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Photography Development Through The Modernist Movements

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Derived from the Pictorialism, the Modernist movement began in 1910 and was a means in which photographers used to produce images with a sharp focus while exploiting the camera as a mechanical tool (2018, Artsy). Following the Modernist movement, Post – Modernism was established (2013, Wallace). This cultural movement emerged throughout the late 1960’s with idealistic concepts instilled by the previous Modernist movement, has helped the development of many genres within photography such as Pop Art (2013, Wallace). Modernist photographers such as Paul Strand and Edward Weston created images throughout the movement that exploited social segregation, while trying to spark a conversation within the viewer. Whereas photographers such as Cindy Sherman and Andreas Gursky, aim to spark conversation within the viewer through different and unexplored lenses.

1910 was the beginning of a new artistic movement, pushing Pictorialism out of the spotlight Modernism made its mark. This movement was influenced by the rapid changes in technology, culture and society during the beginning of the 20th Century (2018, Art Gallery NSW). The increasing use and knowledge lead to the development of the Car and Aeroplane, which had an ongoing effect on the industrialization of manufacturing, which ultimately impacted the lives of citizens and the city (2018, Art Gallery NSW). Present photographers throughout this era used extreme viewing angles, tilted horizons and close – ups in order to distract the viewer by drawing their attention to the processes of representation and perception (2018, Art Gallery NSW). Photography as an independent art form was established with the help of artists like Paul Strand and Edward Weston, their work and techniques helped expand the capabilities of photography as a platform (2014, Joselito Bengua). Paul Strand was an American photographer who played a role in developing photography as an independent art form in the 20th Century (2014, Joselito Bengua). Using techniques and principal themes such as movement in the city, abstractions and street portraits helped Strand immerse himself in his work and assisting in forming what we view today as photography (2014, Joselito Bengua). Image 1 from the index below is an image taken by Strand in 1916, titled ‘Blind’. In the image we can see that is it a sharp focus close up of a woman with one eye and a sign around her neck identifying herself as blind. This black and white, vertical image displays ideals instilled within the modernist movement as it is a closeup image with a sharp focus while also exploiting socio-economic stances at the time the image was taken. 1916 was in the middle of the first World War and society had begun to feel the repercussions. This simple image taken by Paul Strand expresses hardship this woman has endured throughout the war and her low socio-economic stances, ultimately representing the ideals of a modernist photograph. Edward Weston is considered as one of the pioneers of Modern American photography, his work grew from contemporary movements within art (2011, LACMA). Weston’s work revolved around abstraction and flatness as he began to drift away from pictorialism, his work characterized by sharp focus started to form into a modernist theme (2011, LACMA). Image 2 from the index below is an image taken by Weston in 1930, tilted ‘Pepper’. The image upon first glance looks like two individuals intertwined, but upon further inspection it is a still life image of a Bell Pepper. This oddly shaped pepper has been strategically placed with light only hitting it from the top highlighting the curved contours. The black and white image also helps the viewer create a greater sense of connection with the piece as they are forced to draw their own conclusions as to what the image would look like if it were in colour. Weston’s ability not only to use the camera as a means to manipulate the viewer, but by also creating a sharp focus within the image creating controversy within the eyes of the viewer. This shows his ability to shift between two artistic movements while learning and undertaking different elements from each to create a relevant and eye catching artwork.

The cultural movement that emerged between 1960-1970 was named Postmodernism after its close relation to the artistic movement before it, Modernism (2013, Wallace). This movement set the foundation for other artistic concepts such as Pop art, Minimalism and conceptualism (2013, Wallace). Postmodernism was strongly expressed through architecture and design, while celebrating the return of colour (2013, Wallace). This late 20th century form of expressing art explored that art and photography can be unconventional and absent while prevocking sympathy within the viewer (2014, photographic inspirations). Postmodernism confronts and contradicts this idea that it is impossible to break the rules and still produce a work of art (2014, photographic inspirations). Cindy Sherman is a prime example of a postmodernist photographer. Each image of hers has a visually striking elements that contradicts the generic rules of art. Image 3 from the index below is apart of her clown series taken in the early 2000’s. This image can make viewers feel uncomfortable because of the highlighted clown and the overwhelming yet simplistic colour scheme throughout the image. There is a lot happening within the image as there are many aspects to look at, the big pink wig and the oversized blue green jacket and the exaggerated clown makeup. These elements throughout the image represent the postmodernist movement as it explores colour and is an unconventional image that breaks the rules of common art. Sherman is known as a “contemporary master of socially critical photography” (N/D, The Art story), and has been seen as a key addition to this generation (N/D, The Art story). Her work explores female social roles throughout the spread of mass media imagery while breaking common artistic conventions (N/D, The Art story). Specialising in large – formatted panoramic urban landscape and architectural compositions, Andreas Gursky is known as one of the greatest art photographers within the postmodern era (2014, photographic inspirations). The careful composition and balance of colour, perspective and light throughout his images result in fine art images within the postmodern age (2014, photographic inspirations). Image 4 in the index below is one of Gursky’s most famous images. For its simplistic composition and creative use of light and colour leaves the viewers with no clear answer yet a lake of throughout to explore. This image breaks the rules of typical art works and it does not have a clear cut answer and leaves the audience wanting more, with the simplistic colour scheme reflecting the postmodern age.

Modernism and postmodernism were both two controversial artistic movements within the 20th century, each with similar yet different defining features. 1910 was the beginning of modernism, pushing Pictorialism out, Modernism left its mark. The cultural movement that emerged between 1960-1970 was labelled Postmodernism after its close relation to the artistic movement before it, Modernism. These two influential movements became known by the help of world renowned photographers, Paul Strand and Edward Weston, and Cindy Sherman and Andreas Gursky. Who all exploited and challenged the conceptual meaning of social barriers.

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Photography Development Through the Modernist Movements. (2019, August 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
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