History of contemporary photography


History of contemporary photography


The period between 1960-1980 marked a new era in photography. Personally I feel that the academization of photography and emergence of artists who use photos in various artistic ways helped in elevating photography to a new level. Although this period was defined by the cold war that was happening during that time. The most important event of the time was the Vietnam war that had begun after world war II which America became greatly involved. This war is important because of its photographic history. It became the first war to be broadcasted on television due to the wide coverage by the press who took photos of what was taking place.

In the United States a child born after the world war two got an opportunity to study, formally before world war II in United States an education was a luxury only the rich could afford, but this period had come to an end, since the bar had been lowered and everyone could now afford a university or college education. This led to academization of photography meaning that there was a class that only specialized with photography as a study topic, the creation of photography classes led to the rise of artists using photographs as their art work, the end of 1980 academic photographic as a career had risen to replace professional photography.

In the 1970s, the use of television became dominant, and the chief mode of communication that the government was using to pass messages to the citizens. On a personal level I think that academization of photography gave artists and the general public the opportunity to think critically. This period produced a large number of artists in the USA and Europe, and earlier on in 1962, The Society of Photographic Education was formed and its main purpose was to promote photography in institutions of higher education, it was followed by the formation of the International Fund for Concerned Photography in 1966, which was later followed by the formation of Friends of Photography in 1967. Formation of these organizations led to acceptance of photography as a form of expressing art in 1968.

John Szarkowski’s in his exhibition, The Photographer’s Eye is determined to show people what constitutes a photograph, weather the photographer was talented, a professional or an amateur. The major purpose of his work is to show why pictures look the way they look, since it was a period where photography was not given much acknowledgement. It practiced by a lot of people who were not even aware of each other. They did it out of passion and even without any training. Those who practiced professional photography were quite different from those who practiced it as a form of entertainment. Towards the end of the 19th century the number of photographers taking snapshots increased.

According to Szarkowski the first thing a photographer should learn is to know that photography deals with actual things. People had come to believe that photographs could not lie, therefore what the eye saw was just an illusion and what was captured in the picture was true. In his exhibition he discussed that a photograph contains the details, the frame, the vantage point and time. He went further to elaborate what is contained in all those four components of a picture. In the details component of a photograph, it is the duty of the photographer to tell the truth that he could not tell outside the studio and therefore he had to capture this truth and tell it inform of a picture. Since photographs could not be able to be taken in a way to tell a narrative they could be read as symbols representing something. The function of a photograph is not to make a story clear but real. An example is what happened with the pictures that were taken during world war II, pictures taken at that time had long captions under them to tell the story of what was happening in the picture.

A photographer should consider the edge of is picture because it showed what was most important. Inserting a frame and enlarging one part of the picture would lead to a creation of two new pictures that had not existed before. Inserting a frame in a picture is like cropping a picture and capturing the most interesting details of the picture. Time is another factor that constitutes a photograph, each photograph taken describes a certain period of time. Photographs only represent the present time they were taken. Another component of a photograph is the vantage point in a photographs is responsible for helping to make sense of what is in the picture. These four components of a picture are important and are what makes up a photograph.

            Coleman characterized the changes that took place in Szarkoski’s exhibition “new document” because they were important and accountable for changes that took in photography in the years that followed. The new document took place in New York in the museum of modern art in the year 1967. Szarkoski exhibited the work of three photographers who were not famous at the time; Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. Szarkoski was responsible for making the careers of these three photographers, since there were not many galleries exhibiting or displaying photographs. At the time of the exhibition photography was considered easy and therefore nobody took it serious but using his exhibition he was able to single-handedly change people view. He tried to show that the perspective of photographers was changing and were no long concerned with documenting events taking place that is documentary photography, but as time went by they were starting to take pictures of things that affected their personal life with the aim to understand them.

Szarkoski showcased this exhibition in a year when America was greatly involved in the Vietnam war. There were many events that needed documentary photography but Szarkoski choose to exhibit photographers who were obsessed with taking pictures that were not documentary pictures in order to bring attention to them. Their work encouraged photographers that the world can be looked at without theorizing what is taking place in it. This exhibition encouraged photographers and viewers that came later on to be open minded about ant photos since any photo worth taking is worth looking at.

It was hard to differentiate between photographs taken by travelers from documentary picture and because of this, Derrick Price seeks to elaborate what is documentary pictures by giving various definitions. He advises that documentary should be defined in terms of its connection with specific types of social investigation. Documentary work always seems to belong to a certain social investigation for a certain period in history. According to him documentary has to be true. A photograph that reveals the truth about a certain historical period can be referred to as a documentary. documentary can also be defined by the form the photograph takes.

A documentary photograph is printed as a full picture with a black boarder to show that every picture intended to capture is in the picture. Also when taking a documentary picture, it is advisable to use natural light in order to guarantee the authenticity of the picture. Documentary pictures were rarely seen as single pictures but were accompanied by written texts. The image confirmed what was written in the text. John Tagg in his work, The Burden of Representation (1998), defines documentary as part of a process in which ordinary lives are turned into photographs. Traditionally documentary pictures were black and white, but now colored pictures are being used as documentary pictures

Visual social semiotics and Allan Sekula in his work changed our understanding about images and showed us how to make meaning out of a photograph in different ways. Where an image is placed and its size can impact the visual language. Images placed in a report help to tell a story which will makes the texts in the report more memorable. A manual contains different types of picture and it is important to understand them. Examples of these pictures are lines, icons and photographs. These images reflect the beliefs of the people with different cultures appreciating different visual images. Images are grouped into three categories; icons, symbols and index. The only way one can derive the meaning in a photograph is looking at a range of different meaning by each culture. Lastly, photographs contain a narrative about something that is important to one’s life.


Academization of photography in the mid-20th century led to emergence of artists who took and displayed photographs as their art work. This led to formation of organizations that had the aim to promote photography. Szarkowski played a major role of elaborating the components of a picture and the role they play in the picture. Szarkowski was also able to change people’s perspective on street photography by exhibiting the works of three artists in a time where documentary photography was given much interest than any other form of photography. His exhibition the, New Document was responsible for some of the major changes that occurred in in photography and was responsible in shaping the careers of these three photographers. Derrick Price went ahead to help in defining what is a documentary picture and how to identify them from the rest of the pictures. Lastly, visual social semiotics helped in defining and showing the role of an image taken or inserted in a text.

1571 Words  5 Pages

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