photography, still: Modern Photography

After the war museums and art schools opened their doors to photography, a trend that has continued to the present. Photographers began to break free of the oppressive strictures of the straight aesthetic and documentary modes of expression. As exemplified by Robert Frank in his highly influential book-length photo-essay, The Americans (1959), the new documentarians commenced probing what has been called the social landscape, often mirroring in their images the anxiety and alienation of urban life. Such introspection naturally led to an increasingly personal form of documentary photography, as in the works of J. H. Lartigue and Diane Arbus.

Many young photographers felt little inhibition against handwork, collage, multiple images, and other forms that were anathema to practitioners of the straight aesthetic. Since the 1960s photography has become an increasingly dominant medium within the visual arts. Many painters and printmakers, including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Hockney have blended photography with other modes of expression, including computer imaging in mixed media compositions at both large and small scale. Contemporary photographers who use more traditional methods to explore non-traditional subjects include Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince.

The 1990s brought the first attempt to provide a fully integrated photographic system. Aimed at the amateur photographer, the Advanced Photo System (APS) was developed by an international consortium of camera and film manufacturers. The keystone of the new system is a magnetic coating that enables the camera, film, and photofinishing equipment to communicate. The cameras are self-loading, can be switched among three different formats (classic, or 4 by 6 in.; hi vision, or 4 by 7 in.; and panoramic, or 4 by 11.5 in.), and are fully automatic (auto-focus, auto-exposure—point-and-shoot). The film is a new, smaller size (24 mm), has an improved polyester plastic base, and two magnetic strips that record the exposure and framing parameters for each picture and allow the user to add a brief notation to each frame. The photofinishing equipment can read the magnetic data on the film and adjust the developing of each negative to compensate for the conditions. After processing, the negatives (still encased in the cassette) are returned along with the photographs and an index sheet of thumbnail-size contact prints from which reprints and enlargements can be selected.

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

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Photography