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An Overview of Contemporary Photography from 1980 to the Present

From Imogen, published on 12/02/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Photography > Contemporary Photography: Photography Artists and Art Movements

From food photography to digital cameras, from abstract photography to editing with photoshop, many contemporary artists have been using photography as a means of expression over the past few decades.

It was at the beginning of the 1980’s that photographers started moving away from the humanist photography style of Robert Doisneau to add a personal touch to their work.

Contemporary encompasses elements of many genres and diverse photography techniques.

What is Contemporary Photography?

Artistic movements are often complex to understand and define as the boundaries between movements are sometimes blurred.

This blurriness is down to the fact that the passage from one movement to another is rarely achieved in a single leap.

It takes time for the photographer to evolve their artistic skill, and it’s also worth remembering that movements are usually organized and defined by art historians rather than the artists themselves.

It’s historians, not photographers, who have defined and dated photographic eras.

Contemporary photography is one such era which encompasses many genres. Most photographers and art historians agree that contemporary photography includes any photograph taken from the year 1980 onwards.

As for the eras that preceded it, there are several. These go all the way back to the 1800s, when the camera was invented.

This is a rough guide to the evolution of photography over the centuries:

  • 1839 – 1920: Early photography
  • 1920 – 1980: Modern photography
  • 1980 – Present day: Contemporary photography

So, what does this represent in the world of art?

In the mid-1980’s, anything that was not borne of traditional techniques was referred to as ‘contemporary photography’. In other words, only the photography produced using new technology could be described as ‘contemporary’.

Contemporary photography is defined by the absences of old-fashioned equipment Before the emergence of the digital camera, folding cameras were popular in the early 20th century ¦ source: Pixabay – congerdesign

One of the most important reasons why 1980 is used as a marker for the dawn of contemporary photography is that it was at this point that photography was officially recognised as an art in its own right.

This was a significant point in history for an art which had previously been regarded as a translation or exploration of reality rather than a means of expression.

Long before the arrival of digital photography, it was Bernd and Hilla Becher who first began to think of and use photography as a conceptual art form.

Known for their photographs of industrial buildings, the German couple compared these to the modern cathedrals of the era.

They used many so-called traditional photography techniques to capture these modern structures.

These influential photographers taught their passion by giving photography classes in Germany, inspiring many students to follow in their footsteps, including Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky.

The success stories of Ruff and Gursky are enough of a reason for amateur photographers to consider taking photography courses.

Whether you take beginner photography lessons or an advanced photography course, learning from a seasoned instructor will teach you the basics of photography. Having a good grasp of fundamental photographic techniques will give you the technical skills you need to take your photography to the next level as you learn how to deal with exposure, composition, lens aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, portraiture, landscape photography and studio lighting techniques.

Mastering the photography basics will give the means to have a go at travel photography, street photography and studio photography as well as more advanced styles such as night photography and image editing.

Regardless of your level of photography training, attending photography workshops and tutorials or signing up to online photography courses will be a good learning experience which will give you an opportunity to learn photography tips and tricks that will help you in your work.

Who knows? One day you too could create a pioneering idea and start your own photography business!

As technology evolved, new possibilities became available to photographers, as they were able to experiment with techniques and have more time to practice their photography skills.

Thanks to the advancements in technology, several new concepts emerged, including:

  • Distortion
  • Photomontage
  • Polaroid
  • New equipment
  • Optical illusions
  • Stylistic renewal
  • Mixing of genres
  • Digital art

From the art galleries of London to exhibitions in China, contemporary photography seems to have conquered the world.

Contemporary Photography and Visual Art

Contemporary photography is mainly known for its visual arts side.

It was in the 1980’s that photography was officially recognised as an art in its own right.

Contemporary photography includes visual art as well as documentary photography Where is the line between photography and visual art? ¦ source: Pixabay – Engin Akyurt

The art of photography started to be about much more than photojournalism or illustrating books to make them more appealing.

However, with this new level of recognition came a crack in the photography community.

Instead of being a community of photographers, there was a group of photographers and artists which was held together by the common medium of photography.

This split in the community is evident in the words of Christian Boltanski, who sees himself as more of a painter than a photographer:

Photography is photojournalism, the rest is painting.

Because of this division in the world of photography, we differentiate photographic art from pure photography, which is called ‘straight photography’.

The purpose of both types of images are different in that artistic photographs are exhibited, while straight photographs are used to illustrate a certain subject matter.

Regardless of your chosen format, photography will always be a way to capture, examine and understand your surroundings.

As technologies develop and new equipment becomes available, the art of photography continues to evolve.

One format of photographic art which has captured the minds of many photographers is POMs (which stands for ‘small multimedia pieces’ in French). POMs are short films which use photographs and other mediums to tell a story.

POMs are an example of photography being used for art rather than documenting events.

This kind of visual art gives the artist a means of expressing their emotions or beliefs through photography.

Here are some famous visual photo artists to take inspiration from:

  • Sophie Calle
  • Patrick Chauvel
  • Alain Fleischer
  • Peter Fischli and David Weiss
  • Virginie Boutin
  • William Klein
  • Michel Lagarde
  • Sandro Miller
  • Yan Morvan
  • Pierre and Gilles
  • Sabine Pigalle
  • Christian Boltanski
  • Gilbert and Georges
  • Sacha Goldberger
  • Thomas Ruff
  • Allan Sekula

Raymond Depardon and Subjective Photography

Raymond Depardon is a giant in the world of contemporary photography.

Known across the globe, he founded his first photography agency, Gamma, in 1966, before joining Magnum in 1979.

A true legend for contemporary photographers, Raymond Depardon saw himself as a subjective photographer.

It was Depardon who bridged the gap between aspects of journalistic photography and the questioning of oneself in his work.

Subjective photography is a branch of contemporary photography Subjective photography is about exploring the human condition and the inner psyche ¦ source: Pixabay – Engin Akyurt

Subjective photography charges the photographer with capturing not only the journalistic facts but also depict the emotions of a scene. Unlike portrait photography, subjective photography deeply focuses on the inner mind rather than capturing images of the outside world.

Photography is a means of expression for artists and an image to discuss for art lovers. Artists can, therefore, use subjective photography to share their vision of the world with the masses.

With his reporting on Chile in 1971, Beirut in 1978 and Glasgow in 1980, Depardon’s mission is to capture on camera the defining events of each era.

As his interests turn further towards facts, Raymond Depardon is getting ever closer to humanist photography.

He is well-known for having travelled across France in his caravan. He returned from is journey with a compelling portrait of how he viewed the country at the beginning of the 21st century.

Depardon has continued his journey around the world, photographing everything that describes it.

Contemporary Photography and Pop Art

The artistic movement of the 1960’s known as pop art had a big impact on contemporary photography.

With the arrival of digital technology, photography was becoming easier to exhibit on a larger scale.

Just as with contemporary paintings which are often difficult to understand, pop art in photography also requires some interpretation on the part of the person viewing the image.

Gilbert and George, two performance artists working as a team, used photomontages and other techniques to create original works of art.

Photomontage is the process and the result of making a composite photograph by cutting, gluing, rearranging and overlapping two or more photographs into a new image. Sometimes the resulting composite image is photographed so that a final image may appear as a seamless photographic print.

Described here by Wikipedia, the photomontage technique is an obvious style of contemporary photography – anything is allowed, even the most far-fetched ideas.

The result of these kinds of processes is regarded as art, as opposed to the documentary photography which appears in magazines and newspapers.

This photography technique shares many features with painting, where artwork becomes modified versions of reality.

Contemporary Fashion Photography

The term ‘fashion photography’ denotes a type of photography dedicated to showcase dress and clothing styles often composed of high-fashion pieces worn by models and captured on camera by fashion photographers.

Although professional photography for fashion has existed since the beginning of the century, it continues to evolve as a genre with the passage of time.

In the 1980’s, commercial photography and advertisements began to take up more and more space in the photographic landscape.

At the beginning of the millennium, a new term appeared. This term was ‘image maker’, and described those who saw themselves as artists rather than photographers, even if photography was their main medium.

One of the most well-known fashion photographers is Helmut Newton.

An Australian professional photographer of German origin, throughout his career, Newton worked with the stars of the day, including Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Monica Bellucci.

Click here to read about famous photographs throughout history.

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