1.4 What is a photographer?

Marius de Zayas (1880-1961) closely allied to the 291 gallery. Photography and Photography and Artistic Photography first published Camera Work no 41 (1913)

de Zayas makes a dichotomous distinction between:

the ‘artist photographer’ who tries to represent something from within themselves as a ‘systematic and personal representation’ that then applies this to study of external form – an example being Steichen.

Steichen images from Google

‘photographers’ who try to represent external reality based on ‘free and external’ investigation and research, bringing these different objective elements together into one communicated image – an example being Stieglitz.

Stieglitz images from Google

I see this distinction as continuing to be valid, but more in terms of a continuum than a dichotomy. As a researcher I am very well aware that practically all research (even scientific research but particularly social research) is inevitably informed by subjective perspectives on the important questions to ask, how to ask them and how to analyse the responses. In addition there are considerable individual as well as cultural variations even in eg perception of colour and shape. On the other hand pure abstraction and subjectivity is also nearly impossible as our thought processes are dependent and in many ways determined by external experience.

The extremes of the continuum have arguably become further apart as digital imaging has significantly broadened the possibilities for artist photographers and technological advances have enabled possibilities for reproducing a greater range of tones and colours to represent and objectively calibrate (eg through use of histograms) to what the photographer concludes as ‘external reality’.

A further element that does not come into de Zayas’ framework is the response of the viewer and the degree to which anticipated responses of different audiences affect both the investigation of external reality and ways of communicating subjectivity. Digital media offer interesting new possibilities for photographer/viewer interactivity.


key quotes

‘Photography is not Art, but photographs can be made to be Art…

…The difference between Photography and Artistic-Photography is that, in the former, man [sic!!!!] tries to get at that objectivity of Form which generates the different conceptions that man has of Form, while the second uses the objectivity of Form to express a preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion. The first is the fixing of an actual state of Form, the other is the representation of the objectivity of Form, subordinated to a system of representation. The first is a process of indignation, the second a means of expression. In the first, man tries to represent something that is outside of himself; in the second he tries to represent something that is in himself. The first is a free and impersonal research, the second is a systematic and personal representation.
The artist photographer uses nature to express his individuality, the photographer puts himself in front of nature, and without preconceptions, with the free mind of an investigator, with the method of an experimentalist, tries to get out of her a true state of conditions…

Up to the present, the highest point of these two sides of Photography has been reached by Steichen as an artist and by Stieglitz as an experimentalist.
The work of Steichen brought to its highest expression the aim of the realistic painting of Form. In his photographs he has succeeded in expressing the perfect fusion of the subject and the object. He has carried to its highest point the expression of a system of representation: the realistic one.
Stieglitz has begun with the elimination of the subject in represented Form to search for the pure expression of the object. He is trying to do synthetically, with the means of a mechanical process, what some of the most advanced artists of the modern movement are trying to do analytically with the means of Art.

????I am not sure I understand this.

It would be difficult to say which of these two sides of Photography is the more important. For one is the means by which man fuses his idea with the natural expression of Form, while the other is the means by which man tries to bring the natural expression of Form to the cognition of the mind.

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