Notes on Eastman and Stieglitz

George Eastman and Alfred Stieglitz.” In Photography Until Now by John Szarkowski

I find this particular portion of the expert also applies to drawing, which can be a discipline of art or a medium of literacy and communication. Drawing is perhaps the most fundamental and intuitive artistic skill. As a form of communication, it is innate; yet as a form of artistic expression, it is technical. A similar problem surfaced in photography at the invention of hand-held cameras. When the technology of camera advanced and made the practice of photography common among amateurs and professionals alike, the distinction between arts and non-arts became critical. – yw

“The dedicated amateur who pursued photography as an art could not be expected to like the idea of photography for everyone, and advertising slogan such as “You press the button; We do the rest” brought him to the edge of despair. It was a common article of faith that art was hard and artists rare; if photography was easy and everyone a photographer, photography could hardly be take seriously as an art.”

“The issue of the artistic status of photography, and thus of the photographer, was intimately related to the recent technical revolution. As long as photography was perceived as being an arcane and difficult craft, an aura of prestige clung to the practice, without reference to the quality of the work of the individual practitioner. But once photography became, in the Western world, virtually as common as literacy, it lost its craft mystique. Those who wished to advance the reputation of photography “as an art” felt themselves compelled to solve this problem by making categorical distinctions between instrumental photography, which serve some social or economic need, and artistic photography, which served only abstract artistic virtue.

In the first chapter of his Photography as a Fine Art (1901), Charles Caffin states the modern position with admirable directness: “There are two distinct roads in photography – the utilitarian and the aesthetic: the goal of the one being a record of facts, and of the other an expression of beauty.” Included on his list of utilitarian photographs are those “of machinery, of buildings and engineering works, of war-scenes and daily incidents used in illustrated paper.” At the other end of his ascending scale “there is the photograph whose motive is purely aesthetic: to be beautiful. It will record facts, but not as facts.” Caffin also admitted the existence of intermediate motives, which would presumably produce pictures that were half-factual and half-beautiful.”

 

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