History of photography
The New Objectivity
In the period immediately following World War I, much photography
was characterized by sharply defined imagery, especially of objects
removed from their actual context. The clean lines and cool effects
of this style—variously called the “New Objectivity,” the “new
vision,” or “Precisionism”—was a reflection, perhaps, of the
overarching role of industry and technology during the 1920s.
Strand, continuing in the direction he had unveiled in 1917,
produced powerful, highly detailed close-ups of machines and organic
matter and made sparkling landscapes in Gaspé, Quebec, and the
American West. His approach changed again when he was invited to
Mexico to produce educational films for the government. There he
made a series of portraits (again with the prism lens) and
landscapes, which he published in 1940 as gravure prints. Steichen,
who had been in command of aerial photography for the American
Expeditionary Forces, abandoned his earlier impressionistic handling
in favour of crisp, sharply focused celebrity, fashion, and product
images, which appeared in Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines. Others
whose sharp, well-designed images of industrial products appeared in
advertising brochures and magazines included Margaret
Bourke-White, Paul Outerbridge, and Charles Sheeler.
A preference for a straight, highly detailed presentation of
natural and manufactured forms also characterized the work of
California photographer Edward Weston. Using large-format
(8-by-10-inch [20.3-by-25.4-cm]) equipment with lenses stopped down
to the smallest aperture, Weston, whose earlier career had been in
commercial portraiture, formulated a method of “rendering the very
substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be
polished steel or palpitating flesh.” Further, Weston, like Strand,
did not approve of cropping or hand work of any kind on the
negative; both held that the final image should be composed in the
ground glass of the camera prior to exposure.
Several Californians, a number of whom looked to Weston as a
mentor, took up the concentration on organic forms and objects and
the preference for using the smallest aperture of the lens to create
maximum depth of field and sharpness. Known as Group f.64, for the
smallest lens aperture, the group included, besides Weston and his
son Brett, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham. After
seeing Strand’s negatives, Adams decided to pursue photography as a
profession, specializing in photographing Western wilderness areas
such as Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
His dramatic photographs masterfully captured the beauty of such
natural wonders, and the popularity of his photographs helped raise
awareness of the importance of preservation efforts. He also was a
teacher of great persuasiveness who advocated the exact control of
tonal quality through what he called the “zone system.”
In Europe this approach of favouring extremely sharp definition
was known as Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”). Its outstanding
proponents were the German photographers Karl Blossfeldt and
Albert Renger-Patzsch. Blossfeldt made highly detailed and
magnified images of plants, removed from their natural habitat.
Renger-Patzsch, a professional photographer in Essen, was fascinated
by the formal qualities of everyday objects, both organic and
manufactured. Like those of his American counterparts, his images
featured strong design components and stressed the materiality of
substances rather than the maker’s emotional attitude toward the
subject. He too believed that the final image should exist in all
its completeness before the exposure was made and that it should be
an unmanipulated record. His ideas and images, published in 1928 in
Die Welt ist schön (“The World Is Beautiful”) and translated into a
number of languages, exerted considerable influence on European
photography of the time. Hans Finsler, of Swiss origin and working
in Germany, Piet Zwart in the Netherlands, and Emmanuel Sougez and
Florence Henri in France were among the many producing highly
defined close-ups of objects and people in a style similar to that
of the Neue Sachlichkeit.
A similarly objective approach characterized the work of
photographers interested in the artistic ideas embodied in
Constructivism; the movement proposed that photographs could be a
means to present the commonplace from fresh vantage points and
thereby reawaken interest in routine objects and processes. This
idea, which originated in the Soviet Union and spread quickly to
Germany and central European countries during the late 1920s and
early 1930s, granted greater latitude for experimentation with form.
Its foremost spokesman was Russian painter and ideologue
Aleksandr Rodchenko, who employed distinctly unusual vantage
points in order to give the mundane world a new appearance. The
visual ideas underpinning Constructivism appealed to Hungarian
photographer László Moholy-Nagy, who reinterpreted them
during his tenure first at the Bauhaus in Weimar, then in Dessau,
Germany, and later at the School of Design in Chicago, where they
influenced several generations of American photographers.
Similar ideas were utilized by photographers in Japan, especially
following the earthquake of 1923. Among those whose imagery
reflected the new sharper style, with its emphasis on form rather
than atmosphere, was Yasuzō Nojima, who gained a reputation for his
incisive portraits, groundbreaking nudes, and landscapes. Shinzō
Fukuhara’s photographs, particularly his landscapes, were also
Margaret Bourke-White, original name Margaret White (born June 14,
1904, New York, New York, U.S.—died August 27, 1971, Stamford,
Connecticut), American photographer known for her extensive
contributions to photojournalism, particularly for her Life magazine
work. She is recognized as having been the first female documentary
photographer to be accredited by and work with the U.S armed forces.
Margaret White was the daughter of an engineer-designer in the
printing industry. She attended Columbia University (1922–23), the
University of Michigan (1923–25), Western Reserve University (now
Case Western Reserve University), and Cornell University (A.B.,
1927). During that period she took up photography, first as a hobby
and then, after leaving Cornell and moving to New York City, on a
professional freelance basis. She combined her own last name with
her mother’s maiden name (Bourke) to create her hyphenated
professional name. Beginning her career in 1927 as an industrial and
architectural photographer, she soon gained a reputation for
originality, and in 1929 the publisher Henry Luce hired her for his
new Fortune magazine. In 1930 Fortune sent Bourke-White to
photograph the Krupp Iron Works in Germany, and she continued on her
own to photograph the First Five-Year Plan in the Soviet Union. She
became one of the first four staff photographers for Life magazine
when it began publication in 1936, and her series of photographs of
Montana’s Fort Peck Dam was featured on the cover and used in the
feature story of the first issue.
Throughout the 1930s Bourke-White went on assignments to create
photo-essays in Germany and the Soviet Union, as well as the Dust
Bowl in the American Midwest. Those experiences allowed her to
refine the dramatic style she had used in industrial and
architectural subjects. Those projects also introduced people and
social issues as subject matter into her oeuvre, and she developed a
compassionate humanitarian approach to such photos. In 1935
Bourke-White met the Southern novelist Erskine Caldwell, to whom she
was married from 1939 to 1942. The couple collaborated on three
illustrated books: You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), about Southern
sharecroppers; North of the Danube (1939), about life in
Czechoslovakia before the Nazi takeover; and Say, Is This the U.S.A.
(1941), about the industrialization of the United States.
Working directly with the U.S. armed forces, Bourke-White covered
World War II for Life. While crossing the Atlantic to North Africa,
her transport ship was torpedoed and sunk, but Bourke-White survived
to cover the bitter daily struggle of the Allied infantrymen in the
Italian campaign. She then covered the siege of Moscow, which she
wrote about in her book Shooting the Russian War (1942). Toward the
end of the war, she crossed the Rhine River into Germany with
General George Patton’s Third Army troops. Her photographs of the
emaciated inmates of concentration camps and of the corpses in gas
chambers stunned the world.
After World War II Bourke-White traveled to India to photograph
Mohandas Gandhi and record the mass migration caused by the division
of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
During the Korean War she worked as a war correspondent and traveled
with South Korean troops.
Stricken with Parkinson disease in 1952, Bourke-White continued
to photograph and write and published several books on her work as
well as her autobiography, Portrait of Myself (1963). She retired
from Life magazine in 1969.
An iconic photograph that Margaret Bourke-White took of
Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1946
Edward Weston, (born March 24, 1886, Highland Park, Illinois,
U.S.—died January 1, 1958, Carmel, California), major American
photographer of the early to mid-20th century, best known for his
carefully composed, sharply focused images of natural forms,
landscapes, and nudes. His work influenced a generation of American
Early life and work
Weston was born into a family of some intellectual substance—his
father was a medical doctor and his grandfather a professor of
literature—but, as a young man, he found little redeeming virtue in
books and did not finish high school. The learning that he finally
achieved, while not negligible, was of that spotty and eccentric
character that generally identifies the autodidact. At 16 he
received his first camera as a gift from his father, and from that
time everything that he read and all that he experienced, both
artistically and personally, was processed as food for a fierce
artistic ambition. After studying for a time at the Illinois College
of Photography, in 1911 he moved to California, where he would spend
most of his life.
In some ways, Weston would seem an unlikely candidate for the
role of hero to modern American photography. By his mid-30s he was a
skilled but unexceptional portrait photographer working in the Los
Angeles suburb of Glendale. He was also an active and very
successful participant in the contests of the conservative
photographic salons, a network of self-sanctioning clubs that
awarded ribbons and medals. His work through the early 1920s was a
better-constructed version of the standard fare of these salons—work
in the Pictorialist style, in which photographers imitated paintings
by suppressing detail, manipulating images in a darkroom, and
depicting traditional painting subjects such as pastoral landscapes,
romantic marine scenes, children and pets, still lifes, and nudes.
Members of these salons tended to associate artistic virtue with a
kind of abstractness that eliminated subjects of pointed
specificity: the subject was seldom identifiable as a particular
landscape, sailboat, or undressed woman, and it was rarely
Beginning in the early 1920s, Weston became impatient with his
easy victories in this milieu, and he began to work his way toward a
specifically photographic aesthetic (i.e., one that addressed the
particular qualities of photography, rather than the qualities of
painting) and, more slowly, toward a broader and more vernacular
definition of artistic subject matter. When he first began to
challenge the standards of the salons, it was more in manner than
content: his first, tentatively rebellious pictures of the early
1920s exhibit a new forcefulness of design and an appreciation of
the flat picture plane, but they do not challenge the basic
Pictorialist conception of appropriate content.
Until well into his 30s, Weston was geographically and
intellectually isolated from the main currents of advanced American
photography, and of modern art in general. Alfred Stieglitz, Edward
Steichen, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, and Ralph Steiner all worked
in the East. In California, Ansel Adams had not yet begun his
important work, and Imogen Cunningham was a long day’s journey north
in San Francisco. While later photographers became widely known more
through books and magazines than by virtue of their original prints,
in the mid-1920s the best photomechanical reproduction was both rare
and generally unsatisfactory, and so the work of other photographers
was not readily available to Weston. It is startling to recall that
no illustrated monograph existed on any of the aforementioned
figures until 1929, when Carl Sandburg wrote Steichen the
Photographer—about his brother-in-law.
Thus, to a remarkable degree, Weston invented a powerful version
of modern photography out of his own imagination and prodigious
will. He was voraciously curious and was influenced by the ideas and
passions of other artists as much as by their work. In 1922, during
a visit to New York, he met Stieglitz, and he later remembered the
meeting as challenging and enlivening. The next year he went to
Mexico with his student and mistress, Tina Modotti, and there met
Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and
other figures of the Mexican artistic renaissance, who received and
criticized him as a fellow artist.
While in Mexico, Weston produced what are his first radically
independent pictures, notably a series of heroic, frame-filling
heads (e.g., Nahui Olin, Guadalupe Marin de Rivera, and Manuel
Hernandez Galvan, all 1924), and similarly minimal works such as
Palma Cuernavaca and Excusado, both from 1925.
In 1927 Weston returned to California, where he continued to
explore pictorial ideas begun in Mexico in his famous close-up
studies of shells, vegetables, rock forms, and semiabstract nudes.
It does not diminish the great force and importance of these
pictures to note that they are based on a very simple structure:
that of object and ground. They are in design and allusion
self-contained. Weston’s pepper series provides the most familiar
example. The isolation of the subject from any reference to the
outside world and the seamless acuity of its description deprives it
of scale and context and allows it to operate as a metaphor for the
organic unfolding of life itself.
It was during this period (c. 1930–33) that Weston developed his
mature technique, abandoning soft-textured papers and slow,
luxurious tonal gradations for a vocabulary that was fundamentally
that of the industrial photographer: all-over sharpness, a full
tonal scale, and smooth surface papers that would record the maximum
of both tone and texture. For some portraits and nudes he used a
Graflex camera, which could be held in his hands and which allowed
quick response to a subject in flux, but for most of his work he
used an 8 × 10-inch view camera and printed its negatives by
In 1932 Weston became a founding member of Group f.64, a loose
and short-lived collection of purist photographers that included
Adams and Cunningham. Since 1917 he had kept a “daybook,” in which
he confided his professional triumphs, his economic crises, his
relationship to friends and family, his impressively demanding love
life, and—most especially—the progress of his artistic life. For the
critic and the student, it is important to note that in 1934 he
stopped making regular entries in his diary, presumably outgrowing
the need for it once he was ready to begin his greatest work.
From 1934 through 1948, his last working year, Weston continued to
explore his favourite subject matter: natural forms, landscape,
nudes, and people. His development was guided by a cool analytical
intelligence that allowed him to proceed quite consciously from
simpler to increasingly complex problems. The nature of this
artistic evolution can perhaps be seen most clearly in the genre of
landscape. In 1922 Weston wrote that his style of “straight”
photography could not deal successfully with landscape, “for the
obvious reason that nature unadulterated and unimproved by man—is
simply chaos.” However, by the spring of 1929 he began to photograph
Point Lobos, perhaps the longest-lasting and most fecund of all his
subjects. At first he “did not attempt … any general vista,” but
rather focused only on details of the roots and trunks of cypresses.
Again expanding his views, however, two years later in his “daybook”
he ruminated over “an open landscape, or rather a viewpoint which
combines my close-up period with distance; a way I have been seeing
lately.” By the mid-1930s his landscapes often included a horizon,
and they described deep space in a naturalistic way, without
sacrificing the formal rigour that he had achieved earlier within a
shallow pictorial space.
The evolution of his nudes followed a comparable pattern of
evolution: by the mid-1930s they began to represent not an abstract
woman, but specific people, often with their faces visible, who
exist in a particular environment at a particular moment. Similarly,
the greatest of his portraits are those that he did of his own
family in the mid-1940s as he unknowingly approached the end of his
productive life. These portraits are so generous in their acceptance
of the contingent world that they might be viewed as the apotheosis
of the family snapshot, but in the clarity of their vision and the
suppleness of their technique they are unforgettable.
In 1937 Weston received the first Guggenheim Fellowship given to
a photographer. The fellowship was renewed for the following year,
and the project resulted in the book California and the West (1940),
which included an excellent text by Weston’s second wife, Charis
Wilson. Other notable books on Weston’s work were published in the
1940s, including Fifty Photographs: Edward Weston (1947), the result
of Weston’s own very interesting selection of his work, and the slim
but very influential Edward Weston (1946, edited by Nancy Newhall),
which accompanied his major one-man exhibition at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York City. Neither Weston nor his friends realized
that a slight uncertainty of movement evident at the time of the
show was a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The disease quickly
limited his mobility, and he made his last photograph, on Point
Lobos, in 1948, a decade before his death.
During the period between the two world wars, the vital tradition
of American photography might be imagined as an axis, with the work
of Walker Evans at one end and that of Edward Weston at the other.
Whereas Evans seemed to make his art out of plain facts, selected by
a superior intelligence and arranged in the most stringent order,
Weston made his out of tactile surfaces and organic forms, and, most
of all, out of the pleasure of sight itself. Among Weston’s most
conspicuous heirs one might count Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Jan
Groover, and Ray Metzker.
Edward Weston. Pepper No. 30
Ansel Adams, (born February 20, 1902, San Francisco, California,
U.S.—died April 22, 1984, Carmel, California), the most important
landscape photographer of the 20th century. He is also perhaps the
most widely known and beloved photographer in the history of the
United States; the popularity of his work has only increased since
his death. Adams’s most important work was devoted to what was or
appeared to be the country’s remaining fragments of untouched
wilderness, especially in national parks and other protected areas
of the American West. He was also a vigorous and outspoken leader of
the conservation movement.
Early life and work
Adams was a hopeless, rebellious student, but, once his father bowed
to the inevitable and removed him from school at age 12, he proved a
remarkable autodidact. He became a serious and ambitious musician
who was considered by qualified judges (including the musicologist
and composer Henry Cowell) to be a highly gifted pianist. After he
received his first camera in 1916, Adams also proved to be a
talented photographer. Throughout the 1920s, when he worked as the
custodian of the Sierra Club’s lodge in Yosemite National Park, he
created impressive landscape photographs. During this period he
formed a powerful attachment—verging on devotion—to Yosemite Valley
and to the High Sierra that guarded the valley on the east. It might
be said that the most powerful and original work throughout his
career came from the effort to discover an adequate visual
expression for his near-mystical youthful experience of the Sierra.
While photography and the piano shared his attention during his
early adulthood, by about 1930 Adams decided to devote his life to
photography. (As late as 1945, however, he still thought enough of
his playing to have a recording made of his interpretations of
Beethoven, Chopin, and perhaps others.) In 1930 he met the American
photographer Paul Strand and was shown the negatives that Strand was
then making in New Mexico. Adams was deeply impressed with the
simplicity of the images’ conception and by their rich and luminous
tonality, a style in contrast to the soft-focus Pictorialism still
in vogue among many contemporary photographers. The experience
confirmed in him his evolution toward a purer and more realistic
style. In 1932 Adams helped form Group f.64, a loose and short-lived
association of West Coast photographers (including Edward Weston and
Imogen Cunningham) who favoured sharp focus and the use of the
entire photographic gray scale, from black to white, and who shunned
any effects borrowed from traditional fine arts such as painting.
By 1935 Adams was famous in the photographic community, largely on
the strength of a series of articles written for the popular
photography press, especially Camera Craft. These articles were
primarily technical in nature, and they brought a new clarity and
rigour to the practical problems of photography. It was probably
these articles that encouraged Studio Publications (London) to
commission Adams to create Making a Photograph (1935), a guide to
photographic technique illustrated primarily with his own
photographs. This book was a remarkable success, partly because of
the astonishing quality of its letterpress reproductions, which were
printed separately from the text and tipped into the book page.
These reproductions were so good that they were often mistaken for
original (chemical) prints.
“Mount Williamson—Clearing Storm” [Credit: Ansel Adams]By the
time Making a Photograph was published, Adams had already
established the subject matter—the natural environment of his
beloved West Coast—and the pristine, technically perfect style that
characterize his consistent oeuvre. His work is distinguished from
that of his great 19th-century predecessors who photographed the
American West—most notably, Carleton Watkins—by his concern for the
transient and ephemeral. One might say that Watkins photographed the
geology of the place, while Adams photographed the weather. This
acute attention to the specifics of the physical world was also the
root of his intense appreciation of the landscape in microcosm, in
which a detail of the forest floor could be as moving as a grand
vista. His work on this single extended motif expresses a remarkable
variety of response, ranging from childish wonder, to languorous
pleasure, to the biblical excitement of nature in storm, to the
recognition of a stern and austere natural world, in which human
priorities are not necessarily served. One might view this range in
mood in Adams’s work to reflect the contrast between the benevolent
generosity of the valley, with its cool, clear water and lush
vegetation, and the desiccated, inhospitable stringency of the
eastern slope of the Sierra.
The importance of Adams’s work was recognized in 1936 by Alfred
Stieglitz, who awarded him the first one-artist show by a new
photographer in his gallery, An American Place, since he had first
shown Paul Strand 20 years earlier. However, many of Adams’s
contemporaries thought that photographers—and even painters—should
be making pictures that related more directly to the huge economic
and political issues of the day. At the time, Dorothea Lange, Arthur
Rothstein, and others were photographing the Dust Bowl and the
plight of migrants; Margaret Bourke-White was capturing Soviet
Russia and great engineering projects; and Walker Evans was
recording the inscrutable—or at least ambiguous—face of America’s
built culture. To some critics, these projects seemed more of the
moment than did Adams’s impeccable photographs of remote mountain
peaks in the High Sierra and of the lakes at their feet—so pure that
they were almost sterile. Not until a generation later did it come
to be widely understood that a concern for the character and health
of the natural landscape was in fact a social priority of the
Adams increasingly used his prominent position in the field to
increase the public acceptance of photography as a fine art. In 1940
he helped found the first curatorial department devoted to
photography as an art form at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
City. In 1946 he established at the California School of Fine Arts
in San Francisco the first academic department to teach photography
as a profession. He also revived the idea of the original (chemical)
photographic print as an artifact, something that might be sold as
an art object. His Portfolio I of 1948 offered 12 original prints of
extraordinary quality for $100. Eventually, Adams produced seven
such portfolios, the last in 1976.
Interestingly, in contrast to this work on behalf of the
photographic print, Adams also became directly involved, and was
often a motivator, in advances in photomechanical reproduction.
Throughout the 1940s he continued to explore the technical
possibilities of photography in this and other ways. In the early
part of the decade he codified the technical principles that he had
long practiced into a pedagogical system he called the “zone
system,” which rationalized the relationship among exposure,
development, and resulting densities in the photographic negative.
The purpose of the system was ultimately not technical but rather
expressive: it was a tool to aid in visualizing a finished
photograph before the exposure was made. The first edition of his
often-reprinted book The Negative was published in 1948; written for
photographers and not the general reader, the book expresses Adams’s
technical and aesthetic views in an uncompromising manner.
Most of Adams’s great work as a photographer was completed by 1950:
only a handful of important pictures were made during the last half
of his adult life. Rather, in his later life, he spent most of his
energy as a photographer on reinterpreting his earlier work and on
editing books of his own work (often with his frequent collaborator,
An ardent conservationist since adolescence, from 1934 to 1971
Adams served as a director of the Sierra Club. (Later, in the 1980s,
he explicitly and forcefully attacked the environmental policies of
the very popular President Ronald Reagan and his secretary of the
interior, James Watt.) Many of the books Adams generated in his
later career were concerned not only with the art of photography but
also with the goal of raising awareness for the campaign to preserve
the natural landscape and the life it supported. The most notable of
these was This Is the American Earth (1960; with Newhall), published
by the Sierra Club. It was one of the essential books in the
reawakening of the conservation movement of the 1960s and ’70s,
along with Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here
and There (1949) and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). Other
major titles by Adams include My Camera in the National Parks (1950)
and Photographs of the Southwest (1976). The Portfolios of Ansel
Adams (1977) reproduced the 90 prints that Adams first published
(between 1948 and 1976) as seven portfolios of original prints. The
results can thus be trusted to represent a selection from what the
photographer considered his best work.
In 1980 Adams was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by
President Jimmy Carter. Acknowledging Adams’s years of work as both
a photographer and an environmentalist, the president’s citation
said, “It is through [Adams’s] foresight and fortitude that so much
of America has been saved for future Americans.”
Ansel Adams. Church, Taos Pueblo (1942)
Imogen Cunningham, (born April 12, 1883, Portland, Oregon, U.S.—died
June 24, 1976, San Francisco, California), American photographer who
is best known for her portraits and her images of plant life.
Cunningham studied at the University of Washington in Seattle,
where she developed an interest in photography. Her earliest prints
were made in the tradition of Pictorialism, a style of photography
that imitated academic painting from the turn of the century. After
studying photography at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden,
Germany, from 1909 to 1910, Cunningham opened a portrait studio in
Seattle in 1910 and soon established a solid reputation. Her
commercial portraiture was straightforward, but she continued to
produce soft-focused allegorical prints. She married etcher Roi
Partridge in 1915, and the couple moved to San Francisco in 1917.
By the early 1920s Cunningham began to change her style, creating
close-up, sharply detailed studies of plant life and other natural
forms. Her experiments with form allied her with other Modernist
photographers at the time, and in 1932 Cunningham joined the
association of West Coast photographers known as Group f.64. Like
other members of the group, she rejected the soft-focused
sentimental subjects that were then popular in favour of images such
as Two Callas (c. 1929), which conveys a sensuous delight in nature.
In the early 1930s, Cunningham worked briefly for Vanity Fair and
produced images of entertainers and celebrities. After the breakup
of Group f.64, she ran a portrait gallery and taught at several
California art schools. A retrospective monograph, Imogen! Imogen
Cunningham Photographs, 1910–1973, was published in 1974, and her
final photographs were published in After Ninety in 1977.
Dream, a 1910 photograph by Imogen Cunningham
Karl Blossfeldt, (born June 13, 1865, Schielo, Germany—died December
9, 1932, Berlin), German photographer known best for his stark
close-up portraits of plants, twigs, seeds, leaves, and other flora.
In 1881 Blossfeldt began his studies as an apprentice at the Art
Ironworks and Foundry in Mägdesprung, Germany, where he studied
sculpture and iron casting. He then moved to Berlin to study at the
School of the Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum). In
1890 Blossfeldt received a scholarship to study in Rome under Moritz
Meurer, a decorative artist and professor of ornament and design.
Along with several other assistants, Blossfeldt created and
photographed casts of botanical specimens in and around Rome. He
continued to work with Meurer through 1896 and traveled beyond Italy
to North Africa and Greece to collect specimens. Beginning in 1898
Blossfeldt taught design at the School of the Museum of Decorative
Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule), and in 1930 he became professor emeritus.
There he established a plant photography archive that he used to
teach his students about design and patterns found in nature.
Blossfeldt had no formal training as a photographer and used
homemade cameras that he outfitted with lenses capable of magnifying
his subjects up to 30 times their natural size. The use of
magnification resulted in images of extreme detail and clarity. With
the precision of a botanist, Blossfeldt photographed the natural
world for scientific and pedagogical purposes and inadvertently
became a modern artist. His work was considered the forerunner to
Neue Sachlichkeit photography, which favoured sharply focused
documentarian images. In 1926, when Blossfeldt was already in his
60s, his work was exhibited to the public for the first time at
Berlin’s avant-garde Galerie Nierendorf.The works exhibited there
were published in the book Urformen der Kunst (1928; Art Forms in
Nature ). The first of his three photo books (the other two
were Wundergarten der Natur, 1932; and Wunder in der Natur, 1942,
the last published posthumously), it was enormously successful and
remains one of the most-significant photo books of the 20th century.
Karl Blossfeldt. Untitled
Albert Renger-Patzsch, (born June 22, 1897, Würzburg, Bavaria
[Germany]—died September 27, 1966, Wamel Dorf, Über Soest, West
Germany), German photographer whose cool, detached images formed the
photographic component of the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”)
Renger-Patzsch experimented with photography as a teenager. After
serving in World War I, he studied chemistry at Dresden Technical
College. In 1920 he became director of the picture archive at the
Folkwang publishing house in Hagen.
In 1925 Renger-Patzsch began to pursue photography as a full-time
career as a freelance documentary and press photographer. He
rejected both Pictorialism, which was in imitation of painting, and
the experimentation of photographers who relied on startling
techniques. In his photographs, he recorded the exact, detailed
appearance of objects, reflecting his early pursuit of science. He
felt that the underlying structure of his subjects did not require
any enhancement by the photographer. In his book Die Welt ist schön
(1928; “The World Is Beautiful”), he showed images from both nature
and industry, all treated in his clear, transparent style. Such
images were closely related to the paintings of the Neue
Sachlichkeit movement of painters, who created detached and literal
renderings of reality that were so extreme that they produced an
In the early 1930s, Renger-Patzsch taught photography. From the
1940s until his death, he focused on his own projects, working as a
freelance photographer and publishing his photographs. His later
subjects included natural landscapes, industrial landscapes (Eisen
und Stahl, 1930), trees (Bäume, 1962), and stones (Gestein, 1966).
Albert Renger-Patzsch. Foxglove, 1922
Aleksandr Mikhailovich Rodchenko, (born November 23 [December 5, New
Style], 1891, St. Petersburg, Russia—died December 3, 1956, Moscow,
Russia), Russian painter, sculptor, designer, and photographer who
was a dedicated leader of the Constructivist movement.
Rodchenko studied art at the Kazan School of Art in Odessa from
1910 to 1914 and then went to Moscow to continue on at the Imperial
Central Stroganov School of Industrial Art (now the Stroganov Moscow
State University of Arts and Industry). In 1916 he began living with
the artist Varvara Stepanova, whom he had met at the Kazan school
and who was to become his companion both in art and in life. That
same year Rodchenko met Vladimir Tatlin, who invited him to
participate in the Futurist art exhibition “The Store.” Rodchenko
entered the artistic circle of the radical Moscow avant-garde and
began taking part in their intense creative life.
From 1918 to 1922 Rodchenko increasingly worked in the
Constructivist style: a completely abstract, highly geometric style
that he painted by using a ruler and compass. In 1918 Rodchenko
presented a solo show in Moscow. That year he also painted a series
of black-on-black geometric paintings in response to the famous
White on White painting of his rival, Kazimir Malevich. That spirit
of rivalry with the older generation of avant-garde painters proved
an important creative stimulus for Rodchenko. As head of the group
of young Constructivists, he engaged in a heated battle for
“industrial art” over easel painting. The battle was won by the
“industrial artists,” in the field of theory (Rodchenko replaced
Wassily Kandinsky as the director of the Institute of Artistic
Culture) as well as in the teaching and practice of art. In 1919
Rodchenko began to make three-dimensional constructions out of wood,
metal, and other materials, again by using geometric shapes in
dynamic compositions; some of those hanging sculptures were, in
In the 1920s he took up other art forms, among them photography;
furniture design; stage and motion-picture set design; and poster,
book, and typographic design. He collaborated with poet Vladimir
Mayakovsky on a number of projects, including Mayakovsky’s book Pro
eto (1923; “About This”; Eng. trans. That’s What), for which
Rodchenko did the book design and created accompanying
photomontages. During 1927 and 1928 Rodchenko designed all 24 covers
for the avant-garde art and leftist political publication Novy LEF
Marginalized as far as the official Soviet art—Socialist
Realism—was concerned, Rodchenko centred all his innovation and
creativity on photography and shaping with his distinct style the
photographic record of Soviet industrialization and photographic
propaganda. He created distinct images that featured unusual—often
oblique—angles and showed the geometric influence of his
Constructivist background. His art photographs were exhibited, and
his photojournalist work was published widely during the late 1920s
and early ’30s. He also taught art and design beginning in 1920.
He returned to painting in the late 1930s and created Abstract
Expressionist works in the 1940s. Beginning with his appointment in
1920 and throughout the next decades, he also served as the
Bolshevik government’s director of the Museum Bureau and Purchasing
Fund, through which he helped to establish public art museums
throughout the Russian provinces with collections of modern and
Andrei D. Sarabianov
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, (born July 20, 1895, Bácsborsód, Hungary—died
November 24, 1946, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.), Hungarian-born American
painter, sculptor, photographer, designer, theorist, and art
teacher, whose vision of a nonrepresentational art consisting of
pure visual fundamentals—colour, texture, light, and equilibrium of
forms—was immensely influential in both the fine and applied arts in
the mid-20th century. He is also known for his original approach to
Moholy-Nagy studied law in Budapest and served in World War I. He
began to paint in 1917. After joining the poetry circle of Endre Ady,
he published Cubist-influenced woodcuts in the Hungarian avant-garde
journal Ma (“Today”). In 1921 he went to Berlin, where from 1923 to
1929 he headed the metal workshop of the famous avant-garde school
of design known as the Bauhaus. With the German architect Walter
Gropius, director of the Bauhaus from 1919 to 1928, Moholy-Nagy
edited the 14 publications known as the Bauhausbook series. During
his Bauhaus years Moholy-Nagy developed the theories of art
education for which he is known. He created a widely accepted
curriculum that focused on developing students’ natural visual gifts
instead of teaching them specialized skills. His dictum was:
“Everybody is talented.” At the Bauhaus itself, fine-arts training
was abolished in favour of “designing the whole man.”
As a painter and photographer Moholy-Nagy worked predominantly
with light. He experimented with photograms, images composed by
placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper, and he
constructed “light-space modulators,” oil paintings on transparent
or polished surfaces that included mobile light effects.
After he left the Bauhaus in 1929, Moholy-Nagy became involved in
stage design and filmmaking. Fleeing from Nazi Germany in 1934, he
went to Amsterdam and London, and in 1937 he moved to Chicago to
organize the New Bauhaus (later the Institute of Design of the
Illinois Institute of Technology), the first American school based
on the Bauhaus program.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Gelatin silver print photogram
ART, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND MODERNISM
IF ANY PERIOD can be said to have encompassed the full potential
of photography it would have to be the era between the two World
Wars. Some 80 years after the medium first appeared, photographers
and their patrons discovered forms and uses for camera images that
imbued them with exceptional inventiveness and immediacy.
Photography was not only enriched by expanded roles in journalism,
advertising, and publicity, but it was nourished also by acceptance
within avant-garde movements in the graphic arts. In fact, it might
with justice be claimed that except for holography all later
directions were foretold during this period. The extraordinary
vitality of the medium was apparent in many different localities—in
England, Erance, Central Europe, the Soviet Union, Japan, and North
America—yet photographs also retained distinctive national
characteristics. This chapter will survey the range of
experimentation and explore the relationship of the "new vision," as
it is sometimes called, to other visual art of the time; Chapter 10
will be concerned with the flowering of the medium in journalism,
advertising, and book publication.
A distinguishing feature of the photography of the 1920s was the
emergence of a wide variety of techniques, styles, and approaches,
all displaying unusual vigor. Responding to greater economic
opportunities in the medium and involved in the intense
intellectual, political, and cultural ferment that followed the
first World War, many photographers became conscious of the effects
of technology, urbanization, cinema, and graphic art on camera
expression. In addition to the "isms" of prewar avant-garde
art—especially Cubism—the aesthetic concepts associated with
Constructivism, Dadaism, and Surrealism inspired a climate of
experimentation, with photo-collage, montage, cameraless images,
nonobjective forms, unusual angles, and extreme close-ups marking
the photographic expression of the era. In common with other visual
artists, photographers also took note of Freudian and related
theories of the psyche and of the part that images might play in the
social and political struggles of the times.
In Europe the new vision was nurtured by the complex artistic and
social tendencies that emerged following the revolutionary uprisings
at the end of the first World War. Embodied in Russian
Constructivism, the German Bauhaus—a school of architecture and
Deutscbes Werkbund (German Work Alliance), these movements and
organizations viewed artistic expression as concerned with the
analysis and rational reconstruction of industrial society rather
than as a means of producing unique decorative objects based on
personal feelings or experiences for an elite class. With art
activity conceived as a way to improve the lives of ordinary people
through the redesign of their physical and mental environments, the
artist emerged as an individual who "remained true . . . to reality
[in order] to reveal the true face of our time."2 In the eyes of a
significant number of artists, the various media were no longer
regarded as discrete entities; the applied arts were considered as
important as the "fine" arts of painting and sculpture; and respect
for machine technology led to a high regard for both printing press
and camera as the most effective visual instruments of the age.
Experimentation in Europe: Light Graphics
The developments that followed the end of the first World War had
been heralded earlier in the breakdown of conventional modes of
artistic expression. As the 1914-18 conflict raged in Europe,
Dadaists urged that the moribund art of the past be jettisoned; that
new themes and new forms be found to express the irrational nature
of society. This attitude opened fertile fields for all kinds of
visual experimentation, including the production of cameraless
photographic images. It will be recalled that "photogenic
drawing"—Talbot's name for prints made by exposing real objects
placed directly on light-sensitive paper—actually had preceded
photography through the use of a camera. In updating this concept,
photographers of the new vision employed a variety of substances and
light sources to create nonreprescntational images. The earliest
examples were made in 1918 by Christian Schad, a German artist soon
to become a leading exponent of the New Objectivity in painting, who
exposed chance arrangements of found objects and waste
materials—torn tickets, receipts, rags—on photographic film; the results, baptized Schadographs by the Dada leader Tristan
Tzara, expressed the Dadaist interest in making art from junk
Independently, the American Man Ray (born Emmanuel Rudnitsky), a
close associate of Duchamp and Francis Picabia during their New York
Dada period, undertook similar experiments that the photographer
called Rayographs (pi. no. 484), a designation incorporating both
his name and a reference to their source in light. Made soon after
Man Ray's arrival in Paris in 1921, these cameraiess images were
effected by arranging translucent and opaque materials on
photographic paper, at times actually immersed in the developer
during their exposure to moving or stationary light sources.
Indifferent to conventional distinctions between fine and applied
art yet devoted to the expression of intuitive states of being and
chance effects, Man Ray sought commercial as well as artistic
outlets for his extensive visual output that, besides Rayographs,
included straight photographs, paintings, collages, assemblages, and
Cameraiess images also were called photograms (pi. no. 485), the
name given the technique worked out together by Lucia Moholy and
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Originally from Czechoslovakia and Hungary,
respectively, but active after 1923 at the Bauhaus in Germany, these
two artists held that, like other products produced by machine,
photo-graphic images—cameraiess and other—should not deal with
conventional sentiments or personal feelings but should be concerned
with light and form. It is ironic that even though they promoted
photography as the most fitting visual form for the machine age
precisely because the camera image could be easily and exactly
replicated, photograms are unique examples for which no matrix
exists for duplication. Other Europeans who experimented with
cameraiess imagery—or light graphics, as this aspect of photography
came to be called—include Raoul Hausmann, Gyorgy Kepes, Kurt
Schwitters, die Russians El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko, the
Czech artist Jaromir Funke, and Curtis Moffat, an English assistant
to Man Ray. For reasons to be discussed presently, interest in this
form of expression did not develop in the United States until after
the Bauhaus relocated in Chicago in 1938 as the Institute of Design.
CHRISTIAN SCHAD. Schadograpb, 1918.
Gelatin silver print. Edward L. Bafford Photography Collection,
Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery,
University of Man-land, Baltimore. Courtesy Mrs. Christian Schad.
CHRISTIAN SCHAD. Amourette. 1918
MAN RAY. Untitled (Wire Spiral and Smoke), 1923.
Gelatin silver print. Private Collection, New York.
(b Philadelphia, PA, 25 Aug 1890; d Paris, 18 Nov 1976).
American photographer and painter. He was brought up in New York,
and he adopted the pseudonym Man Ray as early as 1909. He was one of
the leading spirits of DADA and SURREALISM and the only American
artist to play a prominent role in the launching of those two
influential movements. Throughout the 1910s he was involved with
avant-garde activities that prefigured the Dada movement. After
attending drawing classes supervised by Robert Henri and George
Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center, or Modern School, he
lived for a time in the art colony of Ridgefield, NJ, where he
designed, illustrated and produced several small press pamphlets,
such as the Ridgefield Gazook, published in 1915, and A Book of
LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY. Photqgram.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of Mr. and Mrs.
LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY. Dolls, 1926
Collage and Montage
In Europe, an even more fertile field for experimentation
involved collage and montage—techniques whose terms sometimes are
used interchangeably. The former (from the French colter, to glue)
describes a recombination of already existing visual materials
effected by pasting them Together on a nonsensitized support and, if
desired, re-photographing the result. Montage refers
to the combining of camera images on film or photographic paper in
the darkroom. The creation of a new visual entity from
existing materials appealed to avantgarde artists in part because it
was a technique employed by naive persons to create pictures—a
folkcraft, so-to-speak —and in part because it used mass-produced
images and therefore did not carry the aura of an elitist activity.
These artists also felt that the juxtaposition of unlikely materials
might serve to arouse feelings in the spectator that conventional
photographic views no longer had the power to evoke. Besides,
collage and montage promised to be extremely malleable—amenable to
the expression of both political concerns and private dreams.
Constructivists in the Soviet Union, who regarded the visual arts as
a meansto serve revolutionary ideals, hailed collage and montage as
a means to embody social and political messages in an unhackneyed
way, while for artists involved with personal fantasies these
techniques served to evoke witty, mysterious, or inexplicable
dimensions. Still other individuals, inspired by the aesthetic
elements of Cubism, used these techniques to control texture, form,
and tonality to achieve nuanccd formal effects.
Although a number of artists have claimed to be inventors of
montage, as with cameraless photography it was an old idea whose
time had come. Hausmann, painter, poet, and editor of a Dada
journal, was one of its earliest partisans, realizing in the summer
of 1918, as he later recalled, "that it is possible to create
pictures out of cut-up photographs." Needing a name for the process,
he, along with artists George Grosz, Helmut Herzfelde (who later
renamed himself John Heartfield), and Hannah Hoch, selected
photomontage as a term that implies an image "engineered" rather
than "created." To these originators, montage seemed to reflect "the
chaos of war and revolution," visible in Hausmann's preoccupation
with savagery and irrationality and in Hoch's expressions of
socially generated fantasies. A strong political component
characterizes the work of Heartfield (pi. no. 488), who was
initially a Dadaist and was pictured by his colleague Grosz as the
quintessential photomontagist, or "Dada Monteur," of the era.
Photographers in Italy found montage a versatile technique with
which to express "spiritual dynamism," the term they used to
describe their interest in urbanism, energy, and movement that had
emerged in the wake of the Futurist Manifesto of 1908. Then, the
brothers Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia (among others) had
incorporated the scientific experiments of Marey into what they
called "Photodynamks," making multiple exposures on a single plate to suggest a world in flux. After World War I, Italian
modernists, among them Vincio Paladini and Wanda Wulz, continued in
this vein, combining printed and pasted materials in two and three
dimensions with multiple exposures.
Montage found favor in the Soviet Union during the 1920s as an
instrument for revealing what was termed "documentary truth."
Instead of relying on conventional time-consuming modes of graphic
representation, Constructivists, notably Lissitzky and Rodchenko,
sought to awaken working-class viewers to the meaning of
contemporary socialist existence by utilizing photographs and text
in visual messages. Like their counterparts in Russian
Him (then considered the most advanced of the era), they were
convinced that montage—which they called "deformation" of the
photograph—and straight camera images taken extremely close to the
subject or from unusual angles could communicate new realities.
Toward the end of the 1920s, true photographic montage, effected
on light-sensitive materials rather than by cutting and pasting,
became more commonplace and was sometimes combined with other
darkroom manipulations such as solarization. Owing to its
flexibility, montage could be structured to serve different
stylistic and thematic ends—personal as well as political. To cite
only a few examples, Anton Stankowski, working in Germany, explored
an enigmatic psychological component in Eye-Montage of
1927; the Czech photographer Karel Teige embraced a similar theme in
a 1937 cover for a Surrealist journal; and Man Ray's
ironic wit is seen in the oft-reproduced Violon d'lngres (pi. no.
494). Socially oriented concerns were expressed by Alice
Lex-Nerlinger, part of a German husband and wife team, in Seamstress of 1930. Incidentally, the themes of eye, hand, and
work visible in several of these images engaged many photographers
of the period whether they worked with montage or straight images.
The eye obviously can be taken as a symbol for camera or
photographer, while the combined emphasis on all of these elements
suggest that camera work was seen as the result of both craft and
vision, a concept embodied in the theories and programs of
Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and the Werkbund.
HANNAH HOCH. The Cut of the Kitchen Knife, 1919.
Montage. National galerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer
RAOUL HAUSMANN. Mechanical Toys, 1957.
Gelatin silver print; double exposure of two photographs showing
Dadaist sculpture Mechaniscber Kopf, 1919. Schirmer/Mosel, Munich.
(b Vienna, 12 July 1886; d Limoges, 1 Feb 1971).
Austrian photomontagist, painter, photographer, printmaker,
writer and theorist. He trained in the academic artistic tradition
under his father, Victor Hausmann (1859–1920). In 1900 he went to
Berlin, where he later became a central figure in Dada. His
important friendship with the eccentric architect and mystical
artist Johannes Baader (1875–1956) began in 1905. In the first years
of the next decade he was associated with such artists as Erich
Heckel and Ludwig Meidner and produced numerous paintings, including
Blue Nude (1916; Rochechouart, Mus. Dépt.), and woodcuts, several of
which were published in his book Material der Malerei Plastik
Architektur (Berlin, 1918). These works blended Expressionism with
the influences of artists then exhibiting at Herwarth Walden’s
Sturm-Galerie: Fernand Léger, Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay
and Sonia Delaunay, Arthur Segal and others. Around 1915 his
widening contacts with the writers Salomon Friedländer and Franz
Jung led to innumerable theoretical and satirical writings that were
published in Der Sturm, Die Aktion, Die freie Strasse and other
magazines of the era. Hausmann’s views reflected a diversity of
influences ranging from biologist Ernst Haeckel and psychologist
Otto Gross, to Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, to Eastern philosophers
including Laozi, and to such anarchists as Max Stirner. In 1915 he
also met Hans Richter and Hannah Höch; Höch became Hausmann’s close
companion until 1922. By 1917 he was associated with Richard
Huelsenbeck, George Grosz, John Heartfield and Wieland Herzfelde,
who together formed the nucleus of Dada in Berlin during 1918–22.
JOHN HEARTFIELD. Adolf the Superman; He Eats Gold and Spews
Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Mrs. Gertrud Heartfield, Berlin.
(b Berlin, 19 June 1891; d Berlin, 26 April 1968).
German photomontagist, draughtsman, typographer and stage
designer. After a difficult childhood owing to the persecution of
his father for his political beliefs, he studied art at the
Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich from 1907 to 1911,
specializing in poster design. In 1912 he took his first job in a
printing works in Mannheim, moving to Berlin in 1913, where he and
his brother Wieland Herzfelde made contact with avant-garde circles.
Heartfield’s experiences in World War I led him to conclude that the
only worthy art was that which took account of social realities. He
destroyed all his early work.
ANTON GIULIO and ARTURO BRAGAGLIA. The Smoker, 1913.
Gelatin silver print. Weston Gallery, Inc., Carmel, Cal.
ALEXANDER RODCHENKO. Montage, c. 1923.
Gelatin silver print. Sovfoto Magazine and VAAP, MOSCOW.
(b St Petersburg, 23 Nov 1891; d Moscow, 3 Dec 1956).
Russian painter, sculptor, designer and photographer. He was a
central exponent of Russian Constructivism, owing much to the
pre-Revolutionary work of Malevich and Tatlin, and he was closely
involved in the cultural debates and experiments that followed the
Revolution of 1917. In 1921 he denounced, on ideological grounds,
easel painting and fine art, and he became an exponent of
Productivism (CONSTRUCTIVISM) in many fields, including poster
design, furniture, photography and film. He resumed painting in his
later years. His work was characterized by the systematic way in
which from 1916 he sought to reject the conventional roles of
self-expression, personal handling of the medium and tasteful or
aesthetic predilections. His early nihilism and condemnation of the
concept of art make it problematic even to refer to Rodchenko as an
artist: in this respect his development was comparable to that of
Dada, although it also had roots in the anarchic activities of
Russian Futurist groups.
ANTON STANKOWSKI. Eye-Montage, 1927.
Gelatin silver print. Prakapas Gallery, Bronxville, N.Y.
Anton Stankowski (June 18, 1906 - December 11, 1998) was a German
graphic designer, photographer and painter. He developed an original
Theory of Design and pioneered Constructive Graphic Art. Typical
Stankowski designs attempt to illustrate processes or behaviours
rather than objects. Such experiments resulted in the use of
fractal-like structures long before their popularisation by Benoit
Mandelbrot in 1975.
Anton Stankowski was born in Gelsenkirchen, Westphalia. Before
embarking on the profession of graphic designer, Stankowski worked
as a decorator and church painter. In 1927 he attended the Folkwang
Academy with fellow photographer, Max Burchartz.
Stankowski's work is noted for straddling the camps of fine and
applied arts by synthesising information and creative impulse. He
was inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian, Theo van
Doesburg, Malevich and Kandinsky. Stankowski advocated graphic
design as a field of pictorial creation that requires collaboration
with free artists and scientists.
Despite producing many unique examples of concrete art and
photo-graphics, Stankowski is best known for designing the simple
trademark of the Deutsche Bank.
By 1980, Stankowski had produced a volume of trademarks for clients
in Germany and Switzerland. In 1983, he established the Stankowski
Foundation to award others for bridging the domains of fine and
applied art. Following his death in December 1998, the German Artist
Federation awarded Anton Stankowski the honorary Harry Graf Kessler
Award for his life work.
ANTON STANKOWSKI. Suring, 1929-1934
KAREL TEIGE. Untitled, 1937. Montage.
Collection Jaroslav Andel, New York.
Karel Teige (December 13, 1900 – October 1, 1951) was the major
figure of the Czech avant-garde movement Devetsil (Nine Forces) in
the 1920s, a graphic artist, photographer, and typographer. Teige
also worked as an editor and graphic designer for Devětsil's monthly
magazine ReD (Revue Devetsilu).
With evidently endless energy, Teige introduced modern art to
Prague. Devetsil-sponsored exhibitions and events brought
international avant-garde figures like Le Corbusier, Man Ray, Paul
Klee, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Walter Gropius, among many others, to
lecture and perform in Prague. Teige interpreted their work,
sometimes literally, for the Czech audience. In his 1935 Prague
lecture, André Breton paid tribute to his "perfect intellectual
fellowship" with Teige and Nezval: "Constantly interpreted by Teige
in the most lively way, made to undergo an all-powerful lyric thrust
by Nezval, Surrealism can flatter itself that it has blossomed in
Prague as it has in Paris."
Although not an architect, Teige was an articulate and knowledgeable
architecture critic, an active participant in CIAM, and friends with
Hannes Meyer, the second director of the Bauhaus. Teige and Meyer
both believed in a scientific, functionalist approach to
architecture, grounded in Marxist principles. In 1929 he famously
criticized Le Corbusier's Mundaneum project (planned for Geneva but
never built) on the grounds that Corbusier had departed from
rational functionalism, and was on his way to becoming a mere
stylist. Teige believed that 'the only aim and scope of modern
architecture is the scientific solution of exact tasks of rational
After welcoming the Soviet army as liberators, Teige was silenced by
the Communist government in 1948. In 1951 he died of a heart attack,
said to be a result of a ferocious Soviet press campaign against him
as a 'Trotskyite degenerate,' his papers were destroyed by the
secret police, and his published work was suppressed for decades.
MAN RAY. Violon d'Ingres, 1924.
Gelatin silver print. Savage Collection, Princeton, N.J.
ALICE LEX-NERLINGER. Seamstress, 1930.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago; Julien Lew
Gift of Jean and Julien Levy, 1975.
By 1916 abstract ideas were appealing to a number of other
photographers. Photo-Secessionist Alvin Langdon Coburn, living in
England, created a series of photographs known as vortographs, in
which no subject matter is recognizable. During the late 1910s,
students and faculty at the Clarence H. White School of Photography
(started by another former colleague of Stieglitz), in particular
Bernard S. Horne and Margaret Watkins, also produced works that
displayed the influence of Modernist abstraction.
Between the two world wars, an experimental climate—promoted by
Constructivist ideology and by Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus—admitted
an entire range of new directions in photography. One aspect of this
experimentalism involved eschewing subject matter and instead
creating photographs that more closely resembled abstract paintings.
Photographers again manipulated images, experimented with processes,
and used multiple images or exposures. Sometimes, rather than
experimenting with the camera itself, they experimented with light
and sensitized paper. For a brief time this direction was allied
with Dadaist ideas about accident, chance, and the subconscious. One
important exponent of photographic experimentalism was the American
expatriate Dada artist Man Ray, whose “rayographs,”
photographs that appeared as series of swirling abstract shapes,
were created without a camera by exposing objects placed on
sensitized paper to light.
Cameraless photography, which came to be called “light graphics,”
also appealed to Moholy-Nagy and his wife, Lucia Moholy, who
called the products of their experimentation “photograms.”
Photographs made by using this kind of manipulation of light could
have completely abstract shapes or forms or feature recognizable
objects. A number of artists in central Europe also manipulated
light and objects to produce abstract images; among them were
Jaroslav Rössler and Gyorgy Kepes, who eventually taught at the
Chicago Institute of Design. There Kepes was instrumental in
introducing its methods to American photographers, among them
Carlotta Corpron, who produced a series of abstractions by using a
device, called a light modulator, favoured at the Bauhaus.
The manipulative strategies of photocollage and montage had
considerable appeal during the interwar period in part because—by
appropriating “content” from other sources—they could deal with
complex political or psychological feelings and ideas. Czech and
German artists were especially drawn to this type of
experimentation. Herbert Bayer, Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and
Hannah Höch were unusually adept in their innovative use of collage
and montage to make ironic comments on a range of political and
social issues in German society. Heartfield, whose work appeared on
book jackets and posters, savaged the political thuggery behind the
rise of Nazism by juxtaposing political imagery—for example, a stock
photograph of Hitler—with unexpected, provocative imagery. Höch
concentrated on portraying the role of the “new woman” emerging in
the chaos of postwar German society; for example, the title of one
work by Höch, The Cut with the Kitchen Knife, suggests a female
domain, yet the image shows women freed from housewifely duties,
cavorting among machinery and political figures as part of the world
at large. Similarly, montage enabled Soviet Constructivists to
suggest complex ideas, as in El Lissitzky’s self-portrait, which
integrates drafting tools and geometric shapes to suggest that the
artist himself was an architect of society.
Man Ray, original name Emmanuel Radnitzky (born August 27, 1890,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died November 18, 1976, Paris,
France), photographer, painter, and filmmaker who was the only
American to play a major role in both the Dada and Surrealist
The son of Jewish immigrants—his father was a tailor and his
mother a seamstress—Radnitzky grew up in New York City, where he
studied architecture, engineering, and art, and became a painter. As
early as 1911, he took up the pseudonym of Man Ray. As a young man,
he was a regular visitor to Alfred Stieglitz’s “291” gallery, where
he was exposed to current art trends and earned an early
appreciation for photography. In 1915 Man Ray met the French artist
Marcel Duchamp, and together they collaborated on many inventions
and formed the New York group of Dada artists. Like Duchamp, Man Ray
began to produce ready-mades, commercially manufactured objects that
he designated as works of art. Among his best-known ready-mades is
The Gift (1921), a flatiron with a row of tacks glued to the bottom.
In 1921 Man Ray moved to Paris and became associated with the
Parisian Dada and Surrealist circles of artists and writers.
Inspired by the liberation promoted by these groups, he experimented
with many media. His experiments with photography included
rediscovering how to make “cameraless” pictures, or photograms,
which he called rayographs. He made them by placing objects directly
on light-sensitive paper, which he exposed to light and developed.
In 1922 a book of his collected rayographs, Les Champs délicieux
(“The Delightful Fields”), was published, with an introduction by
the influential Dada artist Tristan Tzara, who admired the enigmatic
quality of Man Ray’s images. In 1929, with his lover, photographer
and model Lee Miller, Man Ray also experimented with the technique
called solarization, which renders part of a photographic image
negative and part positive by exposing a print or negative to a
flash of light during development. He and Miller were among the
first artists to use the process, known since the 1840s, for
Man Ray also pursued fashion and portrait photography and made a
virtually complete photographic record of the celebrities of
Parisian cultural life during the 1920s and ’30s. Many of his
photographs were published in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vu,
and Vogue. He continued his experiments with photography through the
genre of portraiture; for example, he gave one sitter three pairs of
eyes, and in Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) he photographically
superimposed sound holes, or f holes, onto the photograph of the
back of a female nude, making the woman’s body resemble that of a
violin. He also continued to produce ready-mades. One, a metronome
with a photograph of an eye fixed to the pendulum, was called Object
to Be Destroyed (1923)—which it was by anti-Dada rioters in 1957.
Man Ray also made films. In one short film, Le Retour à la raison
(1923; Return to Reason), he applied the rayograph technique to
motion-picture film, making patterns with salt, pepper, tacks, and
pins. His other films include Anémic cinéma (1926; in collaboration
with Duchamp) and L’Étoile de mer (1928–29; “Star of the Sea”),
which is considered a Surrealist classic.
In 1940 Man Ray escaped the German occupation of Paris by moving
to Los Angeles. Returning to Paris in 1946, he continued to paint
and experiment until his death. His autobiography, Self-Portrait,
was published in 1963 (reprinted 1999).
Man Ray, Lampshade, reproduced in 391, n. 13, July 1920
Lucia Moholy, née Lucia Schulz (born January 18, 1894, Prague,
Bohemia (now in Czech Republic)—died May 17, 1989, Zürich,
Switzerland), Bohemian-born British photographer, teacher, and
writer best known for her documentary photographs of the Bauhaus,
the noted German school of design, architecture, and applied arts.
Moholy pursued some schooling at the University of Prague in the
early 1910s, but in 1915 she turned her attention to publishing and
worked as a copy editor and as an editor for a number of publishing
houses in Germany. For a brief period about 1919 she also published
writings with a radical, anarchist bent under the pseudonym Ulrich
Steffen. In 1920 she met László Moholy-Nagy at the Ernst Rowohlt
publishing house in Berlin, and she married him in 1921. When Moholy-Nagy
became a teacher in 1923 at the Weimar Bauhaus—architect Walter
Gropius’s school of design (founded 1919)—Moholy joined him in
Weimar and became an apprentice in Otto Eckner’s Bauhaus photography
studio. From 1925 to 1926, she also studied at the Leipzig Academy
for Graphic and Book Arts (now the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig),
becoming skilled in photography and darkroom processes. (A formal
course in photography had not yet been established at the Bauhaus at
that time.) She set up her first darkroom in 1926 in the house she
shared with Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus.
Moholy spent her five years at the Bauhaus documenting the
interior and exterior spaces of its facilities and the activities of
its community, as well as the creative output of its teachers and
students. Her photographic aesthetic was that of the Neue
Sachlichkeit (German: “New Objectivity”), which called for precise
documentation from a straightforward perspective. At the same time,
she collaborated with Moholy-Nagy in the darkroom, experimenting
with image-making processes such as the photogram, an image created
on photo-sensitive paper without a camera but by exposure to light.
In contemporary publications that documented their experimentation,
all credit was given to Moholy-Nagy, such as in the book Malerei,
Photografie, Film (1925; Painting, Photography, Film), which was
cowritten by the couple but published solely under Moholy-Nagy’s
name. That lack of recognition became Moholy’s lifelong struggle.
In 1928 they both left the Bauhaus for Berlin, and the couple
separated in 1929 (divorced 1934). That year Moholy was included in
the landmark “Film und Foto” exhibition in Stuttgart, which featured
an international roster of photographers working in the New
Objectivity aesthetic (also called “New Vision” or “Precisionism”).
From 1929 to 1933 she taught photography in Berlin at a private art
school directed by Swiss artist and former Bauhaus teacher Johannes
Itten. Thereafter she settled in London (1934), where she set up a
commercial portraiture studio.
Moholy’s years of practicing photography had taught her valuable
methods of photomechanical reproduction, which, during World War II,
she used in her position with Association of Special Libraries and
Information Bureaux to run a microfilm operation (the photographic
copying of documents at a reduced scale for compact storage) at the
London Science Museum Library. She also participated (c. 1946–57) in
archival projects with UNESCO, where she employed several advanced
reprography methods (photographic reproduction processes of graphic
material). In the late 1930s she wrote a history of photography, A
Hundred Years of Photography (1939), the first of its kind in
English. Her contributions to the field of photography were
recognized officially in 1948 when she was made a member of the
Britain’s Royal Photographic Society. In 1959 she retired and moved
to Switzerland, where she spent the rest of her life writing art
criticism as well as a book on her work at the Bauhaus.
Moholy’s photographs of the Bauhaus from the 1920s served a
critical function in constructing the identity of the school and its
community and in establishing its reputation. The images were used
in Bauhaus books, which she also edited, and they were used in the
marketing materials and in the school’s sales catalogue. When she
left Germany in 1933, she left her glass negatives with Gropius for
safekeeping. He proceeded to use the images without crediting her,
as in, for example, a 1938 exhibition on the Bauhaus organized by
the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Gropius provided nearly
50 of Moholy’s photographs to the museum, which used them either in
the exhibition itself or in the accompanying catalogue, completely
without credit. Though Moholy tried repeatedly to retrieve her
original materials, she did not succeed in getting her hands on any
of them until the 1960s, and even then only a limited number were
returned. At that point she attempted retroactively, with some
success, to lay claim to images that had been printed and used
without her permission. That circumstance was a major impulse behind
her publication of Moholy-Nagy Marginal Notes (1972), in which she
tried to set the record straight about her collaboration in the
groundbreaking photographic experimentation at the Bauhaus that had
hitherto been credited to Moholy-Nagy alone.
Like many of the women involved in the male-dominated Bauhaus
community, Moholy was largely left out of the school’s histories,
though many of those were illustrated by her photographs. Her name
has since been resuscitated and her role reexamined as central in
shaping the Bauhaus image.
Lucia Moholy. Franz Roh
Straight Photography in Europe
The new vision invigorated straight
photography by presenting the known world in uncharacteristic ways.
Even though polemical messages may have been more difficult to
convey than in montage, photographers found that they could express
social and psychological attitudes and explore aesthetic ideas
through a variety of visual initiatives. These included making use
of actual reflections, unusual angles, and close-ups. Inspiration
for many of these experiments in seeing can be traced to the
avant-garde cinema, which, in the opinion of at least one
photographer of the time, saved still photography from itself
Reflections, which in former times had aided photographers in
composing interior scenes and landscapes, now offered them a means
to explore the expressive possibilities of industrially produced
refractive surfaces such as plate glass and polished metals. The
overlay of natural forms and geometric patterns reflected in the
shop windows of Atget's images frequently evokes a
dreamlike aura; in the hands of modernist photographers this
stratagem served to con-found one's sense of space or to introduce
seemingly un-related visual references. To select but a single
example, in Frau G. Resting, 1930, German photographer
Edmund Resting structured an image resonant with restlessness and
ambiguity from the reflections in the auto-mobile windshield, the
tense expression on his wife's face, and the tectonic elements of
car and building.
Distorted reflections, effected by
using special mirrors and lenses or by capturing objects refracted
in spherical forms, provided a device that might serve to mimic the
formal experiments of Cubist painters as well as to express
disturbing personal or social realities. First seen in 1888, when
Ducos du Hauron produced a series of experimental portraits, the
distorted image was reintroduccd in the late 1920s by Hungarian
photographer Andre Kertesz, whose interest
had been aroused initially as he photographed the bodies of swimmers
refracted in a pool. In 1933, using a special mirror, he produced a
series of nudes similar in treatment to the deformations of the
human body that engrossed Picasso at the time. The potential of this
technique in social or personal comment was explored by Polish
photographers Marian and Witold Dederko whose work in
the modernist vein is combined with old-fashioned gum printing
techniques, while the distorted scene refracted in the polished
headlamp of a car in The Fierce-Eyed Building (pi. no. tool, by
American neo-Romantic Clarence John Laughlin, seems to signify the
photographer's view of modern urban life as inhumane. Photographers
especially influenced by Surrealism sought to express intuitive
perceptions through found symbols as well as accidental reflections.
In Optk Parable (pi no. 501), by Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez
Bravo, reflections in a shop window combine with the repetitive
forms of a naively painted eye-glass sign, seen in reverse as if to
intimate an all-seeing but perverse presence. Bravo's style, formed
during the 1930s cultural renaissance in his native land, suggests a
complex amalgam of sophisticated theories of the unconscious,
elements of indigenous folk culture, and commitment to the humanist
ideals of the Mexican revolution.
The influence of the "isms" of art
culture—Cubism, Constructivism, Surrealism, Precisionism—are visible
in the work of virtually all photographers of the new vision, but
while most regarded these concepts as allowing them the freedom to
fragment and restructure reality, some individuals actually included
in their photographs the typical geometric furnishings of
Constructivist and Cubist paintings. Cones, spheres, and overlapping
transparent planes found their way into the work of European
photographers Herbert Bayer and Walter Pererhans, both of the
Bauhaus, as well as that of Funke, Florence Henri, and the American
Paul Outerbridge. Henri's studies at the Bauhaus and with painter
Fernand Leger may account for her preference for the mirrors and
spheres that appear again and again in her abstract compositions and portraits; other Cubist photographers allowed
themselves greater latitude the artifacts they assembled for
Cubist-likc still lifes.
EDMUND RESTING. Frau G.
Gelatin silver print. Francisco Museum of Modern Art; purchase, Mrs.
Ferdinand C. Smith Fund.
LOUIS DUCOS DU HAURON.
Self-Portrait, c. 1888.
Gelatin silver print. Societe Franchise de Photographie, Paris.
ANDRE KERTESZ. Distortion No.
Gelatin silver print. Susan Harder Gallery, New York.
(b Budapest, 2 July 1894; d New
York, 27 Sept 1985).
American photographer of Hungarian
birth. As a young man he used to wander around Budapest and visit
the Ethnographic Museum. At this time Bila Bartуk and Zуltan Kodely
were rediscovering Hungarian folk music, and Hungarian poets and
painters were looking at their ancient vernacular traditions for
inspiration. Kertйsz, who started taking photographs at the age of
12, also tried to reflect these interests, both in his choice of
countryside subjects and in the simplicity of his style.
Self-taught, he often took his camera with him when he went to visit
relatives in the small peasant towns of the Hungarian heartland, the
puszta. He tried to go beyond mere recording of holiday memories, or
of the idyllic relationship of the country people to nature; he
rather sought out timeless and essential qualities in the ordinary
day-to-day events that he saw around him.
CLARENCE JOHN LAUGHLIN. The
Fierce-Eyed Building, 1938.
Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Robert Miller Gallery, New York.
CLARENCE JOHN LAUGHLIN
(b Lake Charles, LA, 14 Aug 1905; d
New Orleans, LA, 2 Jan 1985).
American photographer. He spent his
early childhood on a plantation in Louisiana before moving to New
Orleans in 1910. A self-taught photographer, he began photographing
in 1935, influenced by Baudelaire and French Symbolist poets.
Initially imitating the objective photography of contemporaries Paul
Strand and Edward Weston, he came to believe in the pursuit of his
own visions and by 1939 considered his life’s work begun. Laughlin
photographed what he came to describe as ‘the third world of
photography’, concentrating on the remnants of the ‘Old South’; he
produced images of crumbling plantations, graveyards and shadowy
figures, visual parallels to novels by such writers as William
Faulkner and Carson McCullers. He posed veiled women to represent
spirits bearing the weight of history and often used double exposure
and contrasts of light and shadow to invest inanimate objects with
fearful possibilities, or to increase illusionistic possibilities—as
in In the Cage (1940), an image of a child behind a louvre-door, the
shadows cast on him like bars of a cage. A work such as Moss Monster
(1946) demonstrates his ability to turn natural phenomena into a
MANUEL ALVAREZ BRAVO. Optic
Gelatin silver print. Museum of Modern Art, New York; gift of N.
MANUEL ALVAREZ BRAVO
(b Mexico City, 4 Feb 1902).
Mexican photographer. He studied
painting and music at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in
Mexico City in 1918. In 1922, after training as an office worker, he
began to take an interest in photography, and in 1923 he met Hugo
Brehme shortly before buying his first camera. In 1929, through his
friendship with Tina Modotti, he got to know Diego Rivera. In 1930,
when Modotti left Mexico, he provided illustrations for Francis
Toor’s book Mexican Folkways. From 1930 to 1931 he was cameraman for
Eisenstein’s film Viva Mexico. Subsequently he met Paul Strand and
Cartier-Bresson and became friendly with Mexico’s leading painters
and writers. In 1938 he met Andrй Breton, who was visiting Mexico
and who was deeply impressed by the mysterious and suggestive nature
of his photographs. Breton was keen to enlist him for the Surrealist
cause and published some of his photographs in Minotaure.
FLORENCE HENRI. Abstract
Gelatin silver print.
Born in New York City in 1893,
Henri first studied music, then painting under Fernand Léger in
Paris and photography at the Bauhaus under Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and
Josef Albers during 1927 and 1928. After her studies, she moved to
Paris where she set up a studio for portrait, fashion and
advertising photography. Her work was included in many seminal
exhibitions and publications of the late 1920s and early 1930s,
contributing to the international language of photographic
experimentation and abstraction referred to as the New Vision in
Europe. Henri's photography demonstrates a mastery of portraiture
and still-life, incorporating close-ups, reflections and montage in
her repertory of techniques. Like other 'new photographers' of the
time, she also made use of unusual viewpoints and her photographs
reflect the influence of cubism, often using mirrors to produce
pictures that are fragmented and spatially ambiguous.
In the same fashion, the emblems of
Surrealism—endless vistas, melting clocks, and checkerboard
patterns—appeared in photographs by Man Ray, the British theatrical
portraitist Angus McBean, and the American theatrical and fashion
photographer George Platt Lynes. Perhaps the most
striking characteristic of the straight photography of this time is
the predominance of unconventional vantage points. This development
was forecast in the work done in the second decade of this century bv American photographers Stieglitz, Coburn, Steichen, and Strand
following their exposure to modern European an exhibited at 291, The
Armory Show, and the Modern Gallery. Indeed, the downward view and
the rigorous organization of all the tectonic elements in
Stieglitz's 1907 image The Steerage resulted in a
complex formal structure that is said to have impelled Picasso later
to remark that the two artists were working in the same avantgarde
spirit. Fresh points of view, unhackneyed themes, geometry, and
sharp definition were heralded by Coburn, who observed that
photographers "need throw off the shackles of conventional
expression." His image The Octopus of 1913 is a
flattened arrangement of planes and arcs achieved by photographing
downward from a position high over Madison Square Park in New York
City. Three years later, Coburn's involvement in Vorticism, the
English variant of Cubism, led him to photograph through a
kaleidoscope-like device consisting of three mirrors; these
completely abstract formations were dubbed Vortographs
by Wyndham Lewis, the British leader of the movement. Around 1916,
Strand created a series of near-abstractions using ordinary
household objects. Exemplified by Orange and Bowls,
these images concentrated on form, movement, and tonality rather
than on naturalistic depiction or atmospheric lighting. Although
abstraction as such did not interest him for long, Strand's
utilization of unconventional angles and his high regard for
pictorial structure also can be seen in the downward views of New
York streets and the close-ups of anonymous street people and of
machine and organic forms with which he was preoccupied until the
end of the 1920s. No Americans besides Coburn and Strand went quite
so far in experimenting with abstraction before the twenties, but
some, including Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, Morton L. Schamberg,
Steichen, Karl Struss, and Paul Lewis Anderson showed themselves
exceptionally sensitive to geometric elements as they appeared in
reality and to formal structure in their images.
The fact that mundane scenes and
ordinary objects could be revealed in a fresh light made the
unconventional vantage point a favorite of those associated with
Construc¬tivism and the Bauhaus precisely because these groups were
dedicated to viewing everyday society in new ways. Pont Transbordeur, a view by Bayer from a bridge looking down on the
streets of Marseilles, typifies the many images of the time in which
the visual field is transformed into a relatively flat pattern—one
that retains just enough suggestion of depth and texture to be
ambiguous. Besides unusual camera angle, the abstract orchestration
of tonality, seen in Castle Staircase by Czech
photographer Jan Lauschmann, can produce a work that is spatially
baffling but visually authoritative. Lauschmann, a photochemist by
profession, was one of the first in his country to conclude that
photography should be an independent branch of art, and that
straight printing was more relevant to modern concerns than the
hand-manipulated gum printing techniques that lingered in Eastern
Europe until the 1930s.
In another example of the downward
view that is arresting from several positions-—Carrefour, Blois by Kertesz—the puzzling configuration of lines and shapes
of architectural elements seen from above serve as a foil for the
animate forms, resulting in a refreshing vision of a scene that had
been more commonly photographed from street level. Neither a
Pictorialist nor yet an entirely objective photographer, Kertesz
supported himself as a free-lance journalist soon after moving to
Paris from his native Hungary in 1925; using the newly invented
Leica camera he embraced
the new vision as a means to extract lyrical moments from the
ordinariness of daily existence. While he utilized virtually the
entire vocabulary of modernism—reflections, close-ups, and unusual
vantage points—his images seem to project wit, human
compassion, and poetry rather than a concern with formal problems or
The view from above made possible
the ambiguous reading of shadow and substance visible in a work of
1929 entitled Little Men, Long Shadows by Vilho
Setala, a skillful Finnish professional photographer whose visual
interplay of figures and shadows suggests a typically urban
experience of anonymity and mechanized existence. At times the
relationship between shadow and substance in photographs taken from
this viewpoint is so tenuous that the images can be viewed from any
angle with equal comprehension. As a result of increased attention
to camera angle, a portrait of Clemens Roseler by T. Lux Feininger, who was involved with the theater and dance program
at the Bauhaus, is imbued with tension and fresh interest through
the extreme foreshortening.
ALVIN LANGDON COBURN. Vortograph No. 1,1917.
Gelatin silver print. Museum of Modern Art, New York; gift of Alvin
Paul Strand (October 16, 1890 –
March 31, 1976) was an American photographer and filmmaker who,
along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and
Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the
20th century. His diverse body of work, spanning six decades, covers
numerous genres and subjects throughout the Americas, Europe and
Born in New York City to Bohemian parents, in his late teens Strand
was a student of renowned documentary photographer Lewis Hine at the
Ethical Culture Fieldston School. It was while on a fieldtrip in
this class that Strand first visited the 291 art gallery – operated
by Stieglitz and Edward Steichen – where exhibitions of work by
forward-thinking modernist photographers and painters would move
Strand to take his photographic hobby more seriously. Stieglitz
would later promote Strand's work in the 291 gallery itself, in his
photography publication Camera Work, and in his artwork in the
Hieninglatzing studio. Some of this early work, like the well-known
"Wall Street," experimented with formal abstractions (influencing,
among others, Edward Hopper and his idiosyncratic urban vision).
Other of Strand's works reflect his interest in using the camera as
a tool for social reform.
Over the next few decades, Strand worked in motion pictures as well
as still photography. His first film was Manhatta (1921), also known
as New York the Magnificent, a silent film showing the day-to-day
life of New York City made with painter/photographer Charles
Sheeler. Manhatta includes a shot similar to Strand's famous Wall
Street (1915) photograph. Other films he was involved with included
Redes (1936) (released in the US as The Wave), a film commissioned
by the Mexican government, the documentary The Plow That Broke the
Plains (1936) and the pro-union, anti-fascist Native Land (1942).
In June 1949, Strand left the United States to present Native Land
at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czechoslovakia.
It was a departure that marked the beginning of Strand’s long exile
from the prevailing climate of McCarthyism in the United States. The
remaining 27 years of his life were spent in Orgeval, France where,
despite never learning the language, he maintained an impressive
creative life, assisted by his third wife, fellow photographer Hazel
Although Strand is best known for his early abstractions, his return
to still photography in this later period produced some of his most
significant work in the form of six book ‘portraits’ of place: Time
in New England (1950), La France de Profil (1952), Un Paese
(featuring photographs of Luzzara and the Po River Valley in Italy,
1955), Tir a'Mhurain / Outer Hebrides (1962), Living Egypt (1969)
and Ghana: an African portrait (1976).
Strand married the painter Rebecca Salsbury in 1921. He photographed
Rebecca Salsbury Strand frequently, sometimes with uncommonly close
compositions. Strand married Hazel Kingsbury in 1951.
The timing of Strand’s departure to France is coincident with the
first libel trial of his friend Alger Hiss, with whom he maintained
a correspondence until his death. Although he was never officially a
member of the Communist Party, many of Strand’s collaborators were
either Party members (James Aldridge; Cesare Zavattini) or were
prominent socialist writers and activists (Basil Davidson). Many of
his friends were also Communists or were suspected of being so (MP
DN Pritt; film director Joseph Losey; Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid;
actor Alex McCrindle). Strand was also closely involved with
Frontier Films, one of more than twenty organizations that were
branded as ‘subversive’ and ‘un-American’ by the US Attorney
Strand also insisted that his books should be printed in Leipzig,
East Germany, even if this meant that they were initially prohibited
from the American market on account of their Communist provenance.
De-classified intelligence files, obtained under the Freedom of
Information Act and now lodged at the Center for Creative
Photography at the University of Arizona, reveal that Strand’s
movements around Europe were closely monitored by the security
HERBERT BAYER. Pont Transbordeur, over Marseilles, 1928.
Gelatin silver print.
JAN LAUSCHMANN. Castle
Gelatin silver print.
ANDRE KERTESZ. Satiric Dancer,
Gelatin silver print. Susan Harder Gallery, New York.
ANDRE KERTESZ. Carrefour
Gelatin silver print. Susan Harder Gallery, New York.
VILHO SETALA. Little Men, Long
Gelatin silver print. Photographic Museum of Finland, Helsinki.
T. LUX FEININGER. Clemens
Roseler, c. 1920s.
Gelatin silver print. Prakapas Gallery, Bronxville, N.Y.
Another hallmark of the new vision
is the closeup, a view in which the lens acts like an enlarging
device to call attention to patterns, textures, and structures that
might ordinarily pass unnoticed. Reflecting in part the advances in
scientific photography during the 20th century, the close-up was
regarded as one means for "the objective presentation of fact,"
which frees the viewer from the confusion of individual
representation. This concentration on discrete objects also
signified that to some photographers the camera seemed to be more
suitable for revealing specific appearances than for depicting
complex psychological or social relationships. The close-up
recommended itself strongly to German partisans of the New
Objectivity, among them professor of art Karl Blossfeldt who sought
through his images of plant forms to establish a link between form
in a natural world "governed by some fixed and eternal force" and in
The New Objectivity's most renowned
advocate, Albert Ronger-Patzsch, a professional photographer in
Germany. also sought to make his lens reveal analogies between
natural formations and factory-produced objects, in order to suggest
the formal structures that are basic to plants, bridges, factories
and their products. Focusing his large-format camera on intrinsic
design elements and searching out repetitive pattern, he eliminated
atmosphere, chance-illuminations, and all personal subjective
reactions to achieve a transcendental level of pure decoration in
images such as Sempervivum Percarneum, 1922. At times
his work seemed to approach abstraction despite his expressed
"aloofness to art for art's sake." A similar attentive-ness to the
clarity of line and form characterizes Werner Mantz's views of
German modern architecture of the 1920s and '30s, while Hans
Finsler, Swiss-born but influential as a teacher and professional in
Germany, used the camera to make vivid the precise geometries of
mass-produced machined objects.
The camera close-up, especially as
it served the ideals of the New Objectivity, garnered international
adherents owing to the acclaim outside Germany for Blossfeldt's
Unformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature), published in 1928, and
Renger-Patzsch's Die Welt Ist Schon (The World Is Beautiful)—the
latter considered by the photographer "a model book of objects and
things." The style and its typical themes informed the work of many
other Europeans, including French photographer Emmanuel Sougez and
Dutch photographer Piet Zwart, whose robust image of a
cabbage can be compared with a similar image by Czech photographer Ladislav Berka.While the close-up opened a fresh way
of viewing that most commonplace of subjects—the human face and
form—it did not prevent the photographer from introducing personal
feelings. Indeed, Rodchenko's Portrait of My Mother,
reveals the shape, texture, and forms of aging, and also expresses a
tender though unsentimental compassion. Tonal contrast, outsize
scale, and asymmetrical placement in Lucia Moholy's Portrait of
Florence Henri strikingly exemplify die formalistic
concerns of the photographer yet suggest the essence of the sitter's
personality. Eye of Lotte, by the influential German
teacher Max Burchartz, a work that undoubtedly was considered the
"leitmotif for the modern photography movement," because it so fully
embraces the stylistic devices of the era—the close-up, unusual
framing, emphatic geometrical design—at the same time projecting the
innocence and freshness of youth. As seen in Child's Hands by German photographer Aenne Biermann and the image of
work-hardened hands by Italian photographer Tina Modotti, the close-up view obviously can be imbued with either
personal or social comment.
Karl Blossfeldt (1865 – 1932) was a
German photographer, sculptor, teacher, and artist who worked in
Berlin, Germany, at the turn of the century. He worked with a camera
he designed himself. That camera allowed him to greatly magnify the
objects he was capturing, to up to 30 times their actual size. He
spent much of his time devoted to the study of nature. In his career
of more than 30 years, he photographed nothing but plants, or
rather, sections of plants. In many of his photographs, he would
zoom in so close to a plant that the plant no longer looked like a
plant. The images he created looked more like lovely, abstract
forms. His photos revealed the amazing detail found in nature.
When Karl Blossfeldt began his career, photography was still quite
new. Many people saw it as a scientific tool. They looked at it as
an infallible means of capturing the world. Many people did not look
at photography as an art form yet. Blossfeldt's work can be seen as
a transition between looking at photography as just science and
looking at photography as art.
Blossfeldt was born in Schielo, the Unterharz region of Germany. He
attended high school in the nearby village of Harzgerode and
graduated with a secondary school certificate. He started as a
sculpture and modelling apprentice at the iron foundry in
Mägdesprung by the Harz mountains. Between 1884 and 1890, he took
music and drawing classes at the Lehranstalt des Königlich
Preussischen Kunstgewerbemuseums (The Royal Institute of Arts and
Crafts), in Berlin thanks to a fellowship granted by the Prussian
Over the next decade, Blossfeldt traveled around Italy, Greece, and
North Africa, where he started collecting plant material for drawing
classes and systematically documented single plant samples with
photographs under the tutelage of Moritz Meurer, who published some
of the young photographer’s work. In 1898, Blossfeldt joined the
Kunstgewerbliche Lehranstalt, teaching modelling based on plant
samples and his own photographs as class material. He held this
position for 31 years.
His works focused on the beauty of nature. He chose to use the
organic forms of the earth to contrast against stark backgrounds so
that the shapes he created focused on the small detail of nature,
making it the main focus of the image and to show these natural
compositions on scales as small as ornamental ironwork and as large
as the shapes of entire buildings.
In 1912, he married Helene Wegener, an opera singer. She was his
second wife. Together they traveled around southern Europe and
northern Africa. In 1921, he was appointed Hochschule für bildende
Künste professor at the Institute in Berlin.
Blossfeldt's botanical photographs, which Meurer had used as
teaching material in his drawing manual, were first exhibited at
Berlin's Gallery Nierendorf in 1926 and were published in several
illustrated magazines and books on architecture and design theory.
The 1928 publication of Urformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art), a
stunning collection of extreme closeup photos of plants, earned
Blossfeldt a place as a pioneer in the New Objectivity art movement.
The book received enthusiastic responses from both literary circles
and the general public.
His success was followed by another exhibition at the Bauhaus in
Dessau in 1929, and a series of botanical photographs were published
in Documents to illustrate Georges Bataille's article "The Language
of Flowers" (1929, issue 3). Blossfeldt retired from teaching to
emeritus status at the college in 1930.
His Second Series of Art Forms in Nature were published in
Wundergarten der Natur (Magical Garden of Nature), which was
published in the year he died, 1932. Blossfeldt's lifespan mirrors
almost exactly that of the objective photographer Wilson Bentley
(1865–1931), from the U.S. state of Vermont, whose work focused on
photographically recording snowflakes and ice crystals.
Semperrivum Percarneum, c. 1922.
Gelatin silver print. Folkwang Museum. Essen. Germany.
Albert Renger-Patzsch (June 22,
1897 – September 27, 1966) was a German photographer associated with
the New Objectivity.
Renger-Patzsch was born in Würzburg and began making photographs by
age twelve. After military service in the First World War he studied
chemistry at Dresden Technical College. In the early 1920s he worked
as a press photographer for the Chicago Tribune before becoming a
freelancer and, in 1925, publishing a book, The choir stalls of
Cappenberg. He had his first museum exhibition in 1927.
A second book followed in 1928, Die Welt ist schön (The World is
Beautiful). This, his best-known book, is a collection of one
hundred of his photographs in which natural forms, industrial
subjects and mass-produced objects are presented with the clarity of
scientific illustrations. In its sharply focused and matter-of-fact
style his work exemplifies the esthetic of The New Objectivity that
flourished in the arts in Germany during the Weimar Republic.
During the 1930s Renger-Patzsch made photographs for industry and
advertising. His archives were destroyed during the Second World
War. In 1944 he moved to Wamel Dorf, where he lived the rest of his
PIET ZWART. Cabbage, 1930.
Gelatin silver print. Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, Netherlands.
ALEXANDER RODCHENKO. Portrait
of My Mother, 1924.
Gelatin silver print. Collection Alexander Lavrientiev, Moscow
Lucia Moholy, born Lucia Schulz,
(18 January 1894, Prague, Austria-Hungary — 17 May 1989, Zurich,
Switzerland) was a photographer and wife of artist and fellow
photographer László Moholy-Nagy.
After studying philosophy, philology, and art history, she worked as
an editor and lecturer in Prague. She met and married László
Moholy-Nagy in 1920 in Berlin. She studied photography in Weimar and
Leipzig from 1923 to 1924 and, when her husband secured a position
at the Bauhaus, lived in Dessau and produced many of the iconic
images and portraits associated with that school. In 1928, she and
her husband moved to Berlin where she worked at the Ittenschule as a
stage photographer and lecturer.
The couple separated in 1932 and emigrated, separately, to London
when the National Socialist German Workers Party rose to power in
1933. There, she continued to photograph and teach, publishing a
book, A Hundred Years of Photography, 1839-1939 (Harmondsworth,
1939) and directing a microfilm/reprography service based at the
Science Museum Library, London, for the Association of Special
Libraries and Information Bureaux (Aslib), "The ASLIB microfilm service: the story of its wartime activities",
Journal of Documentation, Vol. 2 No.3, pp.147-73). Immediately after
the war she travelled to the Near and Middle East for projects for
UNESCO. She retired in 1959 to Zollikon, Switzerland.
AENNE BIERMANN. Child's Hands,
Gelatin silver print. Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen
Preussischer Kulrurbesitz, Berlin.
TINA MODOTTI. Number 21 (Hands
Retting an a Tool).
Gelatin silver print. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Tina Modotti (August 16 (or 17)
1896 – January 5, 1942) was an Italian photographer, model, actress,
and revolutionary political activist.
She was born Assunta Adelaide
Luigia Modotti Mondini in Udine, Friuli. In 1913, at the age of 16,
she immigrated to the United States to join her father in San
Attracted to the performing arts supported by the Italian emigre
community in the Bay Area, Modotti experimented with acting. She
appeared in several plays, operas and silent movies in the late
1910s and early 1920s, and also worked as an artist's model.
In 1918, she married Roubaix "Robo" de l'Abrie Richey and moved with
him to Los Angeles in order to pursue a career in the motion picture
industry. There she met the photographer Edward Weston and his
assistant Margrethe Mather. By 1921, Modotti was Weston's favorite
model and, by October of that year, his lover. Modotti's husband
Robo seems to have responded to this by moving to Mexico in 1921.
Following him to Mexico City, Modotti arrived two days after his
death from smallpox on February 9, 1922. In 1923, Modotti returned
to Mexico City with Weston and his son Chandler, leaving behind
Weston's wife and remaining three children.
Edward Weston's 1923 portrait of Tina ModottiModotti and Weston
quickly gravitated toward the capital's bohemian scene, and used
their connections to create an expanding portrait business. It was
also during this time that Modotti met several political radicals
and Communists, including three Mexican Communist Party leaders who
would all eventually become romantically linked with Modotti: Xavier
Guerrero, Julio Antonio Mella, and Vittorio Vidali.
By 1927, a much more politically active Modotti (she joined the
Mexican Communist Party that year) found her focus shifting and more
of her work becoming politically motivated. Around that period, her
photographs began appearing in publications such as Mexican
Folkways, Forma, and the more radically motivated El Machete,
Arbiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ), and New Masses.
Some have suggested that Modotti was introduced to photography as a
young girl in Italy, where her uncle, Pietro Modotti, maintained a
photography studio. Later in the U.S., her father briefly ran a
similar studio in San Francisco. However, it was through her
relationship with Edward Weston that Modotti rapidly developed as an
important fine art photographer and documentarian. Mexican
photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo divided Modotti’s career as a
photographer into two distinct categories: "Romantic" and
"Revolutionary." The former period includes her time spent as
Weston’s darkroom assistant, office manager and, finally, creative
partner. Together they opened a portrait studio in Mexico City and
were commissioned to travel around Mexico taking photographs for
Anita Brenner’s book, "Idols Behind Altars."
In Mexico, Modotti found a
community of cultural and political avant guardists. She became the
photographer of choice for the blossoming Mexican mural movement,
documenting the works of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Her
visual vocabulary matured during this period, such as her formal
experiments with architectural interiors, flowers and urban
landscapes, and especially in her many lyrical images of peasants
and workers. Indeed, her one-woman retrospective exhibition at the
National Library in December 1929 was advertised as "The First
Revolutionary Photographic Exhibition In Mexico." She had reached a
high point in her career as a photographer, but within the next year
she was forced to set her camera aside in favor of more pressing
During this same period, economic and political contradictions
within Mexico and indeed much of Central and South America were
intensifying and this included increased repression of political
dissidents. On January 10, 1929, Modotti's comrade and companion
Julio Antonio Mella was assassinated, ostensibly by agents of the
Cuban government. Shortly thereafter an attempt was made on the
Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio. Modotti — who was a target of
both the Mexican and Italian political police — was questioned about
both crimes amidst a concerted anti-communist, anti-immigrant press
campaign, which depicted "the fierce and bloody Tina Modotti" as the
perpetrator. (A Catholic zealot, Daniel Luis Flores, was later
charged with shooting Rubio. José Magriñat was arrested for Mella's
As a result of the anti-communist campaign by the Mexican
government, Modotti was expelled from Mexico in February, 1930, and
placed under guard on a ship bound for Rotterdam. The Italian
government made concerted efforts to extradite her as a subversive
national, but with the assistance of International Red Aid
activists, she evaded detention by the fascist police. Traveling on
a restricted visa that mandated her final destination as Italy,
Modotti initially stopped in Berlin and from there visited
Switzerland. She apparently intended to make her way into Italy and
to join the anti-fascist resistance there. However, in response to
the deteriorating political situation in Germany and her own
exhausted resources, she followed the advice of Vittorio Vidali and
moved to Moscow in 1931.
During the next few years she engaged in various missions on behalf
of the International Workers' Relief organizations and the Comintern
in Europe. When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, Vidali (then
known as "Comandante Carlos") and Modotti (using the pseudonym
"Maria") left Moscow for Spain, where they stayed and worked until
1939. She worked with the famed Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune (who
would later invent the mobile blood unit) during the disastrous
retreat from Málaga in 1937. In April 1939, following the collapse
of the Republican movement in Spain, Modotti left Spain with Vidali
and returned to Mexico under a pseudonym.
Modotti died from heart failure in Mexico City in 1942 under what is
viewed by some as suspicious circumstances. After hearing about her
death, Diego Rivera suggested that Vidali had orchestrated it.
Modotti may have 'known too much' about Vidali's activities in
Spain, which included a rumoured 400 executions. Her grave is
located within the vast Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City.
The New Vision in Japan
Japanese photographers were
attracted to the new vision as a result of the curiosity about
Western ideas in general that surfaced during the so-called "Taisho
democracy" of the 1920s. Access to articles, exhibitions, and
reproductions of camera images from Europe led to the expansion of
photographic activity beyond the previously limited areas of
portraiture and genre scenes and brought about an invigorating
diversity of stylistic and thematic directions. While a
late-blooming pictorialism continued to evoke a "redundancy of misty
scenes and blurry figures," many more photographers, who were
engaged in documentation and portraiture or in exploring new approaches
to still life and the nude, embraced the entire vocabulary of the
"new photography," as it was called in Japan as well as in the West.
Urged to "recognize the mechanistic nature of the medium,"
photographers began to use sharper lenses and to experiment with
close-ups, montage, and solarization, producing during the 1930s
works clearly influenced by Surrealism and the New
Objectivity. Images such as Hosokawa Cbikako, a
portrait by Kozo Nojima reminiscent of the Burchartz image mentioned
earlier, or the emphatically geometric Ochanomizu Station, 1933, by Yoshio Watanabe, were instrumental in bringing
Japanese photography into the modern era.
GINGO HANAWA. Concept of
Machinery of the Creator, 1931.
KOZO NOJIMA. Hosokawa Chikako,
Gelatin silver print.
YOSHIO WATANABE. Ochanomizu
Gelatin silver print.
The New Vision in the United
Within limits, the new vision
attracted all significant photographers in the United States in the
1920s, many of whom accepted the idea that "absolute unqualified
objectivity" constituted the unique property of the camera image.
Whether depicting nature, person, artifact, machinery, or
architecture, American photographers emphasized the material
properties of the real world even as they sought to embrace modern
aesthetic ideas, an attitude they shared with the Precisionist
painters of the period.
Of the older generation, neither
Steichen nor Stieglitz with their roots in Pictorialism, adhered
strictly to the vocabulary of the New Objectivity, though both
incorporated elements of the style with brilliant results. Steichen's preference for sharper definition and his interest in
compositional theory in the postwar years is owed in part to his
experiences in an aerial photography unit during the first World
War. In 1923, a unique opportunity to become chief photographer for
Conde Nast publications enabled him to fuse his extensive experience
and intuitive decorative flair in a practical enterprise to be
discussed in Chapter 10. As for Stieglitz, his consistent belief in
the primacy of subjective feeling underlay the stylistic devices he
chose to incorporate into his imagery, as the close-ups of
O'Keeffe, the abstraction of the Equivalents, and the assertive
geometry of the late New York scenes all affirm.
As the first World War was ending,
Strand (whose role was discussed earlier) and Precisionist
painter-photographers Schamberg and Sheeler emerged as the
flag-bearers of the new approach. Schamberg, probably the first
American to incorporate abstract machine forms in painting, used the
camera for portraiture and to create complex Cubist-like
juxtapositions of geometric shapes in the few urban landscapes he made before his untimely death in 1918. In early images
of rural architecture, Sheeler, who began in 1912 to sustain his
painting activity with commercial architectural photography, sought
out the clarity of simple geometric relationships. He collaborated
in 1920 with Strand on Manhatta, a short expressive film about New
York City based on portions of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and,
following a stint in advertising and publicity photography, landed a
coveted commission in 1927 to photograph the nation's largest
automotive plant— the Ford Motor Works at River Rouge. Though
Sheeler often exhibited paintings and photographs together and his
work was included in the prestigious German Film Und Foto (Fifo)
exhibition in 1929, a growing am-bivalence about the
creative nature of photography eventually caused him to regard the
camera as a tool for making studies, as in the untitled arrangement
of stacks and funnels that he transformed into the
lucid oil Upper Deck.
The Clarence White School of
Photography proved to be a fountainhead of modernist ideas despite
the Pictorialist outlook of its director, perhaps because in
pursuing its goal of training photographers for jobs in advertising
and publicity it needed to stress modern design. The successful
transformation of the vocabulary of the new vision into a style of
both personal expressiveness and commercial utility is visible in
the work of a number of illustrious-students, notably Ralph Steiner,
Outerbridge, Gilpin, Bruehl, and Bourke-White. At the outset of Steiner's long career
in professional photography and documentary film, he produced
Typewriter Keys, a close-up that in its angled view
and insistent pattern predates the appearance of this approach in
Europe. This image—later used in an advertising campaign for a paper
company—was a harbinger of the facility with which Steiner handled
the modernist idiom in both commercial and personal work.
Outer-bridge's restrained treatment of city architecture and
machined objects is exemplified in Marmon Crankshaft,
a work inspired by the scries of machine images made by Strand in
1921. After a brief period in attendance at the White School, GUpin
returned to her native Southwest to open a commercial portrait
studio. Her handling of local architectural and landscape themes
during the 1920s reveals an interest in abstract geometrical pattern
still visible in the stark design of the much later Church of San
Lorenzo, Picuris, New Mexico.
That the aesthetics of the "new
vision" also informed the early work of photographers who eventually
chose odier paths can be seen in the work of Berenice Abbott and
Walker Evans, both of whom were in Europe during the cultural
ferment of the 1920s. The high vantage point and spatial ambiguity in Abbott's view
from the elevated tracks above Lincoln Square is
reminiscent of the handling of such views by European Bauhaus
followers, but the image itself suggests the staccato rhythms of New
York. Similarly, Evans, whose brief sojourn in Europe occurred
before his commitment to photography, imbued the striking geometric
pattern of Wall and Windows with an emphatic tonal
contrast that brings to mind the rude energy of the American urban
CHARLES SHEELER. Untitled, c.
Gelatin silver print. Gilman Paper Company, New York.
CHARLES SHEELER. Upper Deck,
Oil on canvas. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Mass.; Louise E. Bettens Fund.
PAUL OUTERBRIDGE. Mormon
Platinum print. Art Institute of Chicago; Julicn Levy Collection.
Paul Outerbridge, Jr. (1896–1958)
was an American photographer noted for early use and experiments in
color photography. Outerbridge was a fashion and commercial
photographer, an early pioneer and teacher of color photography, and
an artist who created erotic nudes photographs that could not be
exibited in his lifetime. Outerbridge, while still in his teens,
worked as an illustrator and theatrical designer designing stage
settings and lighting schemes. After an accident caused his
discharge from the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, in 1917, he
enlisted in the U.S. Army where he did his first photography work.
In 1921, Outerbridge enrolled in the Clarence H. White school of
photography at Columbia University. Within a year his work began
being reproduced in Vanity Fair and Vogue magazine. In London, in
1925, the Royal Photographic Society invited Outerbridge to exhibit
in a one-man show. Outerbridge then traveled to Paris and became
friends with surrealist artists, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and
Berenice Abbott. In Paris, Outerbridge did a layout for the French
Vogue magazine, met and worked with Edward Steichen, and built the
largest, most completely equipped advertising photography studio of
the times. In 1929, 12 of Outerbridge's photographs were included in
the prestigious, German Film und Foto exhibition. Returning to New
York in 1929, Outerbridge opened a studio doing commercial and
artistic work and began writing a monthly column on color
photography for the U.S. Camera Magazine. Outerbridge worked in
tri-color carbro process. In 1937, Outerbridge's photographs were
included in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and, in 1940,
Outerbridge published his seminal book, Photographing in Color,
using high quality illustrations to explain his techniques. A
scandal over his shocking, full-color erotic nude photography, led
to Outerbridge retiring as a commercial photographer and moving to
Hollywood in 1943, although he continued to contribute photo stories
to magazines and write his monthly column. In 1945, Outerbridge
married fashion designer Lois Weir and worked in their joint fashion
company, Lois-Paul Originals. One year after his death, Smithsonian
Institution staged a one-man show of Outerbridge's photographs in
1959. Although his reputation has faded, revivals of Outerbridge's
photography in 1970s and 1990s has periodically brought him into
contemporary public knowledge.
BERENICE ABBOTT. James Joyce,
Gelatin silver print. Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stephen R.
Currier Memorial Fund. .
LAURA GILPIN. Church of San
Lorenzo, Picuris, New Mexico, 1963.
Gelatin silver print. Centre Canadien d'Architecture/Canadian Center
for Architecture, Montreal.
BERENICE ABBOTT. El at
Columbus and Broadway, New York, 1929.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago.
WALKER EVANS. Wall and
Windows, c. 1929.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago.
Precisionist Photographers: The
The Americanization of the New
Objectivity reached its height in the work of West Coast
photographers. Through personal contact, as well as articles and
reproductions in European and American periodicals, Johan Hagemeyer,
Edward Weston (see Profile), Margrcthe Mather, Imogen Cunningham,
and Ansel Adams became aware of the new photographic vision.
Hagemeyer, a former horticulturist and close friend of Weston, was
the first to bring the anti-Pictorialist message back from the East
in 1916, but despite his newfound preference for contemporary themes
and high vantage points, a dreamy romanticism
continued to pervade his imagery. Weston's attempts to slough off
the soft-focus style that had gained him national renown were more
successful. In a 1922 image of the American Rolling Mill (Armco)
works made in the course of a trip east, he handled
the industrial theme with sharp definition and singular sensitivity
to the dramatic character of stacks and conveyors. Weston described
the object-oriented images on which he concentrated in the late
1920s as revealing "the very sub-stance and quintessence of the
thing itself." At times, such intense concentration on form
virtually transmuted the object into an abstraction, as in Eroded
Plank from Barky Sifter.
Mather, until 1922 Weston's
associate in his California studio, transformed the misty
orientalism of her early work into a style marked by sharply defined
close-ups and emphasis on pattern, which reveal her
stylish flair. After Cunningham established contact with Weston and
saw European examples of the "new vision" in the 1920s, her earlier
penchant for fuzzy allegorical figures cavorting on wooded slopes
was replaced by an interest in close-ups of plant forms and other organisms. Her clean, stark views of industrial
structures can be considered, along with Weston's,
paradigms of the Precisionist style. Beginning around 1927, Brett
Weston, following in his father's footsteps, also showed himself
intensely concerned with form and texture in images of nature.
A deep respect for the grandeur of
the landscape of the American West combined with the active
promotion of the straight photograph brought world renown to Ansel
Adams. Involved with the medium throughout the 1920s, though not
completely convinced of its transcendental possibilities until about
1930, Adams took an approach to his chosen theme—large-scale nature
in all its pristine purity—that is similar in its emphasis on form
and texture to that of other Precisionist photographers. His work
also embodies a scientific control of exposure, developing, and
printing. Adams's special gifts are visible in the incisive
translation of scale, detail, and texture into an organic design
seen in the early Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Sierra Nevada.
In 1930, the "f/64" group,
informally established in San Francisco, promoted Precisionism
through its advocacy of the large-format view camera, small lens
aperture (hence the name), and printing by contact rather than
enlarging. Besides Adams, Cunningham, and Weston, its members
included Consuelo Kanaga and Willard Van Dyke—the latter a guiding
light in the group's activities who went on to renown as a
documentary filmmaker. Ironically, optimistic celebration of
technology, which is exemplified in the crisp forms of Alma
Lavenson's starkly geometric
Calaveras Dam II and Van
Dyke's Funnels, was about to be supplanted by a
different sensibility as the onset of the Great Depression altered
general perceptions about the wonders of industrialism.
JOHAN HAGEMEYER. Modem
American Lyric (Gasoline Station), 1924.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago.
EDWARD WESTON. Eroded Plank
from Barley Sifter, 1931.
Gelatin silver print.
Edward Weston was born in 1886 in
Highland Park, Illinois. When he was sixteen years old his father
gave him a Kodak Bulls-Eye #2 camera and he began to photograph at
his aunt's farm and in Chicago parks. In 1903 Weston first had his
photographs exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute. Soon after the
San Francisco earthquake and fire on April 19, 1906, Weston came to
California to work as a surveyor for San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt
Lake Railroad. For a short while Weston returned to Chicago and
attended the Illinois College of Photography, but came back to
California to live in 1908 where he became a founding member of the
Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles. He married Flora Chandler in
1909 and they soon gave birth to two sons: Edward Chandler Weston,
in 1910 and Theodore Brett Weston in 1911. Weston had his own
portrait studio in Tropico, California and also began to have
articles published in magazines such as American Photography, Photo
Era and Photo-Miniature where his article entitled "Weston's
Methods" on unconventional portraiture appeared in September, 1917.
Weston's third son, Laurence Neil Weston, was born in 1916 and his
fourth, Cole Weston, in 1919. Soon after Weston met Tina Modotti
which marked the starting point of their long relationship,
photographic collaborations in Mexico and later much publicized love
affair. Modotti's husband, a political radical in Mexico, died in
1922. That same year Weston traveled to Ohio to visit his sister and
there took photographs of the Armco Steel Plant. From Ohio he went
to New York and met Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler
and Georgia O'Keefe. At this time Weston renounced Pictorialism and
began a period of transition, self-analysis and self-discipline
while making voyages to Mexico, often with Modotti and one of his
sons. Some of the photographs that he and Modotti made in Mexico
were published in Anita Brenner's book Idols Behind Altars. Weston
began photographing shells, vegetables and nudes in 1927. Weston
kept very detailed journals or "Day Books" of his daily activities,
thoughts, ideas and conversations. His first publication of these
writings "From My Day Book" appeared in 1928 - others were published
after his death. Two years later he had his first New York exhibit
at Alma Reed's Delphic Studios Gallery and later exhibited at
Harvard Society of Contemporary Arts with Walker Evans, Eugene Atget,
Sheeler, Stieglitz, Modotti and others. Weston was a Charter member
of the "Group f/64" that was started in 1932 and included Ansel
Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Consuelo Kanaga and others. They chose
this optical term because they habitually set their lenses to that
aperture to secure maximum image sharpness of both foreground and
distance. Weston went even further toward photographic purity in
1934 when he resolved to make only unretouched portraits. Even
though several large exhibitions followed, he was still of modest
means and in 1935 initiated the "Edward Weston Print of the Month
Club" offering photographs at $10 each. In 1937 he was the first
photographer to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship taking his
assistant Charis Wilson along on his travels whom he married the
next year. In 1940 the book California and the West was published
with text by Charis and photographs by Edward. The same year he
participated in the U.S. Camera Yosemite Photographic Forum with
Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange. In 1941 he was commissioned by
Limited Editions Club to illustrate a new edition of Walt Whitman's
Leaves of Grass. Weston started experiencing symptoms of Parkinson's
disease in 1946 and in 1948 made his last photographs at Point
Lobos. In 1952 his Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio was published with
his images printed by Brett. In 1955 Weston selected several of what
he called "Project Prints" and began having Brett, Cole and Dody
Warren print them under his supervision. Lou Stoumen released his
film The Naked Eye in 1956 of which he used several of Weston's
print as well as footage of Weston himself. Edward Weston died at
home on January 1, 1958.
MARGRETHE MATHER. Billy
Justema in Man's Summer Kimono, c. 1923.
Gelatin silver print. Center for Creative Photography, University of
Arizona, Tucson; Courtesv William Justema.
Margrethe Mather (b. Emma Caroline
Youngren March 4, 1886 - d. December 25, 1952) was a photographer
and painter who worked in transforming photography to a modern art,
exploring form and light. In her youth she worked as a prostitute.
Mather is commonly connected with
Edward Weston. They were collaborators on many photographs and were
close companions. His fame tends to overshadow Mather's considerable
work from the period of collaboration and afterwards. Mather and
Weston met in 1913 and worked together until he departed for Mexico
in 1923 with Tina Modotti. Her work, both alone and in collaboration
with Weston, set the tone for the shift from pictorialism (softly
focused images giving the photograph a romantic quality) to
modernity (exploration in form and light). The work tended to be
more experimental and simple than many others from the period.
In the 1930's she did work for the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in
San Francisco, in which she took simple objects like combs and fans
then arranged them in repetitive patterns.
Mather found a dear friend and model in a young man named William
Justema, who would write a memoir about her after her death.
Mather's last piece of substantial work was in the early 1930s for
the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. She arranged
objects such as seashells, chains and combs in repetitive patterns
to be used as prototypes for fabric designs.
IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM. TWO Callus,
Gelatin silver print.
Imogen Cunningham (April 12, 1883 -
June 24, 1976) was an American photographer known for her
photography of botanicals, nudes and industry.
Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon. In 1901, at the age of 18,
Cunningham bought her first camera, a 4x5 inch view camera, from the
American School of Art in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She soon lost
interest and sold the camera to a friend. It wasn’t until 1906,
while studying at the University of Washington in Seattle, that she
was inspired by an encounter with the work of Gertrude Kasebier to
take up photography again. With the help of her chemistry professor,
Dr. Horace Byers, she began to study the chemistry behind
photography; she subsidized her tuition by photographing plants for
the botany department.
After graduating in 1907 she went to work with Edward S. Curtis in
his Seattle studio. This gave Cunningham the valuable opportunity to
learn about the portrait business and the practical side of
In 1909, Cunningham won a scholarship from her sorority (Pi Beta
Phi) for foreign study and, on advice from her chemistry professor,
applied to study with Professor Robert Luther at the Technische
Hochshule in Dresden, Germany.
In Dresden she concentrated on her studies and didn’t take many
photos. In May 1910 she finished her paper, “About the Direct
Development of Platinum Paper for Brown Tones”, describing her
process to increase printing speed, improve clarity of highlights
tones and produce sepia tones. On her way back to Seattle she met
Alvin Langdon Coburn in London, and Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude
Kasebier in New York.
Once back in Seattle she opened her own studio and won acclaim for
portraiture and pictorial work. Most of her studio work of this time
consisted of sitters in their own homes, in her living room, or in
the woods surrounding Cunningham's cottage. She became a sought
after photographer and exhibited at the Brooklyn Academy of Arts and
Sciences in 1913.
In 1914 Cunningham's portraits were shown at “An International
Exhibition of Pictorial Photography” in New York and a portfolio of
her work was published in Wilson's Photographic Magazine.
The next year she married Roi Partridge, an etcher and artist. He
posed for a series of nude photographs, which were shown by the
Seattle Fine Arts Society. Although critically praised, wider
society didn’t approve of such images and Cunningham didn’t revisit
the pictures for another 55 years.
Between 1915 and 1920 Cunningham continued her work and had three
children (Gryffyd, Randal and Padraic) with Roi. Then in 1920 they
left Seattle for San Francisco where Roi taught at Mills College.
In San Francisco, Cunningham refined her style, taking a greater
interest in pattern and detail as seen in her works of bark
textures, trees, and zebras. Cunningham became increasingly
interested in botanical photography, especially flowers, and between
1923 and 1925 carried out an in-depth study of the magnolia flower.
Later in the decade she turned her attention towards industry,
creating several series of industrial landscapes throughout Los
Angeles and Oakland.
In 1929, Edward Weston, nominated 10 of Cunningham's photos (8
botanical, 1 industrial and 1 nude) for inclusion in the "Film und
Foto" exhibition in Stuttgart. Cunningham once again changed
direction to become more interested in the human form, particularly
hands (and a further fascination with the hands of artists and
musicians). This interest led to her employment by Vanity Fair,
photographing stars without make-up or false glamour. In 1932, with
this unsentimental, straightforward approach in mind, Cunningham
became one of the co-founders of the Group f/64, which aimed to
“define photography as an art form by a simple and direct
presentation through purely photographic methods”.
In 1934 Cunningham was invited to do some work in New York for
Vanity Fair. Her husband wanted her to wait until he could travel
with her but she refused and they later divorced. She continued her
work with Vanity Fair until it stopped publication in 1936.
In the 1940s Cunningham turned to documentary street photography
which she did as a side project whilst supporting herself with her
commercial and studio photography and later on with teaching at the
California School of Fine Arts.
Cunningham continued to take pictures until shortly before her death
at age 93 on June 24, 1976 in San Francisco, California.
ANSEL ADAMS. Frozen Lake and
Cliffs, Sierra Nevada, 1932.
Gelatin silver print.
American photographer. He trained
as a musician and supported himself by teaching the piano until
1930. He became involved with photography in 1916 when his parents
presented him with a Kodak Box Brownie camera during a summer
vacation in Yosemite National Park. In 1917–18 he worked part-time
in a photo-finishing business. From 1920 to 1927 he served as
custodian of the Le Conte Memorial in Yosemite, the Sierra Club’s
headquarters. His duties included leading weekly expeditions through
the valley and rims, during which he continued to photograph the
landscape. He considered his snapshots of Yosemite and the Sierra
Nevada Mountains, taken during the early 1920s, to be a visual
diary, the work of an ardent hobbyist. By 1923 he used a
61/281/2-inch Korona view camera on his pack trips, and in 1927 he
spent an afternoon making one of his most famous images, Monolith,
the Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (Chicago, IL, A.
Inst.;). Adams planned his photograph, waited for the exact sunlight
he desired and used a red filter to darken the sky against the
monumental cliff. He later referred to this image as his ‘first true
visualization’ of the subject, not as it appeared ‘in reality but
how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print’.
ANSEL ADAMS. Monolith, The
Face of Half Dome, Tosemite Valley, California, c. 1927.
Gelatin silver print.
ALMA LAWENSON. Calveras Dam II
Gelatin silver print. Alma Lavenson Association and Susan Ehrens,