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Beamont Newhall

The History of Photography, 1964 edn.

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Newhall 62
Beamont Newhall
The History of Photography
1964 edn.

[spellcheckedĀ 12Mar ]

[10Mar22] I noted in the Blog, 27th February,

I read in Shore's Modern Instances (2022, my emphasis)

In the 1964 edition of Bernard Newhall's The History of Photography, he included a final chapter titled "Recent Trends." He described four trends. The Document- a photograph that points to something out in the world and asks us to pay attention to it; The Straight Photograph the self-conscious work of art that asks us to pay attention to the picture itself; The Formalist Photograph -a picture that explores the structural qualities of an image or the formal nature of the medium; and The Equivalent -a photograph that embodies or engenders a state of mind or an emotional state (what T. S. Eliot might have called a picture that functions as an "objective correlative"). These don't need to be separate aesthetic directions. A photograph can be a self-conscious work of art that springs from a perception of the world, clarified by formal understanding, and sensitive to the psychological and poetic resonances of the image. A photograph can address all four at the same time. The best of Evans' images do.
To this Evans added an awareness of the cultural implications of a visual style, as when he spoke of photographing in ":"documentary style". Shore, 2022, p.99

Here's the long, full text of that section. I have joined others in criticising Newhall's version of photohistory as a few Great Men in a few Named Movements, nevertheless, he spins a fine tale and writes engagingly.

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 about it.

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, 1958


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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