Fine Art Photography
History of Photographic Art, Most Expensive Photos.

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Queen Victoria & Prince Albert (1861)
V & A Museum, London. Photo by
John Jabez Edwin Mayall, one of
the top 19th century photographers.

Fine Art Photography
Definition, History, Types


What is Fine art Photography?
History of Technical Developments
Use of Photography in Art
Photography as a Fine Art
Pictorialism (c.1885-1915)
Sharp Focus Modernism
20th-Century Portraiture
Stieglitz (1924-46)
Edward Steichen (1946-62)
John Szarkowski (1962-91)
Famous Fine Art Photographers
Collections of Photographic Art
World's Most Expensive Photographs: Top 16
Greatest Photographers (Top 200)
• For an explanation of camera terminology, see: Art Photography Glossary.

Venetian Canal (1894)
Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz,
one of the great masters in the
art of photography.

For a list of important dates about
movements, styles, famous artists,
up to Post-Modernism, please see:
History of Art Timeline.

What is Fine art Photography?

Known also as "photographic art", "artistic photography" and so on, the term "fine art photography" has no universally agreed meaning or definition: rather, it refers to an imprecise category of photographs, created in accordance with the creative vision of the cameraman. The basic idea behind the genre, is that instead of merely capturing a realistic rendition of the subject, the photographer is aiming to produce a more personal - typically more evocative or atmospheric - impression. One might simplify this, by saying that fine art photography describes any image taken by a camera where the intention is aesthetic (that is, a photo whose value lies primarily in its beauty - see, Aesthetics) rather than scientific (photos with scientific value), commercial (product photos), or journalistic (photos with news or illustrative value). (See also: Is Photography Art?) Artistic photos have been used frequently in collage art (more correctly, photocollage), by artists like David Hockney (b.1937); and in photomontage, by Dadaists like Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971), Helmut Herzfelde (1891-1968) and Hanna Hoch (1889-1979), by Surrealist artists like Max Ernst (1891-1976), by the avant-garde Fluxus group in the 1960s, and by Pop artists like Richard Hamilton. Photos may also be incorporated into mixed-media installation art, and assemblage art. Today, photography is exhibited in many of the best galleries of contemporary art around the world.

Lynching in Marion, Indiana (1930)
A mob of 10,000 whites broke down
the doors at a county jailhouse to
seize these two young negros
accused of raping a white girl.


History of Technical Developments

Invented in the early decades of the 19th century and the subject of numerous advances during the era of Victorian art, photography instantly captured more detail and information than traditional methods of replication, like painting or sculpture. The technical evolution of photography was a piecemeal affair, although a major leap was the discovery of light-sensitive emulsions in 1839, enabling cameras to take black and white photographs. Other important technical advances in the history of photography, included the following.

Photoetching was invented in 1822-5 by the Frenchman Joseph Niepce (1765-1833), who also made the first photograph from nature in 1826. Improvements ( in the reduction of exposure time, the daguerreotype) were found by German Professor Heinrich Schultz (1687-1744) and French physicist Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), in 1837, with Daguerre being responsible for the first ever photograph of a person in 1839. In parallel to this, in 1832, the French-Brazilian artist and inventor Hercule Florence (1804-79) had fashioned a similar process, called Photographie, while the English inventor and pioneer camera expert William Fox Talbot (1800-77) was busy inventing the calotype process, which produced negative images. His 1840s research into photo-mechanical reproduction led to the discovery of the photoglyphic engraving process, the precursor to photogravure. The experimental British scientist John Herschel (1792-1871) invented the cyanotype process and was the first to coin the terms "photography", "negative" and "positive". In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer (1813-57) announced the findings of his research into the wet plate collodion process, which significantly improved the accessibility of photography for the public, as did the American innovator George Eastman's 1884 introduction of roll film as a replacement for photographic plates. In 1908, the French scientist Gabriel Lippmann (1845-1921) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his improvements in photographic colour reproduction. The development of the photographic process was studded with such discoveries and inventions, and many other advances in photographic glass plates and printing methods were made during the 19th century.

Victorian exponents included John Edwin Mayall (1813-1901), who snapped some of the earliest photographs of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), noted for her photographic portraits and mythological images; and Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-75), the Swedish cameraman and photomontage expert who worked with Charles Darwin on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Twentieth century advances in photographic technology have been dominated by improvements in film and cinematography, leading to new creative forms such as animation art, cartoons and video art.



Use of Photography in Art

Photography evolved from the camera obscura, an instrument that projected an image through a small hole, allowing the artist to make an accurate tracing of an object or scene. The first mention of its use as a drawing aid appeared in Magia Naturalis, a scientific treatise by the Italian scientist Giambattista della Porta. Many Old Masters from the 17th and 18th century, including Jan Vermeer (1632-75), and Canaletto (1697-1768), are believed to have used it in their sketching.

With the spread of camera-photography from 1840 onwards, the use of photos became common in the production of both portrait art as well as landscape painting. Many figure painters and portraitists began using the new medium of photography in addition to models, to reduce sitting-time. The great 19th century American realist painter, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), for instance, was an avid user of the camera, who employed photography as part of his pursuit of realism, rather than as a short-cut or aid to composition and perspective. Photography was also employed by landscape artists - notably the French Impressionist painters, as an aid to plein-air painting. For more details, see: History of Art.

Photography as a Fine Art

Although by the late 19th century, photography had become accepted in both Britain and America as a minor visual art - due in part to the promotional efforts of magazines like "American Amateur Photographer", as well as bodies like the "Society of Amateur Photographers", the "Society of Amateur Photographers of New York", the "Photographic Society of Philadelphia", and the "Boston Camera Club" - several photographic artists were keen to show that the new medium could be just as artistic as other types of art, like drawing and painting. Two such artists were Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and Edward Steichen (1879-1973). Both were instrumental in helping to make photography a fine art, and Stieglitz in particular (and also his wife, Georgia O'Keeffe) was responsible for introducing it into museum collections. A landmark event occurred in 1902, with Stieglitz's formation in America of Photo-Secession, an association of creative photographers, and the publication of its magazine Camera Work (1902-17), which rapidly became a forum for modern art of all types. In 1905, Stieglitz and Steichen founded the "291" gallery in New York, a venue specializing in avant-garde art, notably photographs, paintings and sculptures.


Pictorialism (c.1885-1915)

While Stieglitz and Edward Steichen were doing their best to promote photography as a full-blown art form, Pictorialism - the first major style of photographic art - was becoming high fashion among lens-based artists, around the turn of the century. Pictorialism referred to (typically dreamy, 'soft-focus') photographs that were effectively "created" in the dark room. Instead of recording the image of a particular subject, the photographer manipulated the printing process, in order to create the desired effect. For a pictorialist cameraman, a photograph was something to be manipulated just like a painter manipulated his canvas and palette of paints. Among the most famous pictorial photographers were Man Ray - noted for his rayographs - Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, F. Holland Day, Clarence H. White, William Notman, Sidney Carter, Constant Puyo, Pierre Dubreuil, Heinrich Kuhn, Hugo Henneberg, Ogawa Kazumasa, Harold Cazneaux and John Kauffmann. Although Pictorialism enabled experimental artists like Man Ray to take photography to a new level of creativity, as an art form it proved disappointing, since most of the creativity had little to do with camera work, but involved the manipulation of chemicals and instruments in the dark room. See also the German Dada photomontage artists Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) and John Heartfield (Helmut Herzfeld) (1891-1968), as well as the innovative but controversial camera artist and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003), who was associated with Nazi art in the form of propagandist pictorialism.

For later 20th century artists who have relied on photos as subject matter for their paintings, see: Gerhard Richter (b.1932).

Sharp Focus Modernism

As an influential style, Pictorialism faded after 1920, being superceded by the new idiom of photographic Modernism, as the public began to prefer more sharply-focused images. Despite the disappointment of Pictorialism, photography gained in artistic status from its new sharper-focus, due to the evocative landscape photography of Edward Weston (1886-1958) and Ansel Adams (1902-84), as well as the Precisionism of Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), which he explored in his famous series of photographs of the Ford Motor Co's River Rouge Car Plant in Michigan, and the Cubist-inspired works of Paul Strand (1890-1976). Modern photographers who have continued this tradition include Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007) and (b.1934), the influential husband and wife team who founded the Dusseldorf School, whose followers include the postmodernist camera artist Andreas Gursky (b.1955).

20th-Century Portraiture

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the photograph began replacing the painting as the modern form of portraiture. During the following century, as camera technology improved, photographic artists extended the medium to embrace a variety of different types of portraits, notably fashion and street portraits, as well as the more conventional formal portraits. Fashion portraiture was pioneered by such highly talented artists as: Irving Penn (1917-2009), Helmut Newton (1920-2004), Richard Avedon (1923-2004), Patrick Demarchelier (b.1943), Mario Testino (b.1954), Nick Knight (b.1958), and David LaChapelle (b.1963). Street (or 'genre') portraits were the province of artists like Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Walker Evans (1903-75), Diane Arbus (1923-1971), and Nan Goldin (b.1953); while more conventional portraits were developed by modernists like Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), Norman Parkinson (1913-90), Andy Warhol (1928-1987), David Bailey (b.1938) and Annie Leibovitz (b.1949). (Note: Given the widespread use of 'conventional' portraits in the press, many fashion photographers also took formal portraits.) The German-American photographer Hans Namuth (1915-90) introduced a new dynamic approach to portraiture with his photos of the controversial painter Jackson Pollock at work in his studio.


Now a major branch of modern illustration in newspapers, magazines and online media, news photography has always attracted high calibre camera artists capable of creating a pictorial narrative. Some of the greatest photojournalists include: Robert Capa (1913-54), Larry Burrows (1926-71), Don McCullin (b.1935) and Steve McCurry (born 1950).

Stieglitz: 1924-46

By 1924, Stieglitz's exhibitions and writings in support of photography as an artistic medium were beginning to have an impact. In 1924, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired a collection of 27 of his photographs: it was the first time a major American art museum had included photographs in its permanent collection. Stieglitz himself was consumed by two things: the promotion of Georgia O'Keeffe's art, and also his three hundred or so photographic studies of her - many of which were female nudes - and the promotion of high quality modernist American art, including fine art photography such as the black-and-white lens-based images of Ansel Adams, for whom he put on one of the first shows in 1936. In 1937, the Cleveland Museum of Art held the first major exhibition of Stieglitz's own photography.

Edward Steichen: 1946-62

Stieglitz's partner in "291", Steichen was a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair during the period 1923–1938, during which he was the best known and highest paid lens-based artist in the world. After the war, he was appointed Director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA) until 1962. A highly influential figure, he did a huge amount to raise the status of photography among American institutions and the public. In 1955, for instance, he curated the exhibition known as The Family of Man, which toured to 69 countries, and was visited by 9 million people.

John Szarkowski: 1962-91

In 1962, Edward Steichen hand-picked the photographer, curator, historian, and critic John Szarkowski (1925-2007) to be his successor as Director of Photography at MOMA, a position Szarkowski held until 1991. Awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, as well as numerous one-man shows, he published several seminal books, including Looking at Photographs - a practical handbook on how to write about photographs, which is still required reading in the best art schools. A lecturer at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and New York University, he was one of the most successful advocates of artistic photography.


Since the mid-1970s, an increasing number of galleries are beginning to show photographic art. Photographic prints have gradually grown in size, moved from monochrome to colour, and are often printed on blocked canvas without frame or glass, while artist-photographers like Gregory Crewdson and Cindy Sherman exemplify the new trend of staging and lighting of works to maximize their impact. But although now established as an important and innovative medium of contemporary art, photography remains a niche market when compared to traditional fine art painting and sculpture, even if there is a relatively strong demand among art collectors for limited-edition books by individual photographers.

Note: Institutions who are most supportive of photographic art, include, the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Aperture Foundation.

Famous Fine Art Photographers

Memorable contributors to photographic fine art include the following.

Man Ray (1890-1976)
American-born Paris-based modernist artist who was an early exponent of both Dada and Surrealism, and showed at the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925, along with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso. Noted mainly for his avant-garde photography, he also practised as a renowned fashion and portrait photographer, whose subjects included many of the great artists of the day like James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud. He developed the photographic method of solarization and invented a technique using photograms which he dubbed rayographs (as in his print, Rayograph, 1923, Private Collection). In its review of 20th century visual arts, ARTnews magazine listed Man Ray among the 25 most influential artists, citing his pioneering camera-work and dark room experimentation, together with his exploration of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage, performance and conceptual art.

Ansel Adams (1902-84)
A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, recipient of three Guggenheim fellowships and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, whose black-and-white photographs of the West became the foremost record of the scenery of US National Parks before the advent of tourism. His masterpiece photographic prints include: Storm in Yosemite Valley (1935), Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941), and The Tetons and the Snake River (1942), one of the images on the Voyager Golden Record of human civilization aboard the Voyager spacecraft. Ansel Adams archive resides at the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography, in Tucson.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927)
French photographer renowned for his documentary photography recording the architecture and street scenes of Paris. He was the subject of a four-volume biography by John Szarkowski and Maria Morris Hamburg.

Walker Evans (1903–1975)
American artist noted for his photographic work for the Farm Security Administration. See also the great Dorothea Lange (1895-1965).

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004)
Another great French photographer, considered by many to be the greatest exponent of street-photography in the 20th century. Influenced in the early 1930s by the street photographer Brassai (Gyula Halasz) (1899-1984).

John Goto (1916-94)
Professor of Fine Art at the University of Derby in England, Goto is a British artist specializing in montage colour photography, who is noted in particular for the "High Summer" pictures in his Ukadia series of photos. His photo digital art has been shown widely in Europe, as well as at solo exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Photographers' Gallery in London.

Irving Penn (1917-2009)
Best known as one of America's great fashion photographers, he is also noted for his portraits, and still lifes. See also the influential fashion photography of his younger contemporary Richard Avedon (1923-2004), who became the lead camera artist at Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

Robert Frank (b.1924)
Author of the influential book "The Americans" giving an outsider's view of American society. Highly innovative in compositing and manipulating photographs.

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
New York fine arts photographer famous for his portrayal of American life in the early 1960s, and his pictorialization of important social issues. Influenced by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and to a lesser extent Henri Cartier-Bresson.

William Eggleston (b.1939)
An important pioneer in helping to raise the artistic status of colour photgraphy.

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89)
One of the first postmodernist artists, noted for his large-scale, monochrome portraits of celebrities (Andy Warhol, Deborah Harry, Richard Gere, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, and Patti Smith), his statuesque male and female nudes, and delicate still-life compositions of flowers, although he was best known for his controversial Portfolio X series of photographs, which brought him instant notoriety due to its explicit content.

Jeff Wall (b.1946)
Probably the most famous exponent of "staged photography", Wall specializes in digital manipulation to create his works. A professor of fine art in Vancouver, he is an important and influential contributor to Canadian postmodernism.

Nan Goldin (b.1953)
Taboo-breaking American camera artist and installationist Nan Goldin, whose works include Nan One Month after being Battered (1984, Tate Museum London), Siobhan in my Bathtub (1992, Winterthur Fotomuseum, Switzerland), and Sisters, Saints, and Sinners (2004, Chapel of Salpetriere, Paris).

Cindy Sherman (b.1954)
New York photographer and film director, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, famous for her postmodernist art, notably her conceptual portraits. In 2010, Sherman's six-foot tall colour print Untitled #153 (1985), was auctioned by Phillips de Pury & Company for $2.7 million. In 2011, a print of Untitled #96, fetched $3.89 million at Christie's.

Andreas Gursky (b.1955)
One of the best known exponents of large-scale (sometimes digitally manipulated) colour photographs. Favours commercial and financial subjects, as in Schipol (1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York), Singapore Stock Exchange (1997, Guggenheim Museum, New York), Parliament (1998, Tate Museum London), and 99 cent (1999).


Collections of Photographic Art

Several of the best art museums around the world have fine art photography departments, including the following:

Art Institute of Chicago
Holds the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, as well as the Julien Levy Collection containing works by Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz and Eugene Atget.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Home of The Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Fine Art Photography.

Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The West Pavilion houses the museum's collection of fine art photography, featuring original prints dating from 1841, as well as works by modern and contemporary lens-based artists,including: Man Ray, Imogene Cunningham, Walker Evans and the German photographer August Sander.

Guggenheim, New York
Holds the Robert Mapplethorpe Collection (1992) featuring about 200 of Mapplethorpe's best photographs, executed between 1993 and 1998. Includes examples of his early collages, Polaroids, and mixed-media constructions, as well as his celebrity portraits and more than 20 self-portraits.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Holds the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, with its collection of 6,000 works, focusing on post-1940 photographs.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Met's department of photographic art contains 20,000 photographs, prints and daguerreotypes, organized around the Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Walker Evans, and Ford Motor Company collections. Includes a wide range of Photo-Secessionist works as well as contemporary photos from around the world.

MOMA, New York
A thriving photographic art department, built up by Edward Steichen (1946-62), John Szarkowski (1962-91) and Peter Galassi.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Its photographic collection comprises some 45,000 photographs, including works by Ferdinand Knopff, Jean Laurent, Man Ray, Stieglitz, Le Secq, Aldolphe Humbert de Molard, Maurice Denis and Roger Fenton.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The museum's permanent collection includes photos by Man Ray (1890-76) and Ansel Adams (1902-84); as well as nearly 4,000 photos acquired from Manfred Heiting.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
The museum's collection of fine art photographs includes some 30,000 works, by artists like Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, and others.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Its photographic collection totals around 500,000 images from 1839 up to the present day. It features works by Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Gustave Le Gray, Frederick Hollyer, Samuel Bourne, Roger Fenton, Curtis Moffat, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Ilse Bing, Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Don McCullin, David Bailey, and Helen Chadwick.

World's Most Expensive Photographs: Top 16

Here is a short list of the world's most highly price photos. For details of the top pictures, see: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 10.

1. Rhein II (1999)
Photographer: Andreas Gursky
Price: $4,338,500
Date: November 2011, Christie's New York

2. Untitled #96 (1981)
Photographer: Cindy Sherman
Price: $3,890,500
Date: May 2011, Christie's New York

3. Dead Troops Talk (1992)
Photographer: Jeff Wall,
Price: $3,666,500
Date: May 2012, Christie's New York.

4. 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001)
Photographer: Andreas Gursky
Price: $3,346,456
Date: February 2007, Sotheby's London

5. The Pond (Moonlight) (1904)
Photographer: Edward Steichen
Price: $2,928,000
Date: February 2006, Sotheby's New York

6. Untitled #153 (1985)
Photographer: Cindy Sherman
Price: $2,700,000
Date: November 2010, Phillips de Pury & Co. New York

7. Billy the Kid (1879–80)
Photographer: Unknown
Price: $2,300,000
Date: June 2011, Brian Lebel's Old West Show & Auction

8. Nude (1925)
Photographer: Edward Weston
Price: $1,609,000
Date: April 2008, Sotheby's New York

9. Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands) (1919)
Photographer: Alfred Stieglitz
Price: $1,470,000
Date: February 2006, Sotheby's New York

10. Georgia O'Keeffe Nude (1919)
Photographer: Alfred Stieglitz
Price: $1,360,000
Date: February 2006, Sotheby's New York

11. Untitled (Cowboy) (1989)
Photographer: Richard Prince
Price: $1,248,000
Date: November 2005, Christie's New York

12. Dovima with Elephants (1955)
Photographer: Richard Avedon
Price: $1,151,976
Date: November 2010, Christie's Paris

13. Nautilus (1927)
Photographer: Edward Weston
Price: $1,082,500
Date: April 2010, Sotheby's New York

14. One (2010)
Photographer: Peter Lik
Price: $1,000,000
Date: December 2010, Private Sale

15. Untangling(1994)
Photographer: Jeff Wall
Price: Australian $1,000,000
Date: 2006, Private Sale.

16. Joueur d'Orgue, (1898)
Photographer: Eugene Atget
Price: $686,500
Date: April 2010, Christie's New York

17. Andy Warhol (1987)
Photographer: Robert Mapplethorpe
Price: $643,200
Date: October 2006, Christie's New York

18. Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1948)
Photographer: Ansel Adams
Price: $609,600
Date: April 2006, Sotheby's New York

See also: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 20.

See also the Irish photographer Victor Sloan (b.1945).

• For information about lens-based artworks, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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