Originally, photographs were not intended as ‘Art’, they were documents, records, momentos, press images, family pictures etc. Still today, a large number of photographs are used for these purposes, but an image that invokes emotion the same way that an artwork does can surely be regarded as art.
This shows that a photograph can be interpreted as art when the photographer intended for it to be so, but still raises the issue of whether a photograph can be regarded as art when the photographer did not intend for it to be regarded as such, or the issue did not even come up in the photographer’s mind.
In Stieglitz’ day, photography was regarded as a ‘scientific curiosity’ and nothing else. Stieglitz made it his job to ensure that photography became widely regarded as an art form. This battle lasted his whole life.
Stieglitz believed the best way to get his message across was to use his talent. He tried to win as many exhibitions as possible, and by the time he died had won over 150 awards from all over the world for photography only.
Stieglitz went to Germany in 1881, and he found that Europeans respected photography as an art form much more readily than the Americans. Upon returning to America he found that many regarded the craze simply as a ‘fad’ or hobby, with no real status in the art world.
Here is a list of their ‘objectives’, as described in a leaflet in 1902:
– To advance photography as applied to pictorial expression
– To draw together those Americans practicing or otherwise interested in the art
– To hold from time to time, at varying places, exhibitions not necessarily limited to the productions of the Photo-Secessionists or to American work.
Through photography these writers became aware of the enormous possibilities that the objective world offered for verbal expression. The very presence of the ‘trivial’ detail found in photography forced these writers into symbolic rather than narrative presentations. They forced the reader to look at trivial details which he had never before seen, whereupon the ‘insignificant’ and ‘inconsequential’ became significant.
This raises the question of whether or not literature can be regarded as an art form (but I’ll save that for another dissertation!).
This proves that photography was not just a revolution in it’s own right, but it also revolutionised the art world, literary world and the way that people viewed themselves and their surroundings.
Before his death, Stieglitz said:
“My whole life, has been really dedicated to the fight for all those in whatever field, who insist on doing their work supremely well, and on giving those who are ready to give all of themselves to whatever they may wish to do, a full chance to do whatever they may be fitted to do, and to let them live.”
Thanks to Stieglitz, the impression that the general public had of Photography in America was changed – it was now widely accepted as a valid art form, however the views of many stubborn artists remained unchanged – they simply refused to accept that this medium could be called ‘art’; many still do.