Lecture 4- New and Old Worlds, Photography and Modernism

Lecture 4 looks at the end of the Pictorialist movement, and how many who where involved in the movement, started the next one: Modernism. Modernism was a global movement though it was seen very differently in America, compared to Europe.

In America, Modernism was known as ‘Straight Photography’. Stieglitz was an early pioneer, despite his previous involvement in Pictorialism. In a way he went round in one big circle back to the work of Emerson, as he starts showing the world as it is, seeing it as factual, compared to the previous work in Pictorialism referring to it as a “sham”. It all started with his work ‘The Steerage’. This was his epiphany to what photography should be, with the scene presenting its self to the photographer, and the photographer revealing the poetic possibilities.

Stieglitz wasn’t the only Pictorialist to move on. Paul Strand whose pictorialist work was disregarded by Stieglitz, changed his approach, looking for abstraction and geometry in everyday life. Stieglitz fell in love with Strands new work, devoting 3 copies of it in his books Camera Work. Modernism is all about framing, and composition, with the photographer deciding what was disposed with in the frame. They looked documentary in style, but they where taken to be metaphorical, and illusive in nature. It was all about constant innovation, never looking back at old works trying to recreate them, but coming up with something fresh.

Although not limited to just photography, in America modernism was medium specific, photography is photography, and it disregarded mixed media, and dark room experiments. It was so pure in fact, that in 1932 the infamous group f/64 was born, consisting of the likes of Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams. They defined them selves as detailed and exact.

In Europe, the movement was radically different, it was all about different ways of seeing the World, or ‘the new vision’ as it was known. It was a way of showing what the camera can do that the eye can’t, a revolutionary aesthetic, with the every day man showing the world from their perspective. A key figure in the movement was Alexander Rodchenko, with his strange framing, and unusual perspectives.

Constructivism was important, the mixing of mediums, graphics with text it all counted. The europeans widened the movement whereas the Americans tried to narrow it. The photomontage played a key role, the Dada movement produced many photomontages notably the work Of Hannah Hoch, who had an interest in fashion and how it depicts women.

Modernism was slightly varied in Germany, It was more inline with the ‘Straight Photography’ in America. The book ‘The World is Beautiful’ showed objects as they where such as flower pots. I find it incredibly boring work, which doesn’t make much sense as there is no annotation, no context just the image.It did though move on with the typology of August Sander, who documented the German people, from different walks of life, though the work was posed and the people could represent them selves as they chose, so not always truthfully, unlike the typology work of Ed Rusha, and the Bechers whose work was extremely ‘straight’ showing rigorous purity.

It is interesting looking at the difference in the style of works between two continents, despite all being labelled in the modernism movement. It goes to show things are up to interpretation, and different thoughts create different effects.

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