time photographing behind the lines. Robert Capa was the photographer who captured the action direct from the Battlefronts. Not only in Spain but in China and in Europe during World War II. He was killed in action. Seymour was also killed in action but both were daring and compassion in their reporting. Never before had pictures been so immediate and affecting.

Henri Cartier-Bresson worked in a similar way to Capa and Seymour and became very popular in postwar Europe with his photo-reporting. He described the way the camera captures a revelatory instant as “The Decisive Moment” His special subject was French Society. Another photographer who matched Cartier-Bresson’s appreciation of the French was Robert Doisneau. His pictures depicted people as dreamers and enthusiasts and celebrate the happiness of every day life.

In 1952 Cartier-Bresson’s book entitled “The Decisive Moment” was published. It encapsulates the history of “Human Interest” photography.

The Swiss had a wealth of human interest photographers andWerner Bischof displayed remarkable photos that showed grace and utopia amongst very harsh and serious conditions.

British photographers appeared out of step with the rest of the world and had many pictorial traditions. Cecil Beaton’s photographs were very staged but set a standard for post-war portraitists. James Jarche was very different, his portraits were warm and his landscapes portrayed a picturesque Britain.

British photographers weren’t entirely insulated from foreign practices but appeared years after their introduction abroad. British equivalent to similar French author-photographers was Bill Brandt. His work was rooted in British traditions. He gave thanks to the coming of peace in his work “Camera in London” which portrayed London as a dreamers city, a tranquil place.

Chapter 10 – Self-asserted, Self-absented

Before the 1950s photographers worked for the sake of societies to ideas and forces which were larger than themselves. From the 1950s onwards photographers became increasingly concerned about personal viewpoints and that the world is seen through individual eyes. The unifying vision of faith in conviviality and the dignity of man gradually faded but never disappeared. Photographers switch their attention to the dark side of social life and search for haunted and depressing images of man troubled and alienated in urban wastelands, this was mostly due to photographers in America.

A Swiss photographer Robert Frank was one of the most influential of the new photographers. His starting point was mythical American flag, it’s name carries an aura of high romance which is opposed by his photographs. Whose book the Americans will see the shunt order announced by American critics in the 50s. But by the 70s his harsh contradictory vision was the norm in American photography he changed many pictorial cliches and  envisaged an anti-America of Mean Streets. Frank dramatised the ordinary world.

Otto Steinert suggested that photography could be a medium for personal expression William Klein made the same claim more vigourously however. He published two books one based on New York and the other Rome. Both books showed the cities alive with signs and people. There seem to be no space for reflection, the inhabitants impose themselves immediately. William Klein was at one with this and his work represented future pop artists of the late 50s and early 60s, despite being given no mention in the histories of pop art.

Weegee and use photographer seemed scarcely compassion at all in his work. He was the first modern photographer to represent the city of New York phantasmagoria. His style was abrasive and realist. Both Weegee and Klein had exulted in societies turbulence. In America Bruce Davidson who joined Magnum photos in 1958 collaborated in a Magnum book called America in crisis. Davidsons tenements people are poor but scarcely destitute and he seems to have been wary of the mainstream of American culture from the outset. He was most committed to featuring outsiders both voluntary and in voluntary people like a circus dwarf and a teenage Brooklyn gang, “natural people”.

This confrontational style of photography was continued by photographers into the late 60s they wanted to do justice to their experience of civil rights movement in the United States and the Vietnam war. Danny Lyon was one of these photographers. He photograph the civil rights movement in the south in the early 60s and then began a series on motorcyclists in 1963 called the bike riders which had a threatening side to it in the shape of iron Cross Chicago outlaws. He then moved on to Texas penitentiaries and produced “Conversations with the Dead” in 1971 which brought the reader face-to-face with menace and despair.

Leonard Freed’s work with similar with its personal expression in black-and-white America. Freed distanced himself  in a way similar to the FSA reporters of the 30s.

Philip Jones Griffiths produced “Vietnam Inc “. This showed the Vietnam War as a phantasmagoria interspersed with lyrical moments. Freed, Davidson, and Jones Griffiths’ work showed witness from the front line and evidence of hardships undergone. Their work came at the end of an era which had begun in 1930. By the mid 70s hardship had vanished from the same along with traces as that sympathetic personal involvement.

During the second half of the 60s sculptors and painters became interested in questions concerning the identity of artworks. Some artists concluded that the truth of the artwork lay in idea of the artwork. Artists often relied on photographic evidence to charge their progress of their work and audiences became accustomed to these photographic displays in galleries. Distinctions between ‘art’ and ‘photography’ when I longer so evidence once they had been.

During the 60s photographs were collected and exhibited in a way they hadn’t been before. Previously exhibitors had discriminated in favour of Fine prints intended for special treatment. All the rest was shelved and forgotten. However, the idea began to take hold of the new connected work of the journey man photographer might also be worth scrutinising and may even have merit.

John Szarkowski, keeper of photographs in the Museum of modern Art in New York, organised an influential exhibition called ‘The Photographers eye’. He assembled items from the mediums fine art and functional traditions and placed them in terms of categories for instance ‘the detail’, ‘the frame’ and ‘time’.

This new approach opened up untrodden ground and help to modify photographic practice. Coherency became important  criteria in photo-journalistic photography. This type of work had to be interpretable and make their points clearly. However, reclaim snapshots telling of intimate and unfathomable affairs were, by contrast, lesson lucid. The photographer is I put together for fun examples from the archives and proposed that we should allow ourselves to be questioned rather than persuaded by photographs. This new approach was exemplified by John Szarkowski in his book ‘looking at photographs’ in which he hints of meanings and makes and withdraws some suggestions.

American photographers had been working in this vein from the early 60s but with preoccupations in the public with civil rights movement in the Vietnam War they were kept from prominence but once this pressure says they emerged from the 70s. Late Friedlander’s work it’s relatively hard to read it features reflective and semi transparent surfaces. And raised a number of difficulties with regard to spacing and meaning. His sustained concern had been with ‘vantage point’ Choice pf vantage point allows the artist to declare personal way of seeing, which is one of the subject categories in ‘The Photographers Eye’.

Diane Arbus, who committed suicide in 1971 was in ironist and searched photographic material where ever common practice was contradicted. Around the time of her death she became one of America’s most talked about photographers. She had been a fashion photographer but then began to work on projects of her own and published ‘aperture’ in 1972. She favoured the confrontational mode and worked close to her subjects but did not seem to have sympathised in the way previous photographers had. Her people present themselves to the camera, some post another is just a pain dispassionately. But they turned the social world on its head. She inverts stereotypes and remakes the social world according to a contradictory scheme of her own. Her work goes against the grain. Her subject was convention and its meaning in a socialised world where people swap roles to be truly more themselves, exchanging one form of socialisation for another.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo Took many of his pictures in his native Mexico during the 1930s he appeared as a human interest reporter with Surrealist inclinations. But his assembled work is much more elaborate, he did not shrink from death and one of his most famous pictures shows a worker murdered in the street. His abiding concern was for vitality in fullness however and dealt with mutually enhancing contraries. He noted the contingencies of human existence and dwells on transience. He made precise and wide-ranging observations and states of beings and found forms to match.

British photographer, Raymond Moore’s body of work was similar to Bravos. He valued whatever was particular and worked to make it show itself. He intensified vision in his photographs.

Moore’s landscape work resembles and was influenced by American landscapist Minor White who was a teacher and co-founder of aperture in 1952. Another artist who had benefited from the liberalisation of photography in the 70s was Harry Callahan. He took minimalist pictures of wires, tramways and architectures in and around Chicago. He tends towards extremes of grace heroism and the primordial like Minor White did. But he also mitigates these masterful tendencies and his latest photographs combined the elements, yet they also carry traces of humanity and tended to particulars, cherishing depth and the moment.

Callahan, Moore and Bravo demonstrate that photography is a fit medium for major art. However they’re not in the mainstream of 70s photography since although tactful, they are not self-denying and self-denial and restraint are hallmarks of much of the published new photography of the 70s.

Irving Penn and Richard Avedon why are photographers who took the world as it comes or cares to show itself. Irving Penn presented 10 sets of mainly tribal people with plain backgrounds. Richard Avedon Photos were harshly lit portraits of celebrities and notoriety is they face up to the camera as they happen to be. Both were examples of the decontextualisation.

Harsh, high drama was on its way out in the 1970s. This was highlighted by the works of Bill Owen in ‘Suburbia’ and ‘Our Kind of People: American Groups and Rituals’ in which he simply records and allows photographs to speak for themselves.

Milton Rogovin Took low profile profile pictures of the people of the lower west side in which different generations of racial groups reveal their own ideas of decorum. Rogovin made no impositions and was discreet in his approach.

In Britain photographers had a different approach to the Americans. The photos of landscape were usually more personal.

But is monochrome in colour were present in photography but make different claims in the attention of the viewer. In the 70s some American photographer has begun to work with colour they broke shop please recent traditions of legibility. William Eggleston author of ‘William Eggleston’s Guide’ which were taken in the southern United States was an example of this. This guide had more to do with picture making than observation and metaphor.

There was no dominant formulae in colour photography and different photographers used colour in many different ways. In the 70s photography was largely on American media. European photographers have been active but contemporary photography made no such public impact as their American counterparts.

My Thoughts

I found this book to be full of many leads as a starting point for much research into other photographers. I have to say, that this book wasn’t an easy read. I found the author jumped too quickly from one subject to the next and just as I was beginning to become absorbed his direction changed and I found myself struggling to follow his path. I found the book centred mostly on American photographic history and paid little heed to other places in the world in such a detailed way. The book is very useful as a reference point and the general history into the medium but I can’t say it’s in gauged me as a reader. I have highlighted many points in my copy where I can continue researching photographers who interest me and it has been a good place to start learning about the origins of photography.


  • Jeffrey, I (1996) Photography A Concise History Thames And Hudson