Newhall, The History of Photography, 1964 edn.
from Chapter 15, Recent Trends, pp.195-98
Following a summary of technological development, particularly of the exposure meter and Polaroid systems,
"The world of art, however, does not progress in the
cumulative way so characteristic of science and technology:
our painting , music, and architecture differ from
those of other generations not in quality, but in style,
approach, content and form. Technique gives an age
the means to paint, to compose, and to build; man's
spirit, his will to form, shapes its vision. Like the other
arts, the art of photography has its progression of style.
The present style seems based on four trends which
have dominated photography in Europe and America
since 1910, when the painterly approach fostered by
the pictorialists lost its significance and force.
(1) Straight photography, explored as an esthetic approach by Stieglitz, Strand, Weston, Adams and others,
in which the ability of the camera to record exact images
with rich texture and great detail is used to interpret
nature and man, never losing contact with reality. The
final image is characteristically previsualized. Technique
is the realization of the image, without alteration. This
approach has become classical. The fine print is presented
as an experience in itself.
(2) The formalistic, a product of the restless search in
the arts for a means of isolating and organizing form
for its own sake, pioneered largely by Man Ray and
Moholy-Nagy, in which certain phenomena of the
photographic process are exploited, such as deliberate
narrowing of the tonal scale, edge reversal (" solarization")
of the image, the appreciation of the negative as
the final image, and the creation of images on sensitized
materials without the use of the camera. Subject is of no
concern, and if indeed it exists, is often distorted beyond
recognition. The image is seldom previsualized,
but characteristically is produced accidentally. New,
challenging forms and space relationship s are recognized
in the final product by a vision highly conditioned
by abstract painting. The photograph is rarely considered
for its own sake, but as a tool for vision.
(3) Documentary, essentially a desire to communicate,
to tell about people, to record without intrusion, to
inform honestly, accurately, and above all, convincingly. Subject is paramount. The final print is usually not
the end product, but the intermediate step toward the
picture on the printed page.
(4) The equivalent, to borrow the word used by
Alfred Stieglitz to define the photograph as symbol, or
metaphor. The subject is recognizable, but it is only the
starting point, for it is charged with meaning by the
vision of the photographer. Stieglitz photographed
clouds not because they were clouds but, as he said,
because through them he could put down his philosophy
of life. His "equivalents" are photographs
charged with emotional significance and inner meaning,
but first of all, photographs. "My aim," he wrote in
1923, "is increasingly to make my photographs look so
much like photographs that unless one has eyes and sees,
they won't be seen - and still everyone will never
forget them having once looked at them." (Stieglitz, 1923).
The photograph as metaphor can be found throughout
photography. In the early days of the motion picture the visual photographic metaphor was common:
D. W. Griffith's Intolerance ( 1916), in which the theme
is unfolded by four disparate sequences of images that
are suddenly intermingled in a wholly realistic yet utterly
non-literal way, is an example. Erich von Stroheim's
Greed (1924) carries symbolism almost to an
excess ; the camera lingers . on everything gold ( actually
tinted in gold on the release print); a caged canary,
freed at the hero's death, symbolizes his soul. The
Russians, especially Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod I.
Pudovkin, not only showed again and again the power
of the visual metaphor in their films, but wrote extensively
Photographs have been put with words, not as literal
illustrations, but to reinforce one another, so that new
meanings can be read in each. Thus in the book Time
in New England, an anthology of New England writing
with Paul Strand's photographs, Nancy Newhall
put a photograph of a blasted tree with an account of
witchcraft, a stern detail of rock with eye-witness
accounts of the Boston Massacre, the spire of a meeting
house with a statement on abolition, an infinite
seascape with the chronicle of the loss of a ship at sea.
In the exhibition The Family of Man at The Museum of
Modern Art, and in the book made from it, Edward
Steichen chose not only photographs of family life the
world over to put in juxtaposition, but also photographs
as metaphor: the photograph Mount Williamson
by Ansel Adams expressed the creation of earth; a
photograph by Wynn Bullock of a child asleep in a
forest glade, the creation of man.
[Newhall then discusses the work of Minor White and Aaron Siskind at length] …
The four trends we have described are by no means
strict categories, and in recent years there has been a
lively and beneficial interchange between these differing
viewpoints. Harry Callahan, with the discipline of straight photography has sharpened and made convinc1ng the formalist1c. The formalists, in turn, have stimulated the straight photographers and the documentarians
to the discovery of new spatial organization.
The documentarian has helped the photojournalist
to make his report more convincing. Robert Frank,
who was on the staff of Harper's Bazaar magazine,
traveled across America under a Guggenheim Fellowship
in 1956 and 1957. His harsh, often bitter, photographs,
first published in France as Les Americains,
owe much to the example of the Farm Security Administration
photographers without, unfortunately, the
sense of compassion which distinguished their work.
Walker Evans has written:
That Frank has responded to America with many tears,
some hope, and his own brand of fascination, you can see in looking over
… his pictures of people, of roadside landscapes and urban cauldrons and of semi-living, i.e. semi-satanic children. He shows high irony towards a nation that generally speaking has it not …
Evans, W (1958) Title?, in Maloney, T. (ed.) U. S. Camera 1958, NY: U.S. Camera Publishing Corporation.
Newhall, B. (1964) The history of photography. London: Secker & Warburg.
Shore, S. (2022) Modern Instances. London: MACK.
Stieglitz, A. (1923) Title?. Amateur Photographer. 19 September 1923, 255.
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