Utah Binger
Since Jul 26, 2000

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WE'RE IN MAYNARD DIXON COUNTRY

Modern Art Photography

If we consider the history of creating imagery from primitive to the modern there must be certain timelines that account for how things happened. The ancients in the region recorded their thoughts, left messages and depicted their lives on the canyon walls, in their caves and on any media they found useful. Certainly all cultures found their own way to communicate; the talented few always came forward as their recorders of history. Were these talented few born with the creativity? Or did they develop this talent through intensive training in the technical process?

If we spring forward a thousand years we have the benefit of watching the evolution of the form. Although photography dates back to Leonardo da Vinci's inventions during the Renaissance, the modern camera was invented in the 1830s with daguerreotypes. The first cameras were large and bulky, so people came to the photographer's studio to have their pictures taken. This meant that the main purpose was to record what people looked like, which could be done more quickly and inexpensively than ever before. This has had a profound impact on art, and has prompted many artists to explore new styles. And so, modernism was born.

In painting and printmaking the form evolved into what was called “the new art,” beginning with the impressionists in about 1870. Photography continued recording the accuracy of what people looked like or to record history as evidenced during the Civil War with Mathew Brady. Here in Utah C.R. Savage was one of the first to record the important history. In southern Utah Jack Hillers accompanied John Wesley Powell in 1872 in the explorations of the Grand Canyon.

The science of the form drove their technique. But was it art? Most imagery was posed and not impromptu as evidenced by E.S Curtis and his circle. Images looked stilted and did not leave much to the imagination. But suddenly we spring forward to the turn of the twentieth century and the group formed in New York by Alfred Stieglitz.

Stieglitz was originally a leading figure in the promotion of the idea that photography harbored the same aesthetic potential as painting. He fostered the progress of artistic photography in this direction by showcasing the work of young photographers who challenged the dominant conception of the medium. Instead of showcasing the use of photography as a tool for documenting or depicting the details of nature, these young photographers attempted to show, primarily through imitation of painterly styles, that photography could attain status as an art form.

This new approach to art photography was inspirational for all that followed the form. They strive to do more than record the images of nature, rather they make a serious effort in creating art; art that is beyond simple imagery. This approach to modernism was introduced to the painter Maynard Dixon in 1920 when he met the young New York photographer Dorothea Lange. Dixon began distilling and simplifying his approach.

This period, 1920-1960, brought Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and several other modernists to these regions for the purpose of making fine art photography. These were the purists with serious bias about their art form in black and white. Much of the art occurred in the darkroom. And then there was the life of photographic paper. The argument was that color would not hold. As color was introduced in the late thirties the art photographers held steady with their beliefs about the power of black and white. Several pioneers broke away from the old beliefs as papers improved with newer coatings and a better lifespan. Eliot Porter and David Muench in particular continued with the science of color as an art form.

And then digital happened. All of the old ideas about the art form changed.

After thirty years of work in all the above, Modern Art Photography was born. Suddenly new converts having found their own voices in this new digital world. The technical side of the problem is conquered with powerful technology from Canon and Nikon. The science is now taken care of and it is only left up to the artist to find his own voice in this brave new world.

Pb

David Michaels