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Modernist Photographers

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In photography masters such as Alfred Stieglitz are closely associated with modernism.  Stieglitz’s photograph “The Steerage” is often sited as the first modernist photograph.  As a gallery owner and avid photographer, he was a prominent figure in the acceptance of photography as art.  In modernism, there are only a select few who are associated with the development of ideas and practices in the medium of photography.  The cubist and dadaist inspired photogram experiments of Christian Schad had in turn inspired the American born, Man Ray.   Man Ray pushed the creative and technical possibilities of this process which he dubbed “rayographs”.  Through his famous photograms, Man Ray became recognised as a major international influence and was associated with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Like László Maholy-Nagy, Man Ray started out using paint and even sculpture instead of the photographic process. However, he soon went onto push the boundaries of light manipulation and is now recognised as one of the great masters of the photographic medium. It is interesting that Maholy-Nagy claimed that he discovered the photogram without knowing the works of either Man Ray or Christian Schad.  The modernist idea of what a piece of art depicts becoming essentially a lie, becomes even more interesting when you relate this to photography. This concept interests me as in my own practice, especially in regards to camera/lens based work. My work changes between a documentary approach and a more constructed or manipulated one. The debate around the subject “does the camera lie?” is most eloquently discussed around these modernist ways of thinking and concepts.