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The Aesthetics of Photography

Seeking to determine the particular aesthetics of photography, the American Berenice Abbott and the Frenchmen Eugène Atget, André Kertész, and Henri Cartier-Bresson developed intensely personal styles. The exponents of surrealism in France and of futurism in Italy and the various German art movements that were focused in the Bauhaus all explored the medium of photography. The international exhibition "Film und Foto," held in Stuttgart in 1929, helped to make formal a purely photographic aesthetic. The works exhibited combined elements of functionalism and abstraction. Photographic subject matter shifted from the past to the present—a present of new forms in machinery and architecture, new concern with the experience of the working classes, and a new interest in the timeless forms of nature.

In California during the 1920s and 30s Edward Weston and a handful of kindred spirits founded the f /64 group, taking their name from the smallest lens opening, that which provides the greatest precision of line and detail. This small and unofficial group—which included Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, and Willard Van Dyke—came to dominate photographic art, overshadowing the pictorial aesthetic. They and their imitators eschewed all post-exposure handwork, and worked with 8 × 10-in. view cameras in order to obtain the largest possible negatives from which to make straightforward contact prints. They limited their subject matter to static things: the still life, the distant or closely viewed landscape, and the formal portrait. The influential teacher Minor White became known for his poetic, visionary work related in technique to this straight approach.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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