By the early 1920s, photography began to turn to a more modernist aesthetic; the true potential of photography as an artistic medium lay in its capability as a technology. Modern sensibilities were industrialized, commercial, and focused on progress. Straight photography, which espoused unadulterated imagery, ousted the soft-focused, painterly Pictorialism. Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Berenice Abbott, and Ansel Adams all pursued modern visions of form in portraits, landscapes, city scenes, and scientific abstracts.
A “new vision” of photography (a term coined by the Bauhaus’s László Moholy-Nagy), rooted in the machine age of post-World War I industrial consciousness, emerged. There was a rush of photographic experiments and innovations that abstracted reality by removing context, emphasizing form, flattening space, and experimenting with mixed media. The avant-garde artists of the 1920s and 1930s sought to tear down traditional concepts of art and authority.
Surrealist photographers aimed to capture the strange and odd, attempting to both unify and juxtapose fantasy and reality. Many artists staged photographs, made the use of objects in disturbing and provocative tableaus, and blurred and eradicated gender lines. Photography was heavily used in Surrealist literary publications, and French writer/leader of the movement Andre Breton (1896-1966) used photographs by fellow Surrealists Jacues-André Boiffard and Brassaï in two of his works.
Artists like Man Ray were influenced by science photography and created provocative new works with photomontage, photograms, double-exposures, and negative prints. These works emphasized the artificiality of the image. Mirrors were also a common device, used to show what would ordinarily be outside of the photograph’s frame. One significant event in the development of modernist photography of this time was the 1929 Film und Foto exhibition held in Stuttgart, Germany; it was the first major showing of American modernist photographers in Europe.
Found Polaroids .Ithaca, N.Y. : B. Spector, 2008. Altered copy of: Found polaroids / Jason Bitner. Ann Arbor, MI : Quack!Media, 2006.
Chicago-based book artist Buzz Spector is known for his altered books. Photography and Polaroid pictures have figured into his projects, including Creeley’s Olsen (2008). By tearing strips into each page of Bitner’s book on foundPolaroids, Spector created a photo-collage of his own. Limited to ten copies, this is copy number four, signed by the author.
Untitled (train). Photographs and text, Vittorio Santoro. Zurich : Memory/Cage Editions, 1997. gift of the photographer
Vittorio Santoro’s subjects are taken from everyday life but are presented in new contexts to reveal socio-political, aesthetic, or historical forces. Untitled (train) presents minimalist photography of high tension cables taken from a moving train, removing the context and abstracting the viewpoint, resulting in a fragmented, ungrounded perspective.
American collagist Barbara Kruger is known for her layered found photographs paired with bold text that challenges the viewer’s preconceived notions about such themes as feminism, consumerism, power, beauty, and agency. Kruger studied art and design with American photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971).
Self-portrait, upside down. Foreword by Marshall Stax. Ithaca, NY : Bark Productions, 2000.
Self-portrait, upside down illustrates the “Sur(d)ist Manifesto” with digitally manipulated, highly pixilated images that distort perception and alternately blur and emphasize boundaries between objects and forms.
C : a journal of poetry. Vol. 1, no. 4. New York, : Lorenz Gude, September 1963.
Edited by Ted Berrigan and Lorenz Gude, C: a journal of poetry was significant in the development of the Second Generation New York School of poets, which included Berrigan, Joe Brainard, and Ron Padget. The cover of this issue was designed by Andy Warhol from photographs of poets Edwin Denby and Gerard Manlaga. This 1963 cover represents Warhol’s first screen print using Polaroids.
Esquire : the magazine for men, May 1969. William I. Homer papers, gift of William I. Homer
American artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a leading figure in the pop art movement of the 1960s. His work explored themes of celebrity, consumer culture, and materialism. Warhol photographed extensively, making tens of thousands of snapshots and Polaroids during his life. Photography figured highly into Warhol’s work; many of his famous silkscreen paintings were based on photographs.
The cover of this issue of Esquire, the result of pasting two images—one of Warhol pretending to drown and one of an open can of tomato soup—was created by American designer George Lois (b. 1931), who created a total of 92 iconic covers for Esquire between 1962 and 1972, was well known for many of his advertising campaigns, including “I Want My MTV” in the early 1980s.
New York Dada. April 1921. from the William I. Homer papers, gift of William I. Homer
This short-lived journal appeared at the end of the New York Dada movement. French avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp had attempted to launch several other Dadaist periodicals, including The Blind Man and Rongwrong. This issue includes photographs by Alfred Stieglitz and Man Ray. The cover image is a reproduction of Duchamp’s 1921 Belle Haleine: Eau de Voilette, a bottle of Belle Haleine perfume with its label replaced by a Man Ray photograph of Duchamp dressed in drag as his female alter ego Rose Sélavy. Duchamp’s ready-mades consist of ordinary manufactured objects such as pins, combs, and balls of twine modified to become art objects that indict conceptions of taste and inspire spontaneity. Photography easily lent itself to manipulation for Dadaist visions and continues to do so in contemporary art.
Katué Kitasono (1902-1978)
Moonlight night in a bag. Tokio, Japan : Editions Vou, 1966.
Katué Kitasono (penname of Kenkichi Hashimoto) is known mainly as a modernist poet, book designer, and editor of the avant-garde little magazine, Vou, which ran from 1935 to 1978. Vou (pronounced “vow”) published poetry but also emphasized the visual arts, especially with the introduction of concrete and visual poetry in the 1950s. Kitasono began writing in the 1920s and helped introduce Dadaism and Surrealism to Japan, which influenced his photographic aesthetic. This copy is the author’s autograph presentation copy, inscribed to American poet and publisher James Laughlin.
Susan Laufer (b. 1950)
Photogram. New York : Asylum's Press, 1978.
Melva B. Guthrie Bequest
Photograms are images made without the use of a camera by placing objects directly onto a light-sensitive material and then exposing it to light. The usual result is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone dependent on the transparency of the objects used.
Inge Morath (1923-2002)
Saul Steinberg masquerade. New York, N.Y. : Viking Studio, 2000.
gift of Karen Venezky
Austrian photographer Inge Morath joined the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos in 1953. Magnum counted among its founding members Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and David “Chim” Seymour. Through Magnum, Morath was heavily involved with film. Roumanian-American artist Saul Steinberg (1914-1999) may be best known for his cartoons and cover art for The New Yorker, but his paintings, prints, collages and sculptures transcend categorization. His work explores themes of personas and costume, evidenced by his famous paper-bag masks. Morath photographed Steinberg and friends in the masks between 1959 and 1963, predating but bringing to mind Ralph Meatyard’s later photography of masqued family and friends.
This is the photographer’s autograph copy.
Man Ray (1890-1976)
Man Ray, exhibition : Summer 1974. London : The Mayor Gallery, 1974.
gift of Karen Venezky
American modernist artist Man Ray catapulted photography into the avant-garde. Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky) moved in Dadaist and Surrealist circles and worked in a variety of media, most notably painting and photography. His decidedly Dadaist uses of photography include his “rayographs,” photograms named in reference to himself. He often manipulated his images through techniques like solarization and image reversals to suggest dream-like states. Man Ray mentored several twentieth-century photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Lee Miller, Curtis Moffat, and Bill Brandt. This catalog, from a 1974 London exhibition, was limited to 1000 copies.