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Bringing to Light the Growth and Artistic Vision of 19th & 20th Century Photography
October 25, 2012 5:49 PM   Subscribe

The argument over whether photography should be considered an art form seems laughable to us today. Yet, beginning in the 1880s and lasting into the 20th century, members of amateur photographic clubs and societies the world over deemed the topic of artistic photography worthy of a decades-long shouting match. PhotoSeed, representing an evolving online record of this early fine-art photography movement, is a rich collection of photographs representing numerous vintage processes. From delicate platinum to exquisite hand-pulled photogravures, images produced singularly or published in portfolios and journals, as well as vintage source material, investigate the roots of the online galleries with the PhotoSeed Highlights.
posted by netbros (26 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm taking a history of photography class now (if you are in Philadelphia... join us!). We just looked at the pictorialists including Anne Brigman, Edward Steichen, Robert Demachy. What an amazing period in photography art!
posted by sgarst at 6:18 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The argument over whether photography should be considered an art form seems laughable to us today

Right. Now "digital isn't real photography" and "Instagram isn't real digital."

In the immortal words of Garth Algar, "We fear change."
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:19 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm legitimately curious: Are there really that many mediums that haven't ultimately been considered to be art on some level?

Video games are still up to debate, but that's mostly because the medium's only been around for ~30-40 years, and only really hit its stride with the advent of cheap home computers and well-equipped consoles.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:19 PM on October 25, 2012



I'm legitimately curious: Are there really that many mediums that haven't ultimately been considered to be art on some level?


Poetry. In fact it has always been considered art. Which TYPES may be up for debate. But Poetry has long, long standing.

As for never considered art? Macrame.
posted by The Whelk at 6:22 PM on October 25, 2012


Video games aren't up for debate at this point. They're in museums, there are critics that treat them as an art form, they're studied as pieces of art in universities, and the people who make and consume them treat them as art.
posted by empath at 6:23 PM on October 25, 2012


Poetry. In fact it has always been considered art

I'm not sure that's the case, the Greeks considered poetry to be religious for a long time, and that poets were simply conduits for the gods. I'm not sure that they always appreciated poets as artists, per se.
posted by empath at 6:30 PM on October 25, 2012


Like how video games are not considered art by some?
posted by paladin at 6:37 PM on October 25, 2012


The biggest problem is linguistic. We have no easy way in English of distinguishing between the 'art feeling' we get from experiencing something and the name we call a human creation that evokes that art feeling.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:00 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Actually Photography's fight to be considered art is a really interesting story and I hope everyone checks out the FPP links in detail but what always gets me is is that there was this whole genre of early photography where they cut up and arranged huge photographs from lots of different ones to create a single scene like you'd see in a standard Narrative Victorian Salon painting and used this to show they where JUST LIKE PAINTERS in crafting and creating the perfect angle/light/symbolism for everything in the picture to be read and that's super funny.
posted by The Whelk at 7:00 PM on October 25, 2012


I'm not sure that's the case, the Greeks considered poetry to be religious for a long time, and that poets were simply conduits for the gods. I'm not sure that they always appreciated poets as artists, per se.

There wasn't really a clear distinction between art and religion at the time, which is a longer discussion, but the religious impulse behind the Greek concept of beauty is pretty well established.
posted by The Whelk at 7:02 PM on October 25, 2012


Some are still arguing.
posted by normy at 7:12 PM on October 25, 2012


If you are interested in reading more about whether photography is or should be considered "art," there is a wonderful short essay by John Berger titled Understanding a Photograph. You can find it quickly and easily via Google, although I don't see any sources that I'm comfortable linking here.
posted by cribcage at 7:20 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, is it art? Yes, it is.
posted by a non e mouse at 7:28 PM on October 25, 2012


I'm legitimately curious: Are there really that many mediums that haven't ultimately been considered to be art on some level?

Avant-garde aka experimental film has always been a bastard child in the art world. In most cases, the product of a single person working in the medium, it lacks the commodity that is unique and can be sold. Galleries and museums seem to shun the vast majority of time-based art. There is a huge variety of this type of film but seeing it is hard, and everyone equates film with Hollywood and expects the same of this form. A difficult and expensive medium in which to create art. To do so is because of the artist's passion as money and fame aren't in the offing here.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:14 PM on October 25, 2012


It's interesting how many of us thought immediately about video games.... probably proof, in and of itself, that they're art, when it comes instantly to the fore for so many people.

I liked what Gabe said about that, over at Penny Arcade: how can something that is made of art not be art? From the textures to the music to the sound effects, every component of video games is independently considered an art form, but somehow the composite fails to qualify? Sheesh.

We don't compare photography, really, with oil painting. We recognize that they are both art forms, and I personally think that oil painting is much more difficult, but probably not everyone agrees. That's part of why we don't really compare them. Likewise, we don't really compare books and movies that much, though we may argue over which version of a particular story is superior. (I'm usually on the book side of that argument, though not always.)

A new art form doesn't have to compare to any other art form to be art. It just exists. Is a Rembrandt better than a Frank Lloyd Wright? Is Casablanca better than a Ming vase? Is Harry Potter better than the Eiffel Tower?

Maybe a better definition of art is: did it change its surrounding culture? And, by that metric, I'd argue that Super Mario Brothers had a very noticeable impact. I'm not sure any computer game has gotten to the level of cultural relevance of the picture of raising the Iwo Jima flag, or the serviceman kissing the random girl on the street in New York at the end of WW2, or the picture of that stunning Afghani girl in National Geographic.

But, at the same time, cheesy little Super Mario Brothers, running on primitive hardware, beats at least 99% of all the pictures ever taken.
posted by Malor at 8:27 PM on October 25, 2012


For any photographers or interested viewers, there is a book called "The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes" by Christopher James which details how many of these vintage methods of developing pictures work and the nuts and bolts of how to do them yourself. I found it to be a very fascinating and informational book.
posted by incolorinred at 8:30 PM on October 25, 2012


The argument over whether photography should be considered an art form seems laughable to us today.

Not at all. My art school excluded photography from the curriculum until the late 1960s. It was not considered a fine art by the traditionalist Dean, who determined that the only studio majors would be in painting/drawing, sculpture, and printmaking. Photography was considered an "applied art" and thus a technical trade not suited for fine arts education.

He has a point. And one of my two studio majors was photography. Unfortunately, this snobbery about the technical aspects of photography has a downside. The photography work I see lately from my alma mater's studio majors (and even their instructors) is so lacking in technical skill as to be laughable.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:31 PM on October 25, 2012


As for never considered art? Macrame.

Oh really?
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:38 PM on October 25, 2012


Everyone talking about videogames, you're needed in the Frog Fractions thread.
posted by RobotHero at 9:11 PM on October 25, 2012


I can actually see that photography was not considered an art form at the time. Back then, hand created art was in pretty much all facets of society. Advertisements were all drawn by hand, or painted, or etched. That was the only way publications or signs or whatever could be created. If you could draw well, you'd have a job.

Cameras were still the new kid on the scene then. You push a button and you get the picture as you see it. Hey, where's the art in that? Fortunately, society is evolved well past the point that we were at then. Nowadays the debate is over whether something you create in Photoshop is real art. (Yes, yes it is.)
posted by azpenguin at 10:59 PM on October 25, 2012


I don't think the issue is quite as salient for videogames. There was a natural debate over photographs because of the obvious comparison with paintings and other pictorial art, which they could and did replace in certain cases.

For videogames there isn't really any older, high-prestige art form they can be compared with or displace (Intellectual personal performance art board games? Do those exist? I hope so), so the question doesn't have the same bite.
posted by Segundus at 2:25 AM on October 26, 2012


I'm looking forward to gifs being accepted as art by the general public as well.

Great post.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:58 AM on October 26, 2012


The Whelk, can I buy you some punctuation? Please?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 AM on October 26, 2012


(Intellectual personal performance art board games? Do those exist? I hope so)

Qí was one of the Four Arts required of the gentleman-scholar in ancient China. You'd know it by its Japanese name, "Go".

I would argue that Magic: the Gathering, Warhammer, and friends should qualify, but they haven't been around as long as photography that I know of.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:04 AM on October 26, 2012


I was blown away by attending an exhibit on Pictorialism. The aesthetic appeal and craft was immediately evident, but you could see the photographs trying to mask their own modernity.
posted by jade east at 8:36 AM on October 26, 2012


Is it laughable cause most photography is not in any way art?
posted by mikoroshi at 1:42 PM on October 26, 2012


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