Photography essay

Photography: A technical recording medium or a means of artistic expression

This age old question started with the invention of the camera and it still exists today. Many see the discipline as a scientific, technical production of recording or documenting our physical environments (including personalities). However, many think otherwise. They see photography simply as another medium to express an artistic vision.

Fine Art photography, sometimes known as Photographic Art, or Artistic Photography, or other names typically refer to photography work as a personal art form vs. commercial photography. However, the definition and subjective interpretation varies. Nevertheless, we will learn some notable movements, photographers, and photographs that have made relevant contribution in the history of photography both as an invention and as an art form.

For the time being, let’s look at photography from a very broad perspective and see it as 2 types: Straight photography (also known as pure photography or Naturalism) vs. Pictorialism. For those of you with advance knowledge in photography, please bear with us.

Straight/Pure photography, (also known as naturalism) proposes that proper photographs should be accurate and unaltered. This type of photography captures the subject in sharp focus and detail objectively (no manipulations) showing reality. This naturalistic approach veered away from the blur, painterly images or staged poses. Some notable Straight/Pure photographers:
Edward Weston ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.,

Ansel Adams ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.,

Paul Strand ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.,

Imogen Cunningham ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. ,

Sonya Noskowiak ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.,

Henry Swift ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

The opposing movement/style to Straight photography is known as Pictorialism. There is no standard definition for Pictorialism. In general, it is agreed that this style of photography is more than the technical recording of a subject. In essence, this movement involves creating an image through artistic manipulation. Pictorial photography allows the photographer’s sense of aesthetics and emotional impression to override the subject matter in front of the camera. Pictorialism was the first photographic art movement.
Some notable photographers in the Pictorialism movement:

Edward Steichen ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Gertrude Kasebier ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Frank Eugene ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Alice Boughton ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

F. Holland Day ( (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.


Please browse through the list of photographers from group 1 (Straight photographers) and group 2 (Pictorialism photographers) to get a sense of the differences. Then choose one photographer (from any group) and write an analysis of his/her work. You will need to do some research on the photographer and the time period when he/she lived. Write an analysis of the photographer’s works (no more than 2 pages please). Please cite your sources.

*** go to the modules tab (look on the left side of your screen), click on the Photography: A techical recording medium or a means of artistic expression. You will see a list of photographs (one example for each of the artists on this list). These are meant to help you get started. Feel free to use any of these images or find one on your own.

Some points to consider: What was the photographer’s inspiration? Was the photographer self-taught or trained under another artist/school? Did the photographer see photography as art or science? What contribution did the photographer made to the field of photography?

If you have never analyzed a work of art before, here’s some tips on how to start:

Introduce the artist and his/her background (birth place, education, etc.…)
If the artist’s background directly connects to his/her work, include that in your analysis.
Compare the artist to his/her contemporary (artists that are working in the same field or same time period). Note what makes him/her different than the rest.
Pick one of his/her work to use as an example for the rest of your analysis.
Describe this piece of work (literally talk about what you see in the photography such as “There are 2 small flowers in a vase. The vase has a crack on the side. The vase sits on an old table that is leaning against an empty wall. The room is barely very dark with a bit of light peeking out the side of the curtain, etc.…”
After the physical description of the artwork, interpret what you think the artist is trying to project. Don’t over analyze this. Sometime, the artist is just showing you how pretty the flowers are. It is as simple as that. But if the artist is trying to tell you a story, describe that. Doing a bit of research on the artist and his/her background will be very helpful to you.

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