Photography, Art of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Photography, Art of


the form of artistic creation that uses the expressive potential of photography.

The art of photography occupies a special position in artistic culture, inasmuch as it was the first technical art form, and its development was dependent on certain achievements in science (physics, chemistry, and optics) and technology. By the mid-20th century, when the number of technical art forms had grown to include cinematography, the art of television and radio, and design, the art of photography had matured into a vast and constantly expanding creative field embracing various independent branches, such as documentary photography, artistic photography, and applied photography, which is used in the production of posters, book design, and advertising.

Representational artists turned to photography’s new and unusual technical method of fixing images immediately after the invention of the technique. One of the inventors of photography, L. J. M. Daguerre, was also an artist, and the first photographs (daguerreotypes) conformed to the traditional genres of paintings: portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. Early photographs openly imitated works of art; every direction taken by the representational arts in the 19th century—romanticism, critical realism, and impressionism—had its counterpart in pictorial photography. The practitioners of pictorialism, which had become known as artistic photography, accomplished much to help photography outgrow the high culture of the representational arts and develop firm ties with the plastic arts.

In portrait photography, similar efforts led to quite noteworthy results. G.-F. Nadar (Tournachon) in France, J. M. Cameron in Great Britain, and A. I. Den’er and S. L. Levitskii in Russia studied paintings in order to master the analysis of human individuality; this was an important step toward the use of various picture-taking techniques, such as lighting effects, for the faithful transfer and documentary re-creation of personality traits of the subjects being photographed.

Although graphic techniques that were unique to photography had already been developed for the portrait genre by the mid-19th century, works in other genres were at first the exclusive province of the pictorial school. Pictorialist photographers, who were usually former painters or graphic artists, created works that were highly complex in concept and execution. It was often necessary to assemble a photograph from several negatives; for example, the pompous allegorical work The Two Ways of Life by the English master (of Swedish birth) O. Rejlander (1856) was assembled from 30 negatives. Photographic composition often entailed the making of sketches, since this was the accepted practice when paintings were created on canvas.

By the 1860’s, natural photography had begun progressing in a manner parallel to the trends seen in studio photography. However, even as late as the 1920’s, photographic landscapes imitated painted landscapes, for example, those of R. Lamarr in France, L. Missonne in Belgium, A. Keighley in England, and S. A. Savrasov in Russia. As in portrait photography, a Rembrandtesque representation of lighting effects was often used. The principles of impressionist painting were also used in landscape photographs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ethnographic nature photography of the second half of the 19th century was similar in its own way to a traveler’s notebook: it had the goal of faithfully presenting and preserving living material. The works of early ethnographic photographers showed the fruitfulness of this method, inasmuch as they served as the foundation for photojournalism. Photographs from the battlefront in the Crimean War (R. Fenton), the US Civil War (M. B. Brady and A. Gardner), and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 (A. I. Ivanov, D. N. Nikitin, and M. V. Revenskii), although often severely frank, evoked a warm response from the public.

Technical and scientific advances had a much greater and, in some respects, decisive significance for the establishment of the art of photography. The invention of a technique for preparing dry gelatin-bromide plates by R. Maddox of Great Britain in 1871 made it possible to abandon the wet collodion method and to produce photographic materials in a factory, markedly simplifying the process of taking photographs. When adapted to short exposures, the focal-plane shutter, proposed in 1883 by the Russian photographer S. A. Iurkovskii and later refined by O. Anschiitz of Austria, made it possible to photograph people and objects in motion. The creation of the Kodak portable camera by G. Eastman (USA, 1886–88) gave new impetus to the development of photojournalism. Throughout the second half of the 19th century and during the 20th century, new and increasingly advanced and varied camera lenses and other optical elements were developed, such as supplementary lens attachments and special camera lenses for taking panoramic pictures. The work of L. Ducos du Hauron (France, 1868–69), F. Ives (USA, 1881), G. Lippmann (France, 1891), B. Homolka (Germany, 1907), and R. Fischer (Germany, 1912) laid the foundation for color photography.

Important milestones in the history of photography were the sequences of pictures taken by E. Muybridge (USA), simultaneously photographed by multiple cameras from different positions (Galloping Horse, 1878; Figure in Motion, 1887; and Figure Hopping, 1887). These sequences revealed the extraordinary beauty and plasticity of actual movements. Largely because of these innovations, the first quarter of the 20th century was marked by a growing interest in interpreting the real world photographically, rather than according to graphic principles developed in painting. Between 1910 and 1919, documentary photography, as practiced by J. E. A. Atget in France, P. Martin in Great Britain, A. Stieglitz in the USA, and M. P. Dmitriev in Russia, acquired increasing importance, producing works devoted to the prosaic in everyday urban and rural life and demonstrating a deep sympathy for the “little man.”

Various techniques closely linked with the success of journalism played an important role in this period, including photojournalism with candid photography, long-term photographic observations, and photographic series or essays on a single theme. The development of these forms of documentary photography was closely tied to the appearance of the light, roll-film Leica camera invented by O. Barnack in Germany in 1914 and put into mass production in 1925. Hallmarks of the 1920’s were the widening possibilities of reportorial photography and the achievements of documentary photography; they contributed much to the ultimate recognition of the unique aesthetic value of photographic images. Attention was turned primarily to the creation of true images that reproduced life in the forms of life itself.

The better representatives of foreign photojournalism in the 1920’s and 1930’s, such as the German masters E. Eisenstaedt and E. Salomon, overcame the limitations of the ethnographic or purely genre-style apprehension of subjects that characterized many of the social observations in documentary photography in the early 20th century. Noteworthy among their successes was the ability to create distilled images of decaying bourgeois democracy and its capitulation before advancing fascism. Many produced forceful pictures of the impoverishment of the masses, such as those of W. Evans, D. Lange, R. Lee, B. Shahn, and other masters working in the USA in the early 1930’s.

In the decades between 1910 and 1930, intensive investigations were conducted on the expressive possibilities of photographic materials. Such works as the photograms of L. Moholy-Nagy (Hungary) and similar compositions by Man Ray (USA), A. Renger-Patzsch (Germany), and J. Funke (Czechoslovakia) were produced without a camera by placing various objects on sensitive paper, which recorded impressions under the action of light; the compositions proved to be popular with many masters of photography. Such experiments served as the basis for the development of graphic photography, adding to photography’s list of artistic tools. However, the decisive rejection of the principle of representationalism opened the way for the encroachment of modernist concepts akin to dadaism and surrealism.

The genuine triumph of documentary photography was Soviet photojournalism of the 1920’s and early 1930’s, which sprang from the need for a concrete account of the immense social transformations occurring in the country. When the photographic compositions of the 1920’s appeared in newspapers and magazines, such as Ogonek and Sovetskoe foto, they immediately assumed a prominent place in the ranks of vigorously developing forms of revolutionary art. Such masters of documentary photography in the 1920’s as M. V. Al’pert, B. V. Ignatovich, E. I. Langman, A. M. Rodchenko, S. O. Fridliand, la. N. Khalip, and A. S. Shaikhet revealed the details of Soviet reality that directly demonstrated the energy of socialist construction. They skillfully used innovative methods of creating photographic expressivity, such as extreme foreshortening, without turning the methods into ends in themselves. For example, an effective overhead point of view in a photograph made it possible to convey the true scale of the transformations occurring in the country.

Along with documentary photography, studio photography has also developed successfully. The most prominent master of photographic portraiture was M. S. Nappel’baum, who made the first portrait photograph of V. I. Lenin in the Soviet era. P. A. Otsup held a leading place among other masters who photographed Lenin. Photographers who rose to distinction during the 1920’s and 1930’s included the portrait photographers A. P. Shterenberg and the landscape photographers N. P. Andreev, Iu. P. Eremin, S. K. Ivanov-Alliluev, K. A. Lishko, and A. V. Skurikhin; they were known for their use of soft-focus lenses and special printing techniques that allowed tonal relationships to be rendered in detail.

The creators of Soviet applied photography, which often used the photomontage technique, included Rodchenko and L. M. Lisitskii, who expanded the range of artistic possibilities for book illustrations, posters, and display design.

A new stage in the development of Soviet documentary photography was the reporting done during the Great Patriotic War of 1941—45. Masters of the older generation were joined by younger photojournalists such as D. N. Bal’termants, A. S. Garanin, E. A. Khaldei, I. E. Ozerskii, M. S. Red’kin, G. Z. San’-ko, M. I. Savin, I. M. Shagin, and M. A. Trakhman. Using portable Leica and FED cameras, Soviet battle photographers preserved for future generations the true image of the national struggle against fascism. Battle photographers from other countries of the anti-Hitlerite coalition, such as D. Duncan (USA), also made a contribution to the creation of a photographic chronicle of World War II.

Foreign documentary photography from 1950 through the 1970’s has been characterized by the multifaceted development of genre photography, usually resulting from the travels of press photographers dispatched by the major news agencies to various countries. Magnum Photos, the editorial staffs of illustrated magazines, such as Life, and the news agencies United Press International, Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France Presse have produced a wealth of documentary photographs. Along with uncredited photographic materials intended to satisfy the most unexacting tastes, these sources have occasionally yielded genuine works of art. A clear antimilitaristic perspective distinguished the combat photojournalism of W. Bischof, R. Capa, and D. Seymour during the American aggression in Vietnam and during other wars of the 1960’s. The published collections of the French master H. Cartier-Bresson that resulted from the photographer’s travels during the 1940’s and 1950’s are compelling for the photographer’s virtuoso ability to penetrate the way of life of various peoples by means of documentary photography. Progressive trends in the contemporary documentary photography of capitalist countries are also demonstrated in the works of B. Davidson, A. Kertész, D. Weiner, L. Freed, and others.

The development of documentary photography in socialist countries has been marked by brilliant achievements. Among the most prominent masters are T. Lehr (German Democratic Republic), L. Łoziński (Poland), E. Pardubský (Czechoslovakia), L. Almási (Hungary), A. Mihailopol (Rumania), and I. Skrinskii (Bulgaria).

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were no small-format cameras, and particularly sensitive materials were unavailable, which inhibited the development of documentary photography. During this period, artistic photography represented the main, or even the only, road in the evolution of photographic art; by the mid-20th century, it occupied a more modest position in photography. Unlike documentary photography, which was based on the principle of direct apprehension of impressions of the flow of life, artistic photography continued as a special form of photographic activity in which the photographer interpreted nature indirectly, through the creation of an artificial environment (the photographic studio) or by means of various kinds of laboratory transformations. The latter include photomontage, graphic photography, emphasis of the black-white contrast that constitutes the basis of the photographic image, solarization, and various modifications in the printing process. As at the turn of the century, artistic photography has been evolving in a way that sensitively reflects the varied trends—and crises—in representational art.

In photographing such subjects as the plaster of old walls, scraps of posters, and cracks in asphalt, some contemporary photographers have altered the natural scale and texture to the point of unrecognizability, thus creating new works in the spirit of abstract art. Examples include photographs by H. Callahan, G. Kepes, A. Siskind, and E. Weston (USA), and Brassai (France). Characteristic of contemporary foreign landscape photographs are tendencies toward epic majesty in the treatment of wilderness (A. Adams, USA), the psychologism of surrealistic trends (T. Del Tin in Italy and D. Harissiadis in Greece), and the expressionist tension of forms (B. Brandt in Great Britain). The works of the better masters of photographic portraiture in Western Europe and America, such as R. Avedon, Brassai, Y. Karsh, E. Steichen, and P. Halsman, are imbued with humanist inspiration. F. Roiter (Italy), W. Rauch (Federal Republic of Germany), and E. Hartwig (Poland) have proved themselves masters of graphic photography.

Vigorous development continues in applied photography, where purely commercial problems are at times intertwined with genuine artistic creativity, which strives to form unique fragments of a grotesque or satirical chronicle of the modern era by means of the photomontage technique and the approach of the advertising photograph.

During the 1970’s the influence of photographic forms of artistic vision on painting and graphic art has grown remarkably powerful. This has led to the emergence of various forms of hyper-realism, the representatives of which imitate photography in the hope of finding an exit from the dead end of the latest modernist trends.

The present stage in the development of Soviet documentary photography began in the early postwar years and is characterized by a special diversity of genres and creative styles. The appearance of new equipment has enabled many masters to specialize in particular themes and photographic trends. Continuing interest in musical themes (O. V. Makarov), ballet (E. P. Urn-nov), the dramatic theater (A. S. Garanin), sports (V. S. Shandrin and I. P. Utkin), and aviation (V. M. Lebedev) has enabled photographers to achieve great profundity in revealing the material of life. The theme of recollection of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War has been strikingly interpreted by the masters of photography who witnessed the events of the war (M. P. Anan’in and V. M. Mastiukov). The formation of the Novosti Press Agency, the production of newsreels by the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS), and the publication of a large number of illustrated magazines, including Ogonek, Sovetskii Soiuz, Smena, and Sovetskii ekran, have expanded the field of Soviet photojournalism. Outstanding Soviet photojournalists today include V. A. Gende-Rote, G. A. Koposov, V. S. Reznikov, L. N. Sherstennikov, and V. S. Tarasevich.

In documentary photography, especially in such major genres as the photographic essay, photographers have turned for suitable subjects not only to events but also to individual people, treating them with deep insight into their personal psychologies. Contemporary Soviet documentary photography is distinguished by an ascendancy of the journalistic portrait, in which a person is photographed not in the special conditions of a studio, but at work, on the streets of the city, or at home. Since 1969, with the founding of the Planeta publishing house, a new genre of Soviet documentary photography has developed, embracing photographic yearbooks (Photo-70), regional almanacs (Severnoe siianie, 1974), and editions of the works of a single photographer. Among the national schools of Soviet documentary photography, which became firmly established in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a leading position is held by the Lithuanian school (A. Kunchius, A. Matsiiauskas, A. Sutkus, and others).

Among those rising to prominence in Soviet creative photography from 1950 through the 1970’s have been V. A. Malyshev (color portraits), A. Kochar and R. L. Baran (use of various printing effects to accentuate the subject’s features), and the landscape photographers A. G. Bushkin, V. E. Gippenreiter, N. F. Kozlovskii, and L. L. Zivert (who have successfully explored the possibilities of color) and A. M. Perevoshchikov. Methods of photomontage, graphic photography, negative-positive combination, and printing through colored filters and masks have been developed by L. Balodis, V. S. Butyrin, R. Dikhavichius, P. Karpavichius, P. Tooming, and others. Contemporary Soviet applied photography has developed new aesthetic criteria that have drawn the attention of many photographic artists, such as V. F. Plotnikova.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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