About the time of World War I the common attitude regarding art and photography was shattered by innovations of modern painters like Picasso and Matisse. However, the fundamentally realistic medium of photography did not acknowledge that photographers could or even should produce abstractions or distortions to the extent that painters could.
Nevertheless, there were a growing number of artist-photographers like Alfred Stiegletz and Edward Steichen that worked at bringing photography in line with modern painting by creating abstract images and processes.
They, and others, worked to popularize the “sharp focus realism” or “Modernist” movement that was at that time deemed unartistic by traditionalists that called themselves “Pictorialists”. (The Pictorializm style is where a photograph lacks sharp focus and sometimes even had brush strokes muting the surface of the final print.) The pioneers of the “Modernist” movement in North America was Alfred Stiegletz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand
The current age of digital photography seems to have vitalized photography more than any one could have guessed as recently at the 1990s. Although there are still those clamouring loudly from the sidelines calling themselves “traditionalists” and insist they will never move beyond their beloved film.
Attend any event and there will be lots of cameras ranging from cell phones, little point-and-shoot cameras, to impressive DSLR’s 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 late night boredom I decided to do a search for a past friend who lives in the US. I not only found his company advertisement, but also several pages of family Christmas photos he and his wife took. My thoughts were that this is a reasonable and typical document of people having fun, nothing creative, just a real nice family documentary; and not unusual, as photographic documentation is more prolific than it has ever been, however, I began to wonder about another creative part of photography, the abstract and the unusual.
There are lots of instances of PhotoShop manipulation that anyone can find without looking very hard, yet I wonder at the style of abstract photography practiced by the greats like Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand. 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 unique 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.
In my work I get to see peoples’ photos all the time, landscapes, portraits of people and animals, and a few close-up flower shots. Usually they are very nice and some are downright beautiful, but it is 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. When a photographer takes a chance and tries to visualize and photograph something differently, he or she cannot worry about whether or not they will receive praise or criticism of the visual creation of the unusual, the ugly, the boring, or the unique. To do so means they must contemplate photographing the subject in their own personal way.
If readers have the interest, my suggestion is to take some time and find out about those pioneer photographers Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand. We can always learn from history and their photography is very interesting and just might be inspiring to those wanting to step away from the crowd.
I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John