それは「世界にひとつ」を探す旅 ———

■ Photoraphy, as well.

Is Photography Art?

What do you think? Actually I was stabbed with this question when I was a student.

Now that I rethink about it, this is pretty absurd. As I mentioned in the previous essay, it could be the question unable to answer because the “Art” itself, which should be defined in the first place, has been historically interpreted in various ways. Moreover, some of the “Photography” are more like artifacts like watches, some are more like fancy materials, and some are more like city doodles that is becoming a hot topic lately. If you say “Photography” is “Art”, or a “Photography” is Not “Art”, there’s always a counter-example.

The answer for True End should be… Silence.

So, I must stop participating in the barren battle for initiative in the “Art” field, on the contrary, I’d list what kind of works historically there were in the Photography as an Art.

Then in conclusion, I’d like to claim that there are three ways where “Photography becomes Art”, since it is also influenced by the historical interpretation of “Art”.

… Or can we really say there are three sorts of Art Photography?

Historical Interpretation of Photography 0: A technology

No, historically speaking, Photography is just a technology! – First of all, there is an opinion like this.

The photograph, It is believed, was invented in France in 1826 when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce applied asphalt to a metal plate and photographed the landscape from his home window.

Its prototype model is related to the history of Art “Camera Obscura”. The description of it seems to appear in Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscript, which was written some 300 years before from the invention of the photograph. We don’t know who really find it but “Camera Obscula” is a kind of phenomenon, I say. You can see an outside image when a small hole is made in a window of a darkroom where outside light does not enter. The image is miraculously to be reflected on the wall of opposite side, which is turned upside down. Photography as a Technology was invented to fix that image.

Therefore, if the “Photography” was disassembled, we’d have the “Camera Obscura” takes external light, that is Lens, and the “metal plate”, that is Film fixes image. Is it “Photography”? You may feel ambiguous a little but evidences seem to tell that people watched Films directly as photographs at that time.

By the way, this metal plate could only have been made one piece at times in the shooting that took several hours. it was delicate and could easily break, which means it is valuable artifact.

This is important because his successor, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, later perfected this technique and named it Daguerreotype (1839), but people continued to watch plates respectfully anyway. In other words, although Photography was certainly a Technology, what was created was a work of craftsmanship.

Meanwhile, as often happens in the development of science and technology, the invention seems to have occurred not so much from the sole inventor but from multiple regions at the same time.

William Henry Fox Talbot, one of them, simultaneously presented Calotype Photography in Britain. It is said that it was invented before Daguerre, but since he concealed the method, he was not titled the inventor of Photography. Though, looking closely, his method made negative images that the light and dark turned around for some reason. I wonder that was why the title of inventor had to be Daguerre actually.

However, life is sometimes interesting. Talbot, who continued his research, discovered a way to reverse the negative image and to convert it into the positive image later.

From today’s point of view, the invention of this negative-positive method means the invention of that “Photography” in which image taken through Lens is fixed on Paper with Film as a passing point. And I’d say it was the creation of IDEA that the duplicatable image is the “Photography”.

Historical Interpretation of Photography 1: IDEA Seeker

So, it seems that Photography started as a handicraft skill which allow to make plates, and people defined it as the thing that is duplicated on paper from them, then the meaning of “Photography” has become the image that is duplicated from the real world.

Talbot’s Calotype was further developed into Collodion process (1851) and Photographic Plate (1871), which Films were made of less expensive glass that fixes negative image. Kodak founded the company and advertised “You Press the Button. We Do the Rest” in 1888. Therefore it was only 50 years after the invention of the Daguerreotype that Photography became an industrial product.

In the meantime, a number of people learned the Photography as a Technology and became skilled photographers. Some of them are even said to have been famous for it. For example, Nadar. He took not only portraits at his studio but aerial photographs of Paris getting on the dangerous balloon, or took pictures of spooky underground cemeteries with his artificial lighting. You can still get a glimpse of him as a producer who made the most.

With such pure craftsmanship, adventure, and still precious photographs to be made, it may not be surprising that critic Walter Benjamin suggested in 1931 that the best years of photography were in the first 20 and all through the 1850s are the real photographs.

I assume that here is the opinion “Photography becomes Art” rising, which I label it for convenience as <Photography that seeks IDEA>. The idea is that pure handicrafts are the <Art of Universal IDEA> and the period in which the photos were made like that was very short.

However, even today, the trend of turning photographs into handicrafts is still continuing, since Photography has a lot of room for individual manipulation. The American [f.64] group, which was active from 1932 to 1935, is the representative example.

By the way, [f.64] refers to the aperture of the camera. To put it simply, the larger the number, the sharper the image will be in its every corner. On a typical SLR, the aperture is about 22 at most, so [f.64] means the sharpest. Well, kind of.

At that time, as I will explain later, picturesque designed photography was popular as the Art Photography whilst some critics countered to it. I wonder the members who gathered at [f.64] had the same intention. They were allegedly inspired by the same American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who said “I like my photography straight, unmanipulated, devoid of all tricks; a print not looking like anything but a photograph, living through its own inherent qualities and revealing its own spirit.”

That is, “Photography” means the image making skill. The image should be duplicated from the real world, which is the “Art” of “Photography”. Photographer must hold camera as if painter holds brush. Photographer should develop his/her film and print all by him/herself as if painter draws picture. Ansel Adams, a member of [f.64], likened it to playing the piano. I think he believed that “Photography” is the art of doing it with the highest skill that can produce a real replica.

I’d suggest that this concept may still apply to most of the photographers’ basic ideas. In 1934, Fuji Photo Film, the forerunner of Fujifilm, was established, and I believe this concept has spread not only to manufacturers but to users, and in the West, but also in the entire world.

Therefore, I would like to define this concept as <Art of Universal IDEA> in Photography, which I’ll call here <Photography that seeks IDEA>.

Historical Interpretation of Photography 2: Design Follower

Thus, as a handicraft, Photography seems to have been completed in the very early stage, but the industrialization that continues lead photographers to explore “Individuality”. This should be the rise of Photography as an <Art of Individuality and Design>, which I label it again for convenience as <Photography that asks Design>. 

And here, let’s say there are 2 categories in <Photography that asks Design>. One is the Pictorial Design and the other is the Photographic one.

One of the earliest was the Pictorial Design. When Photography began to be the industrialized product, or only a reproduction image of the reality, skilled photographers designed it like a painting with his/her personality and preserved Aura. This was called Pictorialism, and the techniques have come to pro-conspicuous since around 1880, which could lead to modern Photoshop.

I don’t know much about the authors of those days. They don’t get picked up often. But Ernst Schneider, for example. I like his impressive picturesque portraits. The overall tone was made blurry and sparkles were added to it. In short, it looks Insta-like. Pictorialism photos requires a lot more works and skills than Instagram does today, so I think it’s more of an <Art of Universal IDEA> kind of Artisanal Photography.

However, as I mentioned, it has declined as Art Photography since critics pointed out that it is not the real replica. As we all knew, this kind of design and skills contrarily continued to be used in Advertising Photography, and it is becoming a major force with the latest digital technologies once again.

Parenthetically, there is another kind of Design in this “Photography”. And I would like to let Henri Cartier-Bresson be the rep of them, which means the Photographic Design I’m saying is about the “Decisive Moment”.

Well then, what is the “Decisive Moment”?

I think it’s easy to understand if you think about what happened when Photography became industrialized. In my opinion, it meant that it happened to be able to leave the printing to professional printing companies, just as Kodak touted. Bresson neither printed much on his own and left it to a trustworthy person.

Then, how photographers in this clan to get their “Individuality”? Of course, from Filmmaking. It’s the way they cut out the moments and they choose the pictures that creates a sense of personality. This is the Photographic Design, and they make the most of the advantages of industrialization in order to break through the decisive point. It’s about selection and concentration.

The term “Decisive Moment” now seems to have been overused, but I feel there was a great deal of effort by reporters in the press and photo magazines at the same time as the camera like “Leica” became smaller and popular. That should have been the reason the Photographic Design took root as if it were a different “Photography” from the <Photography that seeks IDEA>.

The first issue of the American photo magazine “LIFE” was published in 1936, Robert Capa’s famous soldier picture was reprinted there in 1937, and Bresson established a group of photographers called “Magnum Photo” in 1947, during which the world war was sandwiched between them and the reportages were mass-produced. I guess that’s why Bresson’s “Decisive Moment” (1952), which was published after the war, was so persuasive.

Nowadays, most of the photographs we see are as an <Art of Individuality and Design>, and it may be more natural to say that “Photography” means how to watch personality and sense of a photographer as a designer. <Photography that asks Design>, I think this is the main character today.

Historical Interpretation of Photography 3: As a Duplication Technology

Now, if we do a refresher, it seems that <Photography that asks Design> is the majority of the “Photography” these days. Pictorial Design of advertising photos is counterattacking with digital technology and Photographic Design of news photos is going along with a long-established atmosphere.

However, if you reconsider the <Art of Individuality and Design> in the previous essay, in which Alfons Maria Mucha and Utamaro Kitagawa were supported, it would be easier to understand photographs designed like paintings than to do it another. – It was developed from craftsmanship; You could see some personalities on the design which was made with much efforts of creators.

On the other hand, question marks could be put on the Photographic Design; Isn’t it just luck? Is craftsmanship really based on it? Editors sometimes make different choices aside authors, don’t they? Is there “Individuality” there, to be honest?

The reason for this, I wonder, is that the origin of “Decisive Moment” is not so much from craftsmanship but as from the thesis; “What is Photography?”, “What is Photography that is the duplication of the real world?”.

It should have raised from the <Art of Motivation and Evolution>, which was found from the encounter between “Art” and the Duplication Technology. Remind Rodin’s Art work, don’t you? I think photographers in this clan once again became aware of the “Photography” that is an art of reproduction. In other words, before “Decisive Moment” was established, there was a sprout of <Photography as a Duplication Technology>. It must be the “Photography” as a Modern Art.

One example of this germination is the “Surrealism”, which was influential in painting and other fields as Modern Art in the 1920s. Its movement attempted some artists express their creativities with photographs. This is called Photogram – a form of work in which an object is placed directly on photographic paper to be projected, so it cannot be duplicated even though it is Photography. – One of the famous authors of it is Man Ray. (He called it “Rayograph”.)

In addition, among <Photography as a Duplication Technology> group, I’d like to count Alfred Stieglitz, who was associated with contemporary artists; Paul Strand, whom Stieglitz introduced in 1917 in the magazine “Camera Work”; and Jean-Eugène Atget, reevaluated by Walter Benjamin. Atget could have been only a craftsman who was selling his own street photographs of Paris to painters as materials, but this kind of catalogue photograph was recognized as “Surrealistic”.

Then, what does “Surrealism” mean here? In a nutshell, it means a method of presenting higher level of reality (= surreal) that can be seen through the background of the work, while expressing real subjects as a photograph that is just a replica of the real world.

Here, returning to the work of the “Decisive Moment” again, it seems that it doesn’t only capture shocking moments but also shows the higher realities behind them. I’d like to say the concept of “Surrealism” has been partially adopted to it.

The main stream of <Photography as a Duplication Technology>, after that, has been focusing on the catalogue approach, just like Atget. There is Auguste Zander’s “Antilitz der Zeit (face of the times)” (1929) which portrayed the prewar German people at every social level, and also Typography works by Bernd and Hilla Becher of Germany who catalogued industrial buildings, which was created in the post-war era.

Historical Interpretation of Photography +0: A replica of the chaotic times

So, these are the three ways where “Photography becomes Art”, which I suggested in the first place.

However, the explanation so far seems to be somewhat off the point. These explanations seem to have numbers of problems that cannot be taken at face value. Here are three of them.

First point. It is the problem with “Art” itself; There is a gap from the long-established concept of <Art of Individuality and Design> to the Modern Art that was a sudden emergent, which often lead <Art of Motivation and Evolution> to have been misunderstood.

I mentioned it in the previous essay that <Art of Motivation and Evolution> emerged from the path of evolution taken by artists. The party concerned their value in the environment in which the spread of reproduction technology through modernization was pushing aside Aura Art. But viewers were still familiar with the culture of IDEA, Aura Art, so it should have been difficult for them to grasp it.

It resonated with the artists themselves, I wonder. For instance, the “Surrealism” mentioned above now could be said that it is expressing surreal image that is drown with Picturesque Design as if it were dreams. It may not so much focus on reality. Therefore we could be confused with the suggestion that very realistic photographs made by Paul Strand are categorized as “Surrealism”.

On the contrary, Stieglitz, who had close relationship with contemporary artists, introduced “Surrealism” in “Photography” and [f.64] group must have been influenced by him. Interestingly members of [f.64] recommended pure craftsmanship rather than <Photography as a Duplication Technology>. Their evolution from it, then, was to have got closer to Pictorial Design.

Second point. The IDEA of the “Photography” has become the image that is duplicated from the real world, which caused confusions severely.

Pictorial Design should be easier to understand because of the development of craftsmanship, but it was inapparently denied. On the other hand, Photographic Design cannot be realized unless it is based on the concept of <Art of Motivation and Evolution>, but after all of that had flowed into Picturesque Design, the reality was obscured by news photos “Directed Comprehensively.” It turned out that Capa’s soldier picture was a fake, which was regarded as “Decisive Moment” ally.

Moreover in the case of <Photography as a Duplication Technology>, the IDEA of “Photography” put them into a difficult position, since “Photography” is a reproduction technology itself. Modern Art should be an encounter with it. “Is Photography Art?”, then.

To make matters worse, the third point involved politics. This is because there was an opinion that <Photography as a Duplication Technology> was deeply related to Socialism. It was said the Rousseau’s ideology to realize equal society was the Zander’s aforementioned portraits’ “Surreal” concept that is hidden behind.

It is curious this leftist ideology later evolved into National Socialism, Ethnocentrism, and eventually the Nazis, who were seen as the extreme right. In such circumstances, Zander’s photographic work was, in fact, suppressed by the Nazis. If that’s the case, the question has become whether <Photography as a Duplication Technology> is a leftist group or not. Is <Photography that asks Design> based on the rightist ideology, then?

As a result, things did not go as I planned, and I have to admit there are many difficulties in simply saying “There are three sorts of Art Photography.” I guess these are the reasons that make “Photography” difficult to understand even today. And I suppose the confusion and distortion that we see here was exactly what people of the real world experienced. 

Nevertheless, I’d like to add a sentence below; Photographs, which are reproductions of these experience, have regained their composure somewhat, because the time has passed and become Postmodern era after the war. – It is the time when <Art of Motivation and Evolution>, a form of Modern Art, is gradually recognized.

So, from here on out, we’ll take a look at how the Postmodern has been treated these three “Art Photography”.

Historical Interpretation of Photography +1: Color and the Postmodern

“Postmodern” that is defined by scholars seems to vary from one example to another, but if modern times is an era ruled by <Art of Individuality and Design>, it can be said that Postmodern is an era in which the experience of encounter with the replication technology have become generalized. It must have resulted into the gradual recognition of <Art of Motivation and Evolution>.

I don’t think this is unrelated to the inhumane war that deprived the dignity of the “Individual”. Even if someone was a great hero/heroine with brave heart, he/she could not be able to defeat those machine guns and that atomic bomb already banged. Such inhumane fact made the illusion of “Individuality” disappearthe, and the threat of reproduction technology finally became generalized. As a result, Modern Art gained recognition.

My opinion is that the Photography as an Art reflected to it. One of the most important by-the-side evidences should be the spread of the Color Photography. I have suggested (Photography = Lens + Film), and this essay focuses on the settlement of the Film, so in a way that’s why I’m saying this. Yet, It is especially remarkable for Japan that the Color Photography can be defined as the material of Postmodern era.

This is because it was only after the war the Color Photography was released to the public even though its technology had been owned by Fujifilm as military equipment before the war. Kodak, on the other hand, was the company step ahead of the competition as it began marketing Kodachrome (color slide film) in 1935 and color negatives in 1942.

Therefore, the Color Photography had already existed untill the World War 2 began. Though, since most of the reportage of it should have been published in black and white, It must be reasonable to say; for the general public, it was only after the war that the Color Photography started to take effect. It must have had a sense of the Postmodern liberation.

What I’d mention here most is that the spread of the Color Photography had a major impact, especially because it has become clearer that “Photography” is the duplicated image of the reality and it is an industrial product.

While monochrome photographs can be easily developed and printed by “Individuals”, Color development is difficult to handle by one man because of the necessity to handle hazardous materials. As a result, it seems that most of us have drifted away from the craftsmanship of <Photography that seeks IDEA> and shifted to <Photography that asks Design> or <Photography as a Duplication Technology>.

Historical Interpretation of Photography +2: Converging on Pictorial Design

After the war, I think the meaning of the “Photography as an Art” has gradually shifted to <Photography that asks Design> or <Photography as a Duplication Technology>. I shall refrain though, the majority of them are <Photography that asks Design>, which has 2 roots.

Amongst the Pictorial Design, I would like to count one form in which artists use photographs as a material for their expression. This art form became possible because the Color Photography had been able to be purchased at low prices due to the industrialization. The Photo Collage works also should be classified here (*The development of the “collage” technique by Picasso and Braque dates back to early 20th century).

Andy Warhol could be an artist in this group. The Pop Artist Warhol made silkscreens, so there may be the opinion he was not a photographer however, the form of his work in which duplicated images are superimposed feels like his works are based on “Photography”. The silkscreens look like what have been processed so much that the original image is unable to read. Warhol’s work sould be characterized by the fact that it incorporates techniques of reproduction that are linked to modern society.

As for the Pictorial Design again, I would like to count the form of “Setup”, which is based on the Advertising Photography that follows the trend of Pictorialism. For instance, Cindy Sherman, a photographer who widely considered a precursor to the selfie that we take for granted today. What she photographed was supposed to be a character in a fictional movie or a scene from a drama. It is regarded as an Art Photography.

Then, the difference between the Advertising Photography and the form of “Setup” seems to be only whether there is a sponsor or not.

But, if you reconsider about it carefully, most of the landscape and portrait photographs we see everyday can be said that they are into this built-in screen building, “Set up” series. If we had not made them Art Photography, we would have ignored the <Photography that asks Design>, which occupies the majority.

By the way, don’t you remind something about this kind of picture “Directed Comprehensively”, do you? It’s the Capa’s soldier picture, right? Although Capa’s scandal was criticized, Cindy’s works were exonerated because they have been known as fiction from the start.

In the post-modern era, it can be said that the problem of “Decisive Moment” has been solved in this form; by taking common recognition that the image is a fiction even though it is made in the form of Photography. This phenomenon suggested me to recognize that the <Photography that asks Design>, which should have had two roots, is converging into one, the Pictorial Design.

Nevertheless, where has the “Reality” gone, then? Didn’t you see the IDEA of “Photography” that is the duplication of the Reality? Therefore, I believe that the <Photography as a Duplication Technology> is succeeding the “Decisive Moment” at the time in which such a Reality is becoming thinner.

Historical Interpretation of Photography +3: Exploring ways to Express Reality

Now, as I mentioned earlier, <Photography as a Duplication Technology> was found in the catalogue approach. The reason for this should be the catalog-like expression focuses on copying the subject and does not use arbitrary screen composition, which may be the reason why people are more conscious of Reality. Modern Art photographers do not seek “Decisive Moment” but simply record. 

I think the consequences of that resulted into the controversial exhibitions of “New Color” in America. The group was the trend in the 70’s and 80’s. It is said that they are the first presented Color Photography as Art Photography. You may not be surprised with it now, but the impact can be imagined if you note that the Color Photography is inextricably linked to the Postmodern, which in a way neglects the <Art of Universal IDEA>. “…Is this picture a kind of Art?” – This is exactly the same thing what we often see at Modern Art exhibition.

Their representative might be William Eggleston. By simply shooting an ordinary life with an ordinary camera, he made it a kind of catalogue expression, and confined the life, culture, or era of Southern America at the time of the shooting into his works.

There may be a lot of people who feel a sense of rejection to the fact that it has been presented as an Art Photography, but it seems to me that the production method is as straightforward as it could be for the <Photography as a Duplication Technology> saying that “Surrealism” as its principle. Since, Atge’s production method was carried out intentionally.

Anyway, what I would like you to keep in mind is that there is little political conflict in here. Rather, I even feel a praise of American culture somewhat. I have never heard of his works being affected by the Red Purge.

Meanwhile, when such a straightforward production method has been disclosed, people after that must have to put twists into works in order to stand out their “Individuality”. Thomas Ruff, for example, has a style that uses all kinds of shooting methods.

Interesting thing is Digital Photography appeared at this point. Along with this, photographs have been used as representations to express the Modern age, which is inseparable from the replication technology. It reminds me of Warhol. In addition, it suggests that the previous question has been exactly flipped; “Is Photography Art?” – Modern Art should be an encounter with it.

In summary, I would like to conclude that <Photography as a Duplication Technology> in Postmodern era has become attempts to capture “Reality” using various techniques. It is sometimes a flaw that is hardly recognized in Japan, but I think photographers who think that the real reproduction image is the “Photography” have no choice but to come up with this production method.

Are there three sorts of Art Photography?

So, we’ve seen how the three initial types of Art Photography has been into full of confusions and distortions, while they are changing and easing in the age of the Postmodern.

However, if you look again at the Postmodern works listed above, you will see that they can also be the symbols of each eras, including those listed on the Design side. Because, as Eggleston put it into practice, the representation of the times appears where it’s not Designed, where it’s not intended.

Then, considering that Modern Art Photography, <Photography that explores ways to express Reality>, means what expresses age and culture as “Surreal”, it can be said that deciding whether or not all the photographs deserve to be “Modern Art Photography” depends on the the viewers themselves.

If so, can you really say there are three sorts of Art Photography?

The judgment is also left to the viewers, and I think “Photography,” which is the reproduction of the Reality, seems to occupy a curious position in the “Art” field.

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