A Modernist’s way to a view of photography

About the time of the of the First World War the presumption of art and photography exhibitions was shattered by innovations of modern painters like Picasso and Matisse. The fundamentally realistic medium of photography did not acknowledge that photographers could produce abstract or distortions to the extent that painters could and did. A growing number of artist-photographers like Alfred Stiegletz and Edward Steichen worked at bringing photography in line with modern painting by creating abstract images and processes.   They could be said to have “rediscovered” the “sharp focus realism” deemed unartistic by the then popular “Pictorialism” movement in photography. The pioneer of this “Modernist” movement in North America was Paul Strand.

The current age of digital photography seems to have vitalized photography more than any one could have guessed even ten years ago.  Attend any event and there will be lots of cameras ranging from little point and shoots to impressive DSLR’s (digital single lens reflex) documenting everything from every angle. The internet is packed with images, with all kinds of sites available for people to stack their documents of everyday life. 

In a moment of boredom I decided to do a search for a friend who lives in the US wondering if I would find his construction company. I not only found his company advertisement, but several pages of family Christmas photos he and his wife took of either daughter or son in-laws.  I browsed the site and will have to let him that I saw his photos.  My thoughts were that this is a reasonable document of people having fun; nothing creative, just a real nice family documentary.

Photographic documentation is more prolific than it has ever been, but I began to wonder about another creative part of photography; the abstract and the unusual.  There are lots of instances of PhotoShop manipulation one can find without looking very hard, yet I wonder at the style of abstract photography practiced by the greats like Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand.  In my opinion, they were very much involved in looking at everyday subjects from different angles or perspectives. They photographed the usual in unique ways and photographed the unusual in unusual ways. They searched out things that many would ignore because they were ugly or boring, and chose diverse photographic views and visually discussed them in interesting and unconventional ways.

I am fortunate in that I get to see peoples’ photos all the time, landscapes, some portraits of people and animals, and a few close-up flower shots. Usually they are very nice and some are downright beautiful, but I think it is unusual and rare for someone to show me an abstract created by using their camera to photograph something using a unique view.

Abstract art and abstract photography may not be to everyone’s liking and I know when we show our photographs to other people we want them to comment favourably about our pictures. But when a photographer takes a chance and tries to visualize and photograph something differently, one cannot worry about whether or not one will receive praise or criticism.  Look for the unusual, the ugly, the boring, and the unique. Then contemplate about photographing it in a way personal to you. 

And if you have the interest, take some time and find out about those pioneer photographers Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand.  Their photography is very interesting. 


2 responses to “A Modernist’s way to a view of photography

  1. Thank you for this. In my own photography, I’m trying to do more with abstracts and just trying to get more creative in how I view things. I haven’t shown all that much of it, but it’s what I’m moving toward, and it’s what people are going to see more of. Thanks for mentioning the abstracts of Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand also.


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