During the twentieth century, both fine art photography and documentary photography became accepted by the English-speaking art world and the gallery system. In the United States, a handful of photographers, including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, John Szarkowski, F. Holland Day, and Edward Weston, spent their lives advocating for photography as a fine art. At first, fine art photographers tried to imitate painting styles. This movement is called Pictorialism, often using soft focus for a dreamy, ‘romantic’ look. In reaction to that, Weston, Ansel Adams, and others formed the Group f/64 to advocate ‘straight photography’, the photograph as a (sharply focused) thing in itself and not an imitation of something else.
The aesthetics of photography is a matter that continues to be discussed regularly, especially in artistic circles. Many artists argued that photography was the mechanical reproduction of an image. If photography is authentically art, then photography in the context of art would need redefinition, such as determining what component of a photograph makes it beautiful to the viewer. The controversy began with the earliest images “written with light”; Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Daguerre, and others among the very earliest photographers were met with acclaim, but some questioned if their work met the definitions and purposes of art.
Clive Bell in his classic essay Art states that only “significant form” can distinguish art from what is not art.
There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist; possessing which, in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless. What is this quality? What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? What quality is common to Sta. Sophia and the windows at Chartres, Mexican sculpture, a Persian bowl, Chinese carpets, Giotto’s frescoes at Padua, and the masterpieces of Poussin, Piero della Francesca, and Cezanne? Only one answer seems possible – significant form. In each, lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions.
On February 14 2006 Sotheby’s London sold the 2001 photograph “99 Cent II Diptychon” for an unprecedented $3,346,456 to an anonymous bidder making it the most expensive of all time.
* Conceptual photography
Photography that turns a concept or idea into a photograph. Even though what is depicted in the photographs are real objects, the subject is strictly abstract.