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Choose one artist from this module, select an artwork created
by this artist that was not included in the module, and tell me about
it. Be sure to discuss the working methods of this artist and how it
relates to photography. (photo included)Questions to Consider:1. Describe the artistic practice of your chosen example. (How is
the art object made?) How does the artist use photographic materials,
methods, or practices? What is it about photography specifically
that appeals to them? What kinds of methods does this artist employ
that are wholly dependent upon the photographic image?2. Describe the general philosophy and/or artistic goals of the
movement to which that artwork belongs (i.e. why is it classified in
that manner?)3. Explain what about the artist and/or artwork you find interesting. Remember: Be sure to include a specific reference (including an
image would be ideal), listing artist, title, date, etc. as applicable.
bathing_beauty_1926_photography_by_james_van_der_zee_of_g._g._g._studio_circa_1926.jpg

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Choose one artist, select an artwork created by this artist that was not included, and tell me
about it. Be sure to discuss the working methods of this artist and how it relates to
photography.
minimum length requirement is 250 words
Questions to Consider:
1. Describe the artistic practice of your chosen example. (How is the art object made?) How
does the artist use photographic materials, methods, or practices? What is it about photography
specifically that appeals to them? What kinds of methods does this artist employ that are wholly
dependent upon the photographic image?
2. Describe the general philosophy and/or artistic goals of the movement to which that artwork
belongs (i.e. why is it classified in that manner?)
3. Explain what about the artist and/or artwork you find interesting.
Remember: Be sure to include a specific reference (including an image would be ideal), listing
artist, title, date, etc. as applicable.
1920’s-1930’s Europe
In the 1920’s, the industrialization of photography reached a new level, with the expansion of
newspapers, general- and special- interest magazines, and professional periodicals, all of which
employed photomechanical means of reproducing images. This unprecedented glut of imagery
in the mass media was the source material for many avant-garde (at the forefront, cutting edge)
artistic movements in Europe in the wake of World War I.
Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany,
1919
It may be difficult to believe that many artists and intellectuals initially welcomed World War I
(especially the Futurists (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) because they
believed it would be an efficient, thorough cleansing of modern society. Consider the many
changes that occurred in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, such as electricity, automobiles,
telephones, etc. Other societal effects of the Industrial Revolution were ongoing, such as the
increasing numbers of people leaving rural farmlands for the modern city. Many artists and
intellectuals felt that modern society had lost something essential in what it means to be human.
They thought the war would reset mankind’s true, primal nature, thereby healing the ills of
modern society.
The reality of World War I was much more grim: it was the first truly large-scale, mechanized
slaughter of human beings on an unprecedented scale.
German soldiers flee a gas attack in Flanders, Belgium, in September of 1917. Chemical weapons were a part of the
arsenal of World War I armies from the beginning, ranging from irritating tear gases to painful mustard gas, to lethal
agents like phosgene and chlorine.
With the war as a backdrop, many artists contributed to an artistic and literary movement that
became known as Dada. This movement emerged in large part in reaction to what many of these
artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide. International in
scope, Dada (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. proves this revulsion against the
war was widespread. Although Dada began independently in New York and Zurich, it emerged
in Paris, Berlin, and other major cities. As such, Dada was more of a mindset or attitude than a
single identifiable style.
Dadaists believed that reason and logic had been responsible for the unmitigated disaster of war;
therefore, the only route to redemption was through political anarchy, the irrational, and the
intuitive. An element of absurdity is a cornerstone of Dada, even reflected in the group’s name.
(Supposedly they chose the name at random, enamored by its infantile and absurdist nature.)
Marcel Duchamp, left: L.H.O.O.Q., 1919 / right: Fountain, 1917
The penultimate Dada artist is Marcel Duchamp. In the examples above, we see Dada’s disdain
for convention or tradition, characterized by a concerted and sustained attempt to undermine
cherished notions and assumptions about art.
To create the above left work of art, Duchamp bought a cheap postcard of the Mona Lisa readily
available at any tourist shop. He drew a mustache and goatee on her face, and wrote the letters
‘L.H.O.O.Q.’ in the bottom margin. If you read the letters out loud in a French accent (because
Duchamp was French), it sounds as if you are saying “Elle a chaud au cul” (“There is fire down
below”). To be blunt, Duchamp is implying that Mona Lisa is out on the prowl, looking for
sexual satisfaction.
To create the above right work of art, Duchamp went to a hardware store, purchased a urinal,
turned it on its side, and sloppily ‘signed’ the work as R. Mutt. Both of these are examples of a
readymade, a mass-produced common object that an artist selects and sometimes modifies.
When initially exhibited, there was an outcry because Duchamp had not created a new, original
object. Duchamp defended himself by writing:
Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose it.
He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the
new title and point of view – and created a new thought for that object.
Let’s pause and consider the significance of these artworks, because truly, Duchamp changed
everything. Why would Duchamp chose a postcard of the Mona Lisa? What do you think that
painting represents in our society? What do you expect from art and artists? Is art only valuable
if it is beautiful or an inspired creation from a unique artist’s point of view? If Duchamp has you
questioning your assumptions about the nature of art, or the role of an artist in society, then it
continues to disrupt and challenge conventional values in modern society, even one hundred
years after its initial creation.
Raoul Haussmann, Dada-Messe, 1920
In the realm of photography within the visual arts, a major invention or discovery was
photomontage, created by cutting up and pasting together photographs of individuals and
events, posters, book jackets, and a variety of typefaces in new and startling configurations anything to shock. The first image by Hannah Höch and the above example by Haussmann are
examples of Dada photomontage.
The source material was supplied by the tremendous growth in the print media. Photomontage,
with its clear integration of images of modern life into works of art, proved to be an ideal form
for the Dadaists.
Another form of photography created by Dada artists were experimental images made without a
camera. There are three major forms of these “camera-less” pictures. First, schadographs:
Christian Schad, Schadograph 24b, 1920
Created by the German artist Christian Schad, schadographs are the exposed chance
arrangement of found objects – torn tickets, receipts, or rags (meaning = trash) – on photographic
film. To create these, Schad placed pieces of randomly collected paper and objects atop
photographically sensitive paper, pressing them down with a sheet of clear glass. As the
assemblage was exposed to light on a windowsill, Schad observed its development and
occasionally moved objects around as they were appearing on the paper.
László Moholy-Nagy, Photogram, 1922
The next time of camera-less imagery was created by the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy,
who felt that like other products created by machines, photographic images should not deal with
conventional sentiments of personal feelings, but should be concerned with light and form. He
called his process photograms. To learn how these are made and to see several examples, watch
this video (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.produced by the Guggenheim
Museum.
The final process, rayographs, were developed by Surrealist artist Emmanual Radnitzky,
commonly known as Man Ray.
Man Ray, Rayograph, 1923
In this experimental method, the artist would arrange translucent and opaque materials on
photographic paper, at times actually immersed in the developer during their exposure to moving
or stationary light sources. Clearly aligned with Dada and Surrealist values of chance, Man Ray
was devoted to expressing intuitive states of being in utilizing a process with accidental results
that are impossible to premeditate.
The exuberantly aggressive momentum of the Dada movement only lasted for a short time. By
1924, with the publication of the first Surrealist manifesto, most of the artists associated with
Dada joined the Surrealist movement and its determined exploration of ways to express in art the
world of dreams and the unconscious. Given this transition, it is not surprising that the
Surrealists incorporated many of the Dadaist’s improvisational techniques. Truly, the element of
chance was essential to artistic expression in Surrealism.
Herbert Bayer, Lonely Metropolitan, 1932
Although many philosophical ideals overlap with Dada (such as chance, the absurd, and the
irrational), Surrealism was distinct in its philosophy and artistic expressions. Influenced by a
wide range of theories, from Hegel’s ideas that conflict and resolution are dynamic fundamentals
of life to Freud’s use of free association to liberate the imagination from its customary
constraints, they sought to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”
—> Recommended: read this essay “Photography and Surrealism (Links to an external
site.)Links to an external site.” on the Metropolitan Museum’s website.
Some photographers are associated with Surrealism due to their ability to capture bizarre
juxtapositions that occur naturally in daily experience. Once such artist is André Kertész,
a Hungarian-born photographer most celebrated for his work in Paris during the 1930’s.
André Kertész, Fortune Teller, 1930
André Kertész is celebrated for creating photographs imbued with unexpected detail, ephemeral
moments, and lyric truth. His penchant for discovering the visual poetry inherent in the
everyday world could result in delightful and mysterious compositions.
—> Recommended: For a general overview of Kertész’s life and several examples of his work,
see this article (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. on Phaidon’s website, “The
melancholy life of the amazing André Kertész”
The experiments of the 1920’s and 1930’s in Europe were influential all around the world and
formed the bedrock for a photographic genre that is still going strong. Dada and Surrealist ideas
were gleefully adopted in the portrait, theatrical, and fashion worlds, and surfaced again in the
late 1990’s, when image manipulation became popular. We will explore that style of
photography in a later module; until then, let’s turn to America in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
1920’s-1930’s America
For a brief moment in the 1920’s and the 1930’s, Harlem was the nexus of an artistic movement
the effects of which were felt across the country and around the world.* The Harlem
Renaissance was one of the first truly international art movements to take root on American
soil. Involving music, dance, theater, literature, and the visual arts, this was an unprecedented
period of cultural activity among African Americans. For the first time in history, the interests of
dealers, patrons, critics and curators were sparked by African American art across racial lines
and on a grand scale.
James Van Der Zee, Couple in Raccoon Coats, 1932
Why Harlem, and why the 1920’s? A number of factors converged at this place and time;
first, an estimated 1.5 million African Americans had made the “Great Migration” (Links to an
external site.)Links to an external site. from the rural south to cities in the north, with an
estimated 90,000 blacks moving to Harlem in this decade. Next, the March 1925 issue of the
literary journal Survey Graphic was focused upon “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro;” this issue
sold an unprecedented 40,000 copies in just two weeks and became the manifesto of the new
era. The magazine was edited by the Harvard-educated African American philosopher Alain
Locke (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., who sought the “spiritual
emancipation” of African Americans through visual art. Hailed as the father of the Harlem
Renaissance, Locke believed that the fine arts were a potent vehicle for reconfiguring the image
and identity of blacks in America, an identity bogged down by degrading Jim Crow stereotypes.
Photographer and musician James Van Der Zee is considered the most significant photographer
of the Harlem Renaissance. With a career that spanned nearly 90 years, he is most celebrated for
chronicling the private and public life of Harlem between 1916 and 1945.
James Van Der Zee, Lady with Wide-brimmed Straw Hat, 1934
By 1928, Van Der Zee had established himself as Harlem’s most sought-after photographer with
a thriving portrait studio business. He photographed sitters in carefully orchestrated Victorian
tableaux vivants (studio sets), so as to present his sitters in the best possible light, using an array
of props, from costumes to elaborately painted backdrops. He shrewdly posed his clients, in his
words, “according to their type and personality,” making certain that each image protrayed the
subjects as members of the wealthy elite (whether or not they actually were). In this way, Van
Der Zee heeded Locke’s directive to “reveal the beauty which prejudice and caricature have
overlaid” by presenting African Americans in the most urbane manner possible.
James Van Der Zee, Future Expectations, 1926
In the portrait above (Future Expectations), Van Der Zee captured the image of a newlywed
couple. The groom is elegantly attired in a tuxudo and holds his top hat in his hand while gazing
lovingly at his wife. The bride is seated in a throne-like, elaborately carved Victorian chair. Her
eyes directly engage the camera lens as she presents a vision in gossamer white tulle.
Everywhere around the couple is evidence of Van Der Zee’s hand-painted theatrical settings,
from a faux fireplace complete with flames to fluted columns and bucolic outdoor scenery. In
order to suggest the couple’s happy and fruitful future, Van Der Zee double-exposed (made two
exposures on a single negative) the photograph with a ghosted image of their as-yet-unconceived
daughter, who sits at their feet holding a large black doll. The overall effect is contemplative,
quiet, self-contained, and sophisticated, all hallmark Van Der Zee features.
James Latimer Allen, Portrait of James Lesesne Wells, c. 1930
In contrast to the 19th-century Victorianism preferred by Van Der Zee, the portraits of James
Latimer Allen are reflective of 20th-century modernity. Allen’s portraits comprise spare settings
without elaborate props, relying instead on subtle indicators to suggest the sitter’s character.
Allen photographed his subjects from compelling vantage points and steep angles to reveal the
complexity of each personality. Figures and faces were captured against unadorned, softly
focused backgrounds of mid-tones, within a shallow and intimate space.
In the above example, a portrait of African American printmaker James Lesesne Wells, Allen’s
composition is shot on an angle, counterbalancing the artist’s head, cropped in the upper-right
corner, with a Bakuba flask from the Congo, held in Wells’ hand and examined with quiet
contemplation. Its multilayered symbols suggest the importance of African sculpture to the
Harlem Renaissance (strongly advocated by Locke), the cerebral nature of the “New Negro,” and
a dialogue between 20th-century African Americans and their cultural past.
Another major photographic artistic movement occurring in the United States took place on the
West Coast; specifically in San Francisco, California, in 1932, with the founding of Group f/64.
Most people are familiar with at least one member of this group, Ansel Adams.
Ansel Adams, Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1927
Best known for the matchless monumentality of his black and white landscape prints, Adams
was a versatile photographer totally in command of his technique. At the same time, he was a
self-taught concert-grade pianist; his musicianship informed his photography and teaching as
much as any other photographer. With highly disciplined and refined darkroom skills, he
produced beautifully made, richly detailed, pin-sharp prints, almost all of them created on large
format film.
Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, c. 1937
Adams was also a powerful environmental activist – the conservationist Sierra Club used his
photography to further their cause; he also spent a few months photographing the people
incarcerated in Japanese American interment camps during World War II – but this is a topic to
which we will return in the next module.
Ansel Adams, along with a small group of other photographers, came together in 1932 to form
Group f/64; this group was named after the smallest practicable lens aperture for large format
film. (Note: “aperture” refers to the opening of a lens through which light enters the camera.)
Like the Photo-Secessionists, to whom the group was conceptually opposed, Group f/64 was a
collection of U.S. photographers. They advocated for “clearness and definition of the
photographic image.” It limited membership to “those workers who are striving to define
photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic
methods.” Note that sometimes art historians refer to this photographic art movement as
Precisionism.
—> Recommended: read pages 413-430 in the textbook.
Another notable member of f/64 is Edward Weston, who sought “to make the commonplace
unusual.” Indeed, Weston created a series of intensely close-up studies of vegetables,
transforming humble peppers and cabbages into sensuous abstracts exploring shape and pattern.
Edward Weston, Pepper No 30, 1930
Fitting within the aesthetic of Group f/64, these images are richly detailed, with no picturesque
softness or blur. Weston’s imagery is noted for its sharpness and cool precision with a simplified
background to further draw attention to the object itself. Weston’s clear renditions of seemingly
mundane things speak to a set of universal organic forms that resonate throughout the
timelessness of nature more than the specificity of the object itself.
—> Recommended: read page 441 in the textbook for a profile of Edward Weston.
Despite its loose organization, small size, and brief duration (just over three years), Group f/64
was surprisingly influential. Apart from the presence of big names such as Adams and Weston,
the group was also a response to what was seen as the irrelevance of the romantic mists of
Pictorialism that still was practiced by many fine art photographers in the 1930’s.
As the Great Depression began to affect even the golden shores of the Bay Area, the group found
it hard to maintain their idealism. Many artistically-minded photographers, such as Walker
Evans and Dorothea Lange, began to take up film for social ends, pursuing instead the
documentary possibilities of photography. Consider: how many artistic media are so compatible
to the various pursuits – artistry, scientific explorations, and documentationary social reforms,
among others – as photography? Truly, this is a flexible medium, adaptable to contemporary
social – and artistic – trends.
*Note: The majority of the information about the Harlem Renaissance is taken from Lisa
Farrington’s African-American Art: A Visual and Cultural History (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2017). I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Pop, Photo-Realism, and Conceptual
During the postwar decades, photography gained a greater presence in international art
movements. In the early 1950’s, artist and intellectuals began to realize their culture was
increasingly determined by the mass media, by new technology and social change, and that this
process was also leading to the increased Americanization of countries around the world.
One art movement t …
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