PIONEERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY: CLASSIC IMAGES FROM THE 1920S TO 1960S
OCTOBER 3 – NOVEMBER 21, 2015
During the critical years spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s, a vital period emerged for the development of the medium of photography that would dramatically alter mankind’s perception and experience of the world. Photography would evolve technically from the limitations of large, heavy cameras with slow lenses and magnesium flash to smaller 35 and 110 mm hand-held cameras which were lighter, faster, and more adept at immediately capturing our surroundings. The modern era, marked by huge cultural, political, and economic changes saw increasing numbers of people both producing and consuming images which firmly brought photography into the forefront. With the growth of the production and dissemination of photography, its acceptance as a burgeoning art form was hotly debated and discussions would arise regarding what specific criteria makes a photograph a work of art.
Photographers were given greater latitude whether they used their lenses to document, invent, or experiment in their creation of photographic work while institutions began to accept and even champion the importance of photography as a cultural and aesthetic enterprise. In particular, individual photographers would emerge during this expansive time that would have a dramatic affect on the medium’s role as a modern art form. In their own unique manners and through a variety of subject matter, they created lasting influences setting precedents for what was possible through the camera. Above all, photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Bill Brandt, and André Kertész included in the exhibition possessed a unique and enduring spirit of discovery by creating photographs that provided durable visual records of the extraordinary modern era. Collectively they empowered and matured the reach and significance of photography.
Upon first using a Leica camera in the early 1930’s, Henri Cartier-Bresson became captivated with the spontaneity of photography and went on to pioneer photojournalism over the next decades. His uncanny ability to capture life on the run helped to define the creative potential of modern photography by showing the world through his images that possess a zest and a compositional balance that energize them. He was a keen observer of international human affairs and also a founder of the influential Magnum Photos Agency.
Edward Weston was a highly influential American photographer of the early to mid-20th century who established a straightforward and exacting style characterized by the use of a large-format camera to create sharply focused and detailed images. His careful compositions, rigorous standards for printing, and his rejection of anything superfluous or artificial are legendary. Weston’s passion for form in his still lifes, portraits, landscapes, and nudes had qualities that seemed particularly suited for expressing the new American lifestyle and aesthetic.
Bill Brandt emerged as a seminal figure in modernist photography through his ability to present the dark and atmospheric world of England as something both haunting and extraordinary. His distinctive vision emerged in the 1930s focusing on documenting the war and economic depression of England and later pictured both landscapes and the stratified society of England. After the war, he turned his focus to the human body and created nudes using unusual perspectives to innovatively transform flesh into abstract landscapes being unconcerned with the prevailing narrow notions of idealized beauty.
André Kertész was a vital influence on photography for both journalism and as an art form particularly for photographers that worked with 35 mm cameras. The Hungarian-born ex-stockbroker is known for combining his seemingly effortless spontaneity with a sophisticated understanding of composition that characterized his practice from the 1920s onward. He captured the poetry of modern urban life with its quiet, often overlooked incidents and odd, occasionally comic, or even bizarre juxtapositions pioneering the photographic tenants for modernism.