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Photography in the 20th Century

practice author photography’s section

NANCY M. STUART PH.D.
The Cleveland Institute of Art

Photography by its very definition is a physical and chemical process that requires the fixing of radiant energy using a photosensitive surface typically with a mechanical or electronic camera. Much can and has been written about the science and technology of this process, but it is the impact of its images on our society that has visually defined our culture and forever changed the way people have communicated following its invention.

Few disciplines other than photography would have the distinction of functioning as a commercial product, an applied science, and a studio art. The complexity of editing this volume is further exacerbated by the possible approaches to organizing a volume on this particular century: a chronological historical survey, an alphabetical compendium of significant practitioners, or an analysis of popular theoretical and critical themes. The outline that was selected grew almost organically out of the author invitation process and their individual interests or areas of scholarship. Because the science and technology of the medium is so aptly investigated in the other sections, I chose to review the trends that differentiated this century from the 19th and, likely from the one we are currently living in. Additionally, it was necessary, due to space limitations, to focus primarily on the factors in North America while recognizing that this view is limited because photography itself is a universal practice, if not language.

This volume is categorized by photography’s practice (art, society, and commerce), programs (museums, education, and associations), publishing (magazines, books, and theories), and practitioners (image-makers) that have all operated in significant ways during the 20th century.

The first section has been organized to take a broad view of photography’s influence on culture. The critic Saul Ostrow writes about photography as a creative medium and its impact on art practice. Independent scholar and author Gretchen Garner took on the effect that photography has had on amateur picture making, advertising, and journalism. Bruce Checefsky, artist and gallery director, began with an investigation of fashion photography that naturally grew into the photography’s common objective of “desire” in pornography and fashion genres.

The second section evaluates related programs that grew out of photography’s practice. Educator and artist Dr. Lynne Bentley Kemp studied the act of collecting on the discipline of photography through the museums, galleries, and corporate and individual collections that expanded during this era. Chris Burnett, Director of the Visual Studies Workshop, assessed the educational practice of photographic workshops while I reviewed the emergence of photographic programs at the college level and the resulting professionalization of the discipline through the formation of professional associations and journals.

The third section explores the publishing activities in relation to photography. British author David Brittain’s essay explores the photographer’s press during the influential decade of the 60s. Dr. Gary Sampson reviews the cultural discourse evidenced through photography’s published histories, theories, and criticism.

Section four is prefaced by Dr. David Hart’s essay on African American photographers and their involvement in the medium since its inception. The chapter then provides an alphabetical listing of over 250 short biographies of some of last century’s most influential practitioners by authors and photographers Robert Hirsch, Ken White, and Garie Waltzer. The selection concentrates on image-makers rather than related influential individuals such as authors, curators, editors, educators, or inventors. Determining which photographers were included was left up to the discretion of each author with the guideline of selecting those key individuals who in effect represent a larger group of practice or ideas. The biographies indicate what a given photographer accomplished and why it is considered of importance. Additionally, at least one significant publication from each photographer was listed for further reading. The decision to include such a minor inclusion of people’s work was influenced by the limitations of the book’s size.

Each author worked independently and each essay stands on its own merit. Naturally, each topic had the potential of overlapping another, but rather than reading as redundant it reflects the reality of interwoven influences and the richness of a practice that is intertwined throughout 20th century society.

Photography Programs in the 20th Century Museums, Galleries, and Collections [next] [back] Photography, Fine Art Photography, and the Visual Arts: 1900–2001

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