Sam Kacey

Sam's expertise is in Landscape, Portrait, and Travel photography. He and his team also review the best Cameras and Lenses on the market in 2022 for B&H Photo.

Since many people confuse modern photography with contemporary art, it’s not surprising for one to ask the question, “what is modern photography?”

To put it simply, modern photography refers to a very specific period in the history of photography where artists started moving away from traditional methods and styles.

Such classic methods of pictorialist photography signified more direct methods of capturing photos. Traditional pictorial methods were quite similar to documentary methods. The former tried to mimic the painterly styles of art. However, modern artists use their cameras, like mirrorless cameras are popular to snap and create images.

Modern Styles of Photography

Modern styles of photography originated in the early 20th century when there was a noticeable change all over the world in terms of society, industry, and of course, art. In the 1920s, photographers had already started using these mediums for political and social commentary as well as for aesthetics.

During this time, photographers could be seen experimenting with perspectives, light, and new methods of capturing and developing photographs. Much like painters, photographers were also exploring new methods of abstraction and capturing subjects.

The works that were captured in the first half of the 20th Century came to be known as ‘modernist photography’.

Some common styles of modern photography include:

  • Surrealism
  • Abstract photography
  • Dadaism
  • Constructivism
  • Fashion photography
  • Bauhaus
  • Pictorialism
  • X-ray photography
  • Dusseldorf School
  • Photo-Secessionist
  • Straight photography
  • Pop Art

Does Photography Qualify As Modern Art?

Photography is still considered a relatively new art form since it is only about 150 years old. This kind of art is still a lot more recent than other types of art such as sculpting and painting. Since it is so new, most of the features of photography art were invented during the modernist art movement.

Photography was a huge part of the contemporary and modern art movements that took place during the first half of the twentieth century. The invention of photography further dramatically changed the course and purpose of many other artistic styles.

When Did the Era of Modern Photography Begin?

Photography first came into being in 1826 thanks to Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, despite his discovery being more of an experiment and less of a work of art. This period of modern photography was approximately as long as other periods of modern art.

Modern photography entered its nascency during the twentieth century (or in the 1900s) and lasted until the 1960s. However, modern photography managed to influence contemporary photography. Hints of this art form can still be seen to date.

Contemporary photography, which is often referred to as modern photography, is actually the work produced by living artists and was practiced after the 1960s.

Who Was the Father of Modern Photography?

Most photographers know Alfred Stieglitz as the father of modern photography. Even if they think someone else deserved this title, they will at least agree that he was among the pioneers of modern photography. A long time back, when most artists were stuck in their respective traditions, Stieglitz dared to defy the norm and broke out of the mold.

Stieglitz took photography into a whole new era of artistic expression. This man was also undoubtedly among the pioneers of photography and has also been credited for being the founder of Pictorialism and Photo-Secessionist photography movements. Since he was a groundbreaking artist, he was recognized as a forerunner in the modern era of photography.

Most Well-Known Photographers

Most well-known photographers of the time created their artwork in the modernist era. Some of the most famous photographers during this time include:

  • Alfred Stieglitz
  • Gordon Parks
  • Joan Miró
  • Richard Avedon
  • Pablo Piccaso
  • Man Ray
  • Diane Arbus
  • Imogen Cunningham
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Dorothea Lang
  • Edward Weston
  • Andreas Gursky
  • August Sander
  • David Hockney
  • Rene Magritte

The Characteristics of Modern Photography

Most images captured during this era were emphasized with the help of sharp detail and focus. For the most part, straight photography had laid down the foundation of all the other innovations added to modern photography, such as documentary photography, photojournalism, snapshot photography, and street photography.

Modern photography also later gave birth to movements, such as Constructivism. This encouraged photographers that believed in modern photography to help construct and not simply document what they see in the real world.

As hard as all of this may sound, you will do yourself a favor if you experience modern photography instead of just reading about it.

Reminiscence In Real-Time

Most of our photos nowadays are meant to be shared all over the world so people can reminisce about what is being experienced by us in real-time.

Very few people could have predicted that we would have such an intimate relationship with photography. The practice of obsessively recording our lives is now also affecting how we remember and experience the world.

People nowadays experience more moments through cameras and spend a lot of the remaining time looking at these photos on their phones. If there is any time to spare afterward, we start to watch the lives of other people.

Mobile phones and modern experiences go hand in hand. We travel the world to search for moments to keep forever, which later change how we experience our surroundings. Based on how many photos we capture now, it isn’t surprising how photos impede real life. There are a lot of us who need to be told to put our phones down to live in the moment.

Fun Fact: Social Media Habits Can Affect How We Store Memories

Science tells us that intensive social media habits could impair how our minds store memories. In 2018, researchers found that the participants, in their experience, were having trouble recalling the objects they had photographed as opposed to those who simply observed them in the moment. This is referred to as the ‘photo-impairment effect,’ which was first hypothesized in 2014.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve answered your question, “what is Modern Photography” there are only a couple of things that need to be said.

Photographs will continue to work as they traditionally did as art, documentary proof, and as an aid to our memories. Still, we see a world that doesn’t just want to see the world as something they would like to capture and freeze, but as something, they would like to communicate with.

When photos are perceived as something a lot more important than the context, the entire experience changes. Since the moment passes and the pictures remain, the moments are either forgotten or remembered correctly thanks to photos preserving their visual essence.

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