Modern photography is a period in photography that marked the shift from traditional pictorialist photography to a more direct way of capturing photos, exploiting, and emphasizing the use of and nature of the camera instead of using it as a tool to capture images.
Modern Photography: The History
Modern photography started in the 1900s and lasted until the 1960s, but the influence of its proponents remains to this day.
This period began with a gradual departure from the principles and limitations that traditional art imposed on photography, such as the taking of photos that resembled painting subjects and the use of soft, almost painterly focus.
While these photos were produced through manipulation of the photographs themselves, this new movement started exploring the photographic results of direct manipulation of the camera, using it as a tool to capture lines, shapes, light and shadow, textures, and subjects as they appeared in front of the lens.
Due to this shift in how cameras were being used, modern photography also explored new areas not covered by traditional photography such as social documentation. Straight Photography, an offshoot of Modern photography focused on capturing truthful records of life as seen by the photographer.
Early modern photographers took to street photography while still keeping true to aesthetic principles that ruled other forms of art like patterns and form, framing, and juxtaposition of subjects in their surroundings to create a statement.
Modern Photography Characteristics
Images also emphasized sharp focus and detail. Straight photography laid the foundations for other innovations in photography such as photojournalism, documentary photography, street photography, and snapshot photography.
Modern photography also gave birth to movements like Constructivism. It was promoted by photographers who believed that modern photography should help construct and not merely document the real world.
These photographs were noted for their precision and geometric simplicity which were the result fo a focus on photography as a technical exercise and the photographer as a technician.
Fashion photography also flourished during this time, with a focus not only on the wearer but also on the garment. Fashion photography grew fast through the 20s and 30s led by magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Photojournalism also developed during this period, driven by war photographers and the influence of magazines like Life. Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson were well-known proponents.
Modern photography underwent another major shift with the move from analog to digital which started in the 80s with the invention of the first digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop.
Aside from the expansion of the photographer’s ability to capture more photos, the digital medium also allowed more freedom in manipulating photos during post-processing.
While this ability led to discussions on the repercussions of the truthfulness of photography it also led to more creative approaches taking advantage of the ability to change and transform images such as digital collages double prints and alteration.
The shift to digital photography also naturally led to the proliferation of photo taking and picture sharing and the ability of almost anyone to capture, edit, and share photos using mobile devices.
Important Modern Photographers
Well-known proponents of modern photography include Alfred Steiglitz, the foremost promoter of modern photography and straight photography, Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston.
Tina Modotti was born in Italy. She moved to the United States at a young age. In San Francisco, she worked as a model and as an actress in theatre. Tia Modotti later moved to Mexico with her partner Edward Weston who influenced her photography. Focusing on social documentary and mixing politics and art, she collaborated with artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. With them, she produced her most relevant body of work. Fo
Alfred Stieglitz believed that photography was an art form. However, he also figured in the Photo-Secession movement or the gradual move away from pictorialist images to images that were more real and faithful representations of the image in front of the lens.
Ansel Adams and Edward Weston founded the f/64 group in the 30s, focusing on modern photography of the American West.
Paul Strand was a proponent of modern, straight, and documentary photography and used large-format cameras to take pictures. He influenced the founding of the f/64 group and pushed the development of straight photography to documentary photography. Later works touched on the use o photography for social and political purposes.
Robert Capa was a war photographer best known for redefining war photojournalism. He offered a closer perspective of war because he was embedded in the trenches in World War II and earlier wars.
Henri Cartier-Bresson popularized candid photography and the use of a 35 mm film. He was one of the founders of Magnum Photos along with Robert Capa, David Seymour, among others. He is known for viewing photography as the act of capturing the decisive moment. Cartier- Bresson’s influence on street, documentary, and photojournalistic photography remains to this day.
Read about more modern photography artists here.