Fine Art Photography
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
HISTORY OF VISUAL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
Stieglitz's partner in "291", Steichen was a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair during the period 19231938, 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.
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.
Memorable contributors to photographic fine art include the following.
John Goto (1916-94)
Robert Frank (b.1924)
Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
William Eggleston (b.1939)
Andreas Gursky (b.1955)
Several of the best art museums around the world have fine art photography departments, including the following:
Institute of Chicago
Institute of Arts
Museum, Los Angeles
Angeles County Museum of Art
Museum of Art, New York
of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Art
& Albert Museum, London
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)
2. Untitled #96 (1981)
3. Dead Troops Talk (1992)
4. 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001)
5. The Pond (Moonlight) (1904)
6. Untitled #153 (1985)
7. Billy the Kid (187980)
8. Nude (1925)
9. Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands) (1919)
10. Georgia O'Keeffe Nude (1919)
11. Untitled (Cowboy) (1989)
12. Dovima with Elephants (1955)
13. Nautilus (1927)
14. One (2010)
16. Joueur d'Orgue, (1898)
17. Andy Warhol (1987)
18. Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
See also: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 20.
For information about lens-based artworks, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.