John Szarkowski’s book Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art is one of the best ways to learn not only about the history of photography, but also about photography’s aesthetics as well. Szarkowski, the former Director of the Department of Photography at MOMA from 1962 to 1991, pairs 100 photographs with a brief and insightful essay. The combination of image and text causes the reader/viewer to go back and forth and as you look at each photograph repeatedly, you add to the richness of your own viewing.
Photographer Gordon Parks, born 1912 and died 2006, was one of the most important figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, race relations, poverty, civil rights and honest depictions of urban life, Parks’ work provides an amazing chronicle important aspects of American urban life in the last half of the 20th century.
Links for this episode:
Photographer James Van Der Zee was active from the 1920s through the late 1970s, working primarily in his native Harlem neighborhood in New York city. Through his elegant portraits and images of social, religious and athletic groups, he created an intimate narrative about his community, showing the world a part of America that was rarely seen.
Links for this episode:
- James Van Der Zee in the Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
- The Studio Museum of Harlem is the custodian of a large archive of Van Der Zee’s work
- Van Der Zee’s funerary portraits
When the exhibition The Family of Man opened in January of 1955, 60 years ago this month, visitors were greeted by more than 500 photographs and these words by the poet Carl Sandburg:
“People! Flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams, among lovers, eaters, drinkers, workers, loafers, fighters, players, gamblers. Here are ironworkers, bridgemen, musicians, sandhogs, miners, builders of huts and skyscrapers, jungle hunters, landlords and the landless, the loved and the unloved, the lonely and the abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate-one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being.”
Links for this episode:
- Family of Man Re-installation in Luxembourg
- Professor Fred Turner’s web page
- The Family of Man and the Politics of Attention in Cold War America - Fred Turner’s great essay on the exhibition (PDF)
- The Family of Man book on Amazon
Photographer Lisette Model, born in Vienna, Austria in 1901 and died 1983, was an important street photographer of the early 20th century, defining much of what would be considered part of the street photographer’s aesthetic for decades to come.
Welcome to the History of Photography Podcast 2.0!
Having retired from my college teaching job, I’m no longer teaching the photo history class, but I have lots of other irons in the fire and want to continue the podcast with some new topics and ideas.
A complete semester of the History of Photography class will still be available online, as well as some other resources.
Links for this episode:
The 15th and final class session examines documentary and conceptual photography, looking at the motivation and rationale behind them. We also try to tie up the ideas of the course with some concluding remarks.
During his 29-year tenure as Director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the great curator and photographer John Szarkowski (1925 to 2007) changed the way the world saw photography.
This short class session introduces Szarkowski’s work and was followed by a film about him.
The middle of the 20th century was a time of tremendous change in all areas of the world and especially in the world of photography. This class session looks at the changes that photography experienced during the atomic age through an examination of the cultural, political and artistic climate of the time.
Is any photograph real? This question comes up as we trace the trajectory of the manipulated image in this class session. We also try to see if we can figure out where our digital photographic age is taking us and whether we want to go there.
One of the great characters in the history of the medium, Alfred Stieglitz was also one of the most influential photographers and promoters of photography of the 20th century. In this class, we look at Stieglitz and the group of photographers and other artists he gathered around him. We also try to examine why what Stieglitz did and what he said were often two different things.
A slightly shorter class session, as we cover three smaller topics: 1) the ideas surrounding stereoscopic photography, 2) the way 19th century photographers handled photographing standard subjects; once you take away subject, what other choices do photographers have to make? and 3) Rephotography: how does subject matter change over time and what does that mean for photographers?
The interactive relationship that painting and photography have had for 174 years is the topic of this class session. We attempt to look at how painting influenced photography and vice-versa. We also look briefly at how what photographs “look like” influence our understanding of what they are.
Photography as a form of transportation is the topic for class #5. We look at how the advent of wet-plate collodion technology spurred the advance of travel and landscape photography, with a special emphasis on photography of the American west. There is also a brief exploration of 20th century photographers who went “on the road” as well as a look at the way 21st Century technology like Google Earth, Gigapan and Photosynth are changing the way in which we are able to see the distant parts of the globe for ourselves.
The 4th class meeting starts a more conceptual approach to the medium’s history. We look at 19th, 20th and some 21st century portraits and see if we can draw some conclusions about what makes a good portrait photograph. We also see if we can draw some parallels with the words and ideas of the Transcendentalist thinkers and writers Emerson and Thoreau and see if they can help us illuminate what portraiture means.
- Slides for this class session
- Handout for this class session
- Facebook Page for Jeff Curto’s Podcasts
In this second part of a two-part survey, we continue our fast trip through the history of photography, attempting to get a handle on who did what, when they did it and how it happened. We start in around 1880 and finish up in the 1990s.
Class session #2 is the first part of a two-part overview of the history of photography; a sort of “condensed” history in order to get a sense of the medium’s “who, what, when and where.” This week, we cover from 1800 B.C. to 1888 A.D.
For more information about the podcast, visit this blog page.
In this first class session, we spend some time looking at some of the problems that the photo historian faces, including an introduction to the pioneering work of Daguerre and Fox Talbot.
Field Trip! The Photo History class visits the The Mary L. and Leigh B. Block Photography Study Room at the Art Institute of Chicago, giving us the opportunity to see original images from the history of the medium.
The Art Institute of Chicago:
The 5th and final Photo History Intersession commemorates the anniversary of the death of 19th century photographer Charles Dodgeson. Dodgeson, better known by his writing pen name of Lewis Carroll, was an important and interesting photographer as well as an author.
Alice Liddell – Photograph by Charles Dodgeson aka Lewis Carroll (left) and Julia Margaret Cameron (right)
Click images for larger views
The 4th Photo History Intersession looks at two rather dramatically opposed technical applications of photography: The first X-Ray image, made by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1896 and the first auroral (northern lights) photograph made by Martin Brendel in 1892.
(left) First X-Ray image by Wilhelm Röntgen – 1896 & (right) First auroral (northern lights) photograph by Martin Brendel (1892)
In the third History of Photography Intersession, we look at some interesting events from January first, as we commemorate the birth date of photographer William Klein, the anniversary of the death of Edward Weston, some facts about George Eastman and his inventions and the birth of the Associated Press Wirephoto.
- William Klein at Masters of Photography
- Edward Weston at Masters of Photography
- George Eastman Biography from Kodak.com
- The Associated Press
The second “intersession” history of photography podcast commemorates the anniversary of the death of French photographer Robert Demachy, who was active around the turn of the 20th century, as photography was trying to find its artistic self.
In the first of a few “intersession” podcasts between the fall and spring semesters, we commemorate the birth date of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith (1918) and the anniversary of the death of photographer Bill Brandt (1983).
On this date in 1926, National Geographic Magazine published color underwater photographs; a photographic first. This wasn’t the first attempt at underwater photography, however; photographers had been taking pictures below the waves since 1856.
Alexander Gardner photographed the hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators on July 7, 1865. This image and a pair of Gardner’s portraits of two of the men who are about to be executed are the subjects of this Photo History Summer School session.
Click on images for larger views:
Above Left: Alexander Gardner – The “cracked glass” Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, February 1865
Above Center: Alexander Gardner – Portrait of Lincoln Conspirator David Herold
Above Right: Alexander Gardner – Portrait of Lincoln Conspirator Lewis Payne (AKA Lewis Powell – his original name)
Above: Alexander Gardner – The Hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators, July 7, 1863
Powerful and horrific photographs of the effects of the Battle of Gettysburg by Timothy O’Sullivan and Alexander Gardner are the subject of today’s Photo History Summer School.
Click Images for a larger view
Above: Timothy O’Sullivan – A Harvest of Death – July, 1863
Above: Alexander Gardner – The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, July, 1863
In this summer school session, we explore two remarkable photographers; the Vietnamese photojournalist Nick Ut whose best-known image was created on this date and the Chinese pictorial master Don Hong-Oai, who died on this date in 2004.
Links for this session:
Today’s summer school session is all about color.
On this date in 1904, The Parisian brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière presented their patented color photographic process, the Autochrome, to the French Academy of Sciences. The Autochrome was the first commercially feasible color photographic process; the first time photographers could reliably produce color images.
This is date is also the birthday of one of the great color photographers of the 20th century, Pete Turner. Turner, born in 1934 in Albany, New York, has had a long history of using color as subject. His photographs contain raw, punchy often startling color and have been like that since long before it was fashionable to do so.
Some Autochrome and Pete Turner images:
Some links for this session
In today’s May 25th edition of Photo History Summer School, we note the birth dates of the avant garde Cech photographer Jaroslav Rossler and the oddly surrealistic American photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard as well as the anniversary of the death of the preeminant war photographer Robert Capa.
Some images by Rossler, Meatyard and Capa:
Cornell Capa, the photojournalist and tireless advocate of humanistic photography died today, May 23, 2008. He was 90 years old. A great and committed photographer, Capa’s heartfelt images were often overshadowed by two other elements in his life. One was the photography of his brother, the pre-eminent war photographer Robert Capa. The other was the founding and early management of the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York, considered by many to be one of the most important photographic resources in the world.
Photographs (below) by Cornell Capa – click to enlarge
It’s summer, but photo history doesn’t rest… May 13th is the anniversary of the birth of Czech photography Jan Saudek (1935, Prague) and also the anniversary of the death (1980) of German photographer Otto Umbehr, known as Umbo. This “summer school” podcast briefly presents their work.
Some images by Jan Saudek & Umbo
Websites for this podcast:
From the very beginning of the medium, photographers have wanted to portray their sense of wonder and awe in the face of the natural world through the camera’s lens, often offering up nature as the Great American Cathedral. This romantic tradition continues, but the mid-20th century saw a change in the way photographers looked at the world around them; a change that altered the face of photography. By looking at photographs from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, we’ll explore the ways photographers have recorded and interpreted nature with the camera.
- Mayslake Nature Study and Photography Club – Oakbrook, IL
- The Machine in the Garden Revisited – American Environmentalism and Photographic Aesthetics (PDF) – an article by Deborah Bright
- Handout for this podcast episode
- Slides for this podcast episode
- Text Transcription of this Podcast – Audio transcription by rev.com