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Classic Themes in Photography >

37 - Purity

Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrote:

We believe that labels are important, but mostly for bottles of wine.1

You may discover that you're in some sort of photographic group.

There are all kinds of groups within photography.

I was coming off a trail when a man and woman, with cameras around their necks, approached me.

Conversation was made about their cameras.

Mine was still in my bag.

After a few words, the woman surprisingly, if you believe the stereotype that men are more interested in equipment than are women, asked me what brand camera I used.

I received a label of being a Nikon photographer.

They were Canon photographers.

I didn't care, but I sensed that they did.

They placed me in a camera-brand group, a not very important group to me.

You may not have thought much of being in the group, or may even not have known you were in the group, until you read or heard something disparaging about your group.

We place some people into our group, the in-group. Everyone else goes onto the out-group.

In-group/out group status is a basic human consideration.

This cognitive categorization often has an emotional valence of being clean or unclean.

Those in the out-group are felt to be unclean in some fundamental way.

An aside . . .

Take the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) to learn how we associate certain traits with white people, and others with people of color.

Back to our story . . .

In the last section, the taking of photographs was contrasted with the making of photographs.

As described, there is a considerable overlap of the two groups.

For example, Ansel Adams, known for seemingly recording what was before his camera, a taker of photographs, described himself as being a maker of photographs.

You don't take a photograph, you make it.2

Adams would pre-visualize the final print, as he was preparing to make the photograph.

The taker and maker groups were primal in art photography, and still have memberships today.

The painter Sir William Newton, in 1853, suggested that photographs would be more like works of art if they were out-of-focus and retouched.3

In the 1800s and into the twentieth-century, the pictoralists were the popular group.

Their photographs were often out-of-focus and retouched.

O. G. Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson used combination printing to create allegorical photographs from many negatives.

Their most famous photographs are Two Ways of Life and Fading Away.

They sought to do what painting was doing.

The photo-secessionists, or straight photographers, sought to do what cameras naturally do.

Cameras can record great detail, with objectivity.

Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944), a poet and critic, wrote in 1904:

Why then should not a photographic print look like a photographic print?4

The photo-secessionist were led by Alfred Stieglitz, who published a magazine called Camera Work, and had a gallery called 291.

Paul Strand was featured in the last two issues of 1916 and 1917, and in the gallery in 1916.

Steiglizt wrote that Strand's work was:

... brutally direct.

Devoid of all flim-flam; devoid of trickery and of any "ism"; devoid of any attempt to mystify an ignorant public, including the photographers themselves.

These photographs are the direct expression of today!5

Along with Stieglitz, the photographers in the f/64 Group, including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham, also left pictorialism behind.

Adams wrote:

Group f/64 became synonymous with the renewed interest in the philosophy of straight photography: that is, photographs that looked like photographs, not imitations of other art forms.

The simple straight print is a fact of life—the natural and predominant style for most of photography's history—but in 1932 it had few active proponents.6

The photography historian, Beaumont Newhall, wrote:

Their aesthetic of straight photography: any photograph not sharply focused in every detail, not printed by contact on glossy black and white paper, not mounted on a white card, and betraying any handwork or avoidance of reality in choice of subject was "impure."7

Don't let anyone, even a straight photographer, tell you that your photography is not pure (with a few exceptions).

Photography is a big tent.



3 Newton, William. (1853, March 3). Journal of the Photographic Society, 1, 6.

4 Hartmann, Sadakichi. (1904, March). A Plea for Straight Photography. American Amateur Photographer 16, 101-109. Reprinted in Newhall, B. (1980). Photography: Essays & images. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

5 Stieglitz, A. (1917, June). Camera Work, 49/50, p. 36. Reprinted in Newhall, B. (1980). Photography: Essays & images. New York: Museum of Modern Art.



7 Newhall, B. (1982) A history of photography. New York: Little, Brown & Company.