Photography By Bate, David; Sheehi, Stephen; Ennis, Helen; Chen, Shuxia; Fraser, Karen M.; Kwon, Heangga; Heeren, Alice; Bartholomeu, Cezar; Holá, Mariana; Bate, David; Sheehi, Stephen; Ennis, Helen; Heeren, Alice; Chen, Shuxia; Kwon, Heangga; Bartholomeu, Cezar; Holá, Mariana; Fraser, Karen M.

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REMO24-1
Published: 01/10/2017
Retrieved: 13 June 2024, from


The most well-known discourse of photographic modernism is that initiated in the USA by Alfred Stieglitz, and developed around his New York journal Camera Work between 1903 and 1917. Other key modernisms in Europe include the Constructivist ideas developed by Alexander Rodchenko in Russia, the Surrealists in France, and a variety of versions of “new vision” thinking about photography in Germany.

In New York, Alfred Stieglitz drew an amalgamation of ideas from Europe, partly from photographic pictorialism but also post-impressionism and Cubist art alongside his new US art criticism. Stieglitz took the basic premise from pictorialism that art photography is found in the subjective rather than objective aspect of the picture. He merged this idea into a specific set of characteristics to describe photographic realism, which he first identified in the work of Paul Strand in 1916; Strand had developed abstraction and a simplified view of subject matter. Stieglitz invested this new mode of seeing with the idea of the artist-photographer’s feelings being invested in the picture. A new “modern” way of looking at ordinary life paved the way for a string of other photographers to identify themselves as modernists.

Modernism is a complex term in any field whether used either as a noun or an adjective. As a noun relating to photography, modernism is associated with the idea of advancing new aesthetic values beginning in the 1900s through to the late 1930s. To be modern in this period was to be identified with new subject matter and new ways of seeing. Usually regarded as progressive and modern, there were several different versions of what this meant during this time. The most well-known discourse of photographic modernism now is the one initiated in the USA by Alfred Stieglitz. Developed around his New York based journal Camera Work between 1903 and 1917, this version is characterized by the “straight” photograph. Other modernist movements in Europe include the Constructivist ideas developed by Alexander Rodchenko in Russia, the dream-based Surrealists in France, and a variety of versions of “new vision” looking in Germany. In this respect we might be better to describe modernism as a series of different ideas about how to be modern in the photographic image. Composition and subject matter or content are the two key components of the modern photograph, but these are also related to the values and views of the photographer and their role in modern culture.

In New York, Alfred Stieglitz amalgamated ideas from Europe, partly from photographic pictorialism but also post-impressionism and Cubist art, alongside his passion for a new US-based art photography. Stieglitz took the basic premise from pictorialism that art photography is found in the subjective rather than objective aspect of the picture, and merged this idea into a specific set of characteristics to describe photographic realism, which he first identified in the work of Paul Strand in 1916; Strand had developed abstraction and a simplified view of subject matter. Stieglitz imbued this new mode of seeing with a symbolist idea of the artist-photographer’s feelings being invested in the picture. A new “modern” way of looking at ordinary life paved the way for a string of other photographers to identify themselves as modernists. In the USA, this included the likes of Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and of course Alfred Stieglitz’s own extensive work with photography. Central to this narrative of modernism is the way that photographers projected theories of artistic inspiration onto seeing photographic techniques. Edward Weston’s use of f.64 deep focus, for example, metaphorically echoed the deep vision of the artist. Photographic modernism became a mode of personal expression mediated via the photographic form. More about the form of the picture than any specific subject matter or content, this type of modernism is usually called “formalism.” Highly influential, this variety of modernism spread to Europe and in other parts of America too.

When Tina Modotti, an Italian, arrived in Mexico in 1923 accompanied by Edward Weston she adapted her formalist compositions to suit the values of the new post-revolutionary culture, creating photographic juxtapositions of traditional values with new modern ways of life, combining radical compositions with new types of social content. Mexican modernism was thus more closely linked to the features of a modernizing culture; electrification, new machines, and the realm of cultural politics became its explicit subject matter. Fresh ideas of what it meant to be modern were at work in the various strands of European photographic modernism too, with different developments taking place in Russia, Germany, France, and Italy. In Russia, then the center of the new 1920s Soviet Union, Constructivist photographers like Alexander Rodchenko adopted radical new compositions and viewpoints of everything. These new compositions frequently made use of dynamic angles, which aimed to, quite literally, construct new ways of seeing the world through their revolutionary viewpoints. The dynamism of this practice changed attitudes toward photography as a modern art. For example, the snapshot was no longer dismissed as an amateur form, but accepted as a means to democratize the vision of life. It gave each person the opportunity to depict his or her own reality. Eventually some of the features of these new Russian practices were adopted and taken over as part of an official realism of the state, as Socialist Realism. Under Stalin this official form of aesthetics was eventually imposed on all the arts as propaganda for the state. Nazi ideology in Germany adopted similar official aesthetic values during the late 1930s, with idealized pictures of heroic leaders and happy citizens, workers and the military, all in harmony with one another. We do not like to think of a regressive regime developing “modernism,” but this is nevertheless one part of the history of modernism, even if it promoted reactionary forms incompatible with modern values today. Modernism was indeed plural.

Other progressive forms of European modernism also emerged in France with Surrealism, and in Germany with the Bauhaus school of design. Moreover, individuals in different parts of Europe developed a range of new modern practices and theories of photography. The writings of Walter Benjamin gathered together some of these currents, and still provide valuable and much discussed contextual insights into the medium. Some of these debates revolve around the novel tension between art and commerce, advertising and politics. For Benjamin, the old aesthetics of “beauty” could no longer apply to modern photography, because it was being used in the name of commerce. Modern photography, he argued, could be used to so many different progressive ends that it could even change the way we see what art or politics are. As photography became a technology more firmly integrated into the illustration of magazines, the idea of it being modern had a popular resonance (along with cinema): it was simply a technology of the modern man and woman.

World War II shattered many of these values, and afterwards a new attitude developed, which focussed less on models of modern vision than a concern for the human and the human condition. The famous worldwide 1955 touring exhibition The Family of Man embodied this new attitude, embracing the plural traditions that had been established as different ideas of modernism, Constructivism, realism, and formalism but united into a grand photographic expression of the unity of the human condition. This new post-World War II sentiment was called “photographic humanism.” The term “modernism” is still applied to many of the photographers working after this time, but it was in a weaker sense with no overall clear aesthetic. While street photography seemed to emerge as a new form of expressing modern life, adopting some of the compositional values of Constructivism, the museological discourse on them, for example coming from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, still emphasized the seer and artistic vision of the photographer as the founding role in them. Conceptualism and other art movements were rapidly gaining momentum as alternatives to modernism, specifically the formalist idea of modernism that Clement Greenberg had adopted from the modernism of Stieglitz, which was also informed by the English modernist writings of Clive Bell and Roger Fry.

It was not until the late 1970s that a new term, “postmodernism,” signaling this mutation of values in art practice gained currency. Postmodernism named a new critical position capable of questioning “modernism,” creating a rupture with its past and rejecting many of the craft-based values of modernist photography. Drawing on the commercial values of advertising and other industrial photography, art and art photography abruptly renovated themselves by integrating many of the attributes of these other practices that modernism had repressed: glossy large-scale color images, slick picture values, and a sense of irony and parody, as well as the active role of women photographers. Until this time, modernist fine art photography had sought to exclude commercial photographic values from art photography. Whether these commercial photographic values were introduced as critique, pastiche, or irony, they transformed views of the older modernisms: now they suddenly belonged to another time. In modernist photography, small numbers of highly crafted photographs were mostly handmade by the artist, whereas postmodernist photography was more often industrial and employed the tactics and rhetoric of advertising, cinema, and the mass media.

Modernism thus belongs to an older time and set of values surrounding photography. However, its discourse often reappears, for example in the innovations of digital photography. If one modernist position was that photography is a specific medium with its own intrinsic values, the advent of computers is easily adopted to these same values. The pixel and its presence on the material surface of the display screen become the essential element of digital photography. Elsewhere, the fine print tradition of modernism is found returning in handmade papers used for inkjet and other more sophisticated digital printers. Modernism is thus not dead, but alive and revived with old ideas adapted to new media.

Early Arab Photography

The history of Arab modernism, in all of its variations, is intertwined with the history of Arab photography. Likewise, the history of photography in the Arab world interlinked with the tectonic shifts in political economy, governance, and cultural formations that were underway during the nineteenth century. Just as new forms thought and literature arose to negotiate these shifts, photography in the Ottoman Arab world was quickly assimilated into all strata of society, from personal cartomania to the active use of photographic landscape and portraiture by the imperial, provincial, and local governments. (The term “cartomania” refers to the global craze for the carte de visite as coined by Gernsheim). While overshadowed and silenced by the hegemony of Orientalist photography and expatriate travelling and resident photographers, Arab modernism owes its aesthetic and epistemological origins to native Ottoman photographers such as Abdullah Frères, Pascal and Jean Sébah, Jurji Sabunji (G. Saboungi), Kova Frères, Garabed and Johannes Krikorian, Khalil Raad and many others with regard to its putative experience with Western modalities of art, philosophy, and belles lettres.

Shortly after Francois Arago’s announcement to the Académie des Sciences, European photographers from Noël Paymal Lerebours and Henri Le Secq to Auguste Salzmann and Maxime Du Camp photographed and published albums of Egypt and the “Holy Land.” Over the next half a century, names such as Abdullah Frères, Sébah, Sébah et Joaillier, Bonfils, Beato, Frith, Arnoux, Lehnert, and Landrock and countless others produced tens of thousands of images of the Arab “Orient.”

At the same time as Basili Kargopoulos, Abdullah Frères and Pascal Sébah were opening studios in Istanbul and producing portraits of the Sultan and his administration, a number of Europeans, such as Tancrède Dumas and Felix Bonfils in Beirut and Gustave Le Gray and Sébah in Cairo, were among the first to open studios in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, catering to the European market.

In 1867, Félix Bonfils opened his photographic studio in Beirut. The Bonfils embossment would become emblematic for photography of the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire. After Félix’s death in 1885, his wife Marie-Lydie and son Adrien took over the studio. The sheer ubiquity of the Bonfils’ production could not have been achieved without the countless anonymous local photographers they employed. Not coincidentally, the Bonfils studio was bought by Abraham Guiragossian, a Beiruti Armenian apprentice and partner.

The interaction between Europeans, Americans, Arabs, and Armenians was a common feature to early indigenous photography in the region. The Jesuits established photography ateliers in Lebanon, integrating them into their school curriculum as early as the 1880s. In 1898 Jerusalem, Elijah Meyers, an Indian-born Jewish convert to Protestantism, started the American Colony photography department. He trained Lors “Lewis” Larsson, Eric Matson and the Palestinian Fareed Naseef. Larsson eventually took over the Photographic Department. He was assisted by local Palestinians like Naseef, Jamil and Najib Albina. Larsson, Matson, and the Albina brothers are responsible for the American Colony’s most widely known images, including photographs of current affairs during World War I, the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the establishment of the British mandate, and the colonization of Palestine by European Zionist settlers.

The role of anonymous native assistants employed in expatriate studios aside, indigenous photography in the Arab world can be traced to the activity of independent Armenian and Arab photographers during the Ottoman era. The first Arab photographer to open a studio was Jurji Sabunji (i.e. George Saboungi, 1840–1927) in 1863 Beirut. Sabunji was born in Mardin to an Arabized Assyrian family; the brother of the famous Louis Sabunji, who taught him photography upon returning from the latter’s religious studies in Rome. He not only produced landscapes and cityscapes, which are found in numerous Ottoman and European albums, but also portraits of the political, economic, and intellectual elites, bourgeoisie and aspirant classes of Greater Syria and Egypt.

Sabunji’s peers in Beirut were Iskandar (d. 1911) and Joseph (circa d. 1904) Khorshid, otherwise known as the Kova Brothers. “Famed in the craft of photography and skill in painting (taswir),” as one journal exclaimed, the Kovas won ribbons at the Vienna World’s Exhibition in 1873 and the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 for their images of Syrian landmarks and costumes.

The status of Sabunji’s and the Kovas’ portraiture and landscapes arises out of a particular Ottoman context, in which photographers of Istanbul, most notably the ethnic Greek Vasili Kargopoulo (1826–86) and the Abdullah Frères, raised photography to the highest levels of prestige. The Abdullah Frères were three Armenian brothers, Vichen (d. 1902), Hovsep (d. 1900), and Kevork (d. 1918). Kevork studied miniature painting at the Armenian Catholic seminary Murad Rafaelian in Venice, while Vichen apprenticed under the German chemist photographer Rabach. After buying Rabach’s studio in Istanbul, the three brothers became court photographers to the Sultan`Abd al-`Aziz, replacing Kargopoulo after the death of Sultan Abd al-Majid. The sultan commissioned them to take cityscapes and genre images for the Ottoman Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, with the theme “Life of Istanbul.”

The Abdullah Frères were the most celebrated photographers of their age. In addition to numerous catalogues and albums for international, domestic, and royal consumption, their cartes de visite and portraits were in high demand. Prince Edward, the German Empress Augusta, French Empress Eugenie and Mark Twain were their most famous foreign sitters. They opened a successful studio in Cairo after taking the portrait of the Khedive Tawfiq and his family. For much of their career, their work was protected by the sultan’s decree, which undoubtedly only enhanced a portraiture studio that photographed Istanbul’s elite, bureaucracy and new bourgeoisie.

The only photographer to rival the Abdullah Frères was Pascal Sébah, whose earliest studio El Chark was established in Istanbul’s fashionable Pera in 1857, predating the Abdullahs’ own studio. Sébah is particularly known for landscapes and genre types. He partnered with several expatriate photographers, including Béchard. After his death, his son Jean or Johannes (i.e. J. Pascal Sébah) used the caché of his father’s name to partner with Policarpe Joaillier, establishing the famous and successful Sébah et Joaillier trademark and in turn purchasing the Abdullah Frères collection upon their retirement. Sébah, like the Abdullah Frères, opened a branch in Cairo and won an award at the Vienna Exhibition in 1873. Perhaps most demonstrative of Sébah’s oeuvre are his character types illustrated by Osman Hamdi’s Les Costumes Populaires de al Turquie, a book commissioned by the sultan.

The number of nineteenth and early twentieth-century, indigenous-owned studios and native photographers in the Ottoman Arab provinces—from Suleiman Hakim’s studio established in 1870s Damascus to Karimah ‘Abbud’s, possibly the first studio owned by an Arab woman, in Palestine—is largely unknown. Indeed, even before the introduction of the Kodak into the Ottoman Empire in the late 1880s, a myriad of amateur photographers existed in the Arab world, many of whom used their hobby for official purposes, like Muhammad Sadiq Bey’s (1822–1902) photographs of Mecca in 1861 and Ibrahim Rif’at Pasha and Muhammad ‘Ali Effendi Sa’udi’s (1865–1955) documenting of the Khedive’s mahmal to Mecca in 1904 and 1908.

The contribution of Armenians to the development of “Arab photography” cannot be understated. Apart from the influx of Armenians after the Hamidian massacres of 1894–96 and the massive influx of refugees after the Armenian Genocide (1915/16), small Armenian communities existed in Greater Syria and Egypt for centuries.

Yassayi Garebedian (1825–85), the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, is thought to be one of the first non-European teachers of photography and photographic importers in Palestine. Learning the craft in Istanbul, he opened an atelier within the Armenian monastery. Apart from his own oeuvre, his atelier is responsible for training a number of photographers, most prominently Garabed Krikorian (1847–1920). Krikorian opened the most successful studio in Palestine and trained his son Hovaness and Khalil Raad (1854–1957), a Lebanese immigrant, as his apprentices. Raad would eventually open a studio across Jaffa Street in Jerusalem. These two ateliers, like those in Cairo, accommodated two discrete markets. On the one hand, Krikorian and Raad were the preeminent photographers of the newly emerging Palestinian middle class. On the other, like the American Colony and Maison Bonfils, they also catered to Holy Land tourists.

The Sarrafian Brothers, however, owned perhaps the most prolific studio in Greater Syria. Protestant converts from Diyarbakir, in 1895 the three brothers opened a studio in Beirut’s Bab Idriss that only closed in 1975. At its peak, the studio produced one fourth of all postcards in Lebanon.

The development of portrait, genre and landscape photography in the Arab world was formalistic, with its roots in the commercial market and the objectivism of the age. However, pictorial and modernist traditions are likely to be rooted in the development of this very commercial, portrait and genre photography. For example, enigmatic G. Légékian, relocating to Cairo from Istanbul in 1880 and claiming to be “Photographer to the British Army,” names his photographs as photographie artistique. In other words, he may have been the first non-European photographer in the Middle Eastern to have consciously aestheticized his photographs.

With the change in printing technology and the explosion of the illustrated magazine in the 1930s, Armenian Egyptians such as Alban (Aram Alban, 1883–1961), Armand (Armanak Arzrouni, 1901–63), and Van Leo (Leo Boyadjian, 1921–2002) produced highly crafted artistic and stylized, even modernist in the case of Van Leo, portraits for the Egyptian elite and new film and entertainment industry.

Australian Modernist Photography

Modernist photography flourished in Australia from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s and had two main phases. The first, which was curtailed by the outbreak of the Second World War, was the most experimental, with photographs being produced for wide-ranging commercial and artistic purposes. In the second phase, spanning from the late 1940s until the emergence of the art photography movement in the late 1960s, urban and industrial themes moved center stage in the commercial arena and newly arrived European émigré photographers began to make their presence felt. Modernist practitioners were concerned with responding to their contemporary environment and what they interpreted as the spirit of their age (English writer G.H. Saxon Mills referred to this as “the zeitgeist”). Their work was recognizably modern in its engagement with an international vocabulary characterized by sharp focus, bold, geometric compositions and an interest in essentials that was manifest in the elimination of extraneous detail. Their internationalism, however, was shaped by the desire to create work that had a national (rather than nationalistic) inflexion, that self-consciously responded to Australian conditions and circumstances. Modernist photography was also a mainstream practice, supported by a burgeoning advertising and publishing industry that provided crucial employment opportunities after the Depression and the war.

The groundwork for modernist photography was laid in the 1920s by photographers such as Cecil Bostock and Harold Cazneaux in Sydney. Bostock experimented with abstract and reductive compositions and Cazneaux turned his camera on to the urban world around him, especially in the work he undertook for the influential magazine The Home. While Cazneaux is often recognized as the progenitor of modernist photography, his approach was in fact modulated by his Pictoralist origins and his images were generally softer in affect than the first-generation modernists who came after him: Max Dupain, Laurence Le Guay, Axel Poignant, and Athol Shmith.

International modernism—especially in the USSR and Germany—was tied to revolutionary politics but in Australia this was not the case. Australian exponents wished to overthrow what they saw as outmoded forms of expression rather than a repressive or conservative political regime. They therefore campaigned against the highly aestheticized Pictorialist style and its “olde worlde” associations.

In terms of geography, the practice of modernist photography was unusually concentrated, with Sydney being the center during the 1930s and the Max Dupain studio (established 1934) widely recognized as the leader in the field. Dupain was well informed about developments overseas through purchases of German and American photography magazines, and reviewed a book on Man Ray’s photography for The Home in 1935. International visitors to Australia were few—George Hoyningen-Huene and E. O. Hoppé being exceptions—but Australians were in dialogue with their international counterparts through inclusion in high-profile exhibitions and publications. Olive Cotton was not alone in considering her selection for London Salon of Photography exhibitions as the pinnacle of artistic achievement.

In the early modernist period women practitioners became more prominent, conspicuous examples being Ruth Hollick, May and Mina Moore and Cotton, but the professional and artistic spheres continued to be dominated by men. In some studios the roles were sharply defined according to gender, with the men being the camera operators and the women involved in retouching and hand-coloring and administration of the businesses.

In their art photography Australian modernists did not confine themselves to urban subject matter or still lifes. As with the Pictorialists, the landscape genre proved crucial, with the “bush” being represented as a source of replenishment and an antidote to the fast pace and rapidly changing nature of modern city life. The engagement with landscape reflected some ambivalence about the benefits of modernity and progress. In the 1930s the beach appeared as a new arena for human action in images by Dupain and others that celebrated the physicality of Australians. The production of nude figure studies was related to this interest in body culture.

The progressive, experimental aspects of the first phase of modernism were evident in the adoption of different techniques and processes and a brief flirtation with Surrealism. A small number of photographers worked with solarizations, photomontages and created abstract compositions. However, the outbreak of the Second World War and associated cultural change brought an end to any significant degree of experimentation. Photographers began to be dispersed, contributing in different ways to the war effort: Edward Cranstone and Geoffrey Powell were among those who made documentary photographs for the federal government’s Department of Information.

Modernist practice, which was always closely aligned with the commercial world and the opportunities advertising presented, was reshaped after the war as a number of influential European émigrés began to be active. They included Helmut Newton and Wolfgang Sievers, both from Berlin, who worked in the fields of fashion and industry respectively. In contrast to most locally trained photographers, émigrés did not generally make a distinction between their commercial and personal or exhibition work. Other important European-born photographers were Margaret Michaelis, who worked mainly in portraiture during the 1940s, and Richard Woldendorp, who established his reputation with aerial views of the Australian landscape.

In the 1950s, documentary and other forms of straight photography remained dominant. The emphasis was on the external world coinciding with a period of economic growth and prosperity. Architectural and industrial photography reflected this orientation. Photojournalism also flourished, with David Moore securing an international reputation as a photojournalist; his images were published in magazines such as Time-Life. He and Laurence Le Guay were included in the influential Family of Man exhibition that toured to Australia from the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1959.

Modernist photography in Australia remained a coherent and vibrant form until the late 1960s, when a whole cluster of new approaches began to be evident. These were linked to the explosion of art photography and the emergence of practitioners who defined themselves as artists rather than professional or commercial photographers. A significant number of photographers whose practice was formed in the heyday of modernism successfully made the transition to the world of art photography.

Modernist Photography in Mexico

Modernist photography in Mexico, as in other countries in Latin America, has had several facets: at points it has been a tool in creating an idealized image of the country, at others a key resource for discourses of nationalism, and finally an art form. Manuel Álvarez Bravo and the generation of artists such as Nacho López, and Hector García that gathered around him were the founders of modernist photography in Mexico. Formal ideals and a concern with social issues are key aspects of Álvarez Bravo’s work. The legacy of photojournalism is also important, as is the influence of foreign modernists such as Edward Weston and Tina Modotti. Nationalism, another central aspect of modernist art manifestations in the region, is prominent. Both in the porfiriato period (the years of government of Porfírio Díaz) and during the revolutionary and post-revolutionary years, photography was an important tool of political propaganda and movements of resistance, as manifested in the socially critical work of Nacho López and Héctor García. The influence of López, García, and Álvarez Bravo, as well as Modotti and Weston, on Mexican photography has lasted to today.

In the 1910s, documentary photography, which for many decades had constructed an idealistic image of Díaz’s government, became an instrument of opposition registering the shortcomings of this period. The end of the porfiriato period and the subsequent revolutionary years were extensively documented by Mexican and foreign photographers alike. Aside from propagandistic images, documentary photography, which revealed the violence of this conflict, can be considered a precursor to the war photography that developed later in Europe.

The contact between the Mexican muralists and leading photographers, both Mexicans and foreign, deeply influenced modern Mexican photography and led to its focus on social and political questions. The post-revolutionary period, with its promises of a new social, economic, and cultural regime, attracted important foreign photographers to Mexico, among them Edward Weston and his young Italian apprentice, Tina Modotti. They brought a new approach to photography, embedding aesthetic concerns in pictorial canons. Weston’s straight photography with abstract veins greatly influenced production in Mexico, as did the social photography of Modotti, who found in the country the inspiration to develop a personal style. These precursors opened the way for photo-artists like Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Lola Álvarez Bravo, who took not only from photojournalism but also from European avant-garde movements such as Surrealism and Constructivism. Their social preoccupations and their photojournalistic production were matched by aesthetic and graphic concerns: the 1930s and 1940s were the height of the illustrated magazines. While production during these early decades was marked by a caustic humor and heavy political critique, the 1950s saw the institutionalization of these spaces and their clear affiliation with specific ideologies. Nacho López and Héctor García were the heirs of the scathing photojournalistic style of post-revolutionary Mexico and carried its principles well into the 1970s.

Chinese Photography

Modern Chinese photography dates from the late 1910s to the 1980s, encompassing the Republican era (1912–49), the Communist Mao era (1949–76) and the post-Mao reform era (1976–89) and producing different national imagery amid different socio-political conditions. A modern consciousness in Chinese photography emerged against the backdrop of foreign incursions and the local New Culture Movement from the mid-1910s, when photographers sought a new national aesthetic and visual modernity through the camera lens. In part influenced by traditional ink painting, these photographers sought to make fine art photography to produce imagery for the new republic. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continued this search for national characteristics and imagery with a different approach after Mao Zedong’s Yan’an talk in 1942. Photography, with its realistic quality, was used more as a propagandistic tool than an art form, promoting the socialist dream, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Breaking through the strictures of the Cultural Revolution after the announcement of economic reforms and “opening up” in 1978, amateur photographers began to aim their lenses at everyday life and individual sentiment in a humanist way, amid a less ideologically controlled socio-political environment. Also, in the 1980s, with Western philosophy imported and translated in China, photographers created a “New Wave” modernist style of experimentation.

The New Culture Movement (1910s–20s) was an Enlightenment-inspired movement initiated by a group of Western-educated intellectuals based at Beijing University. They aimed to break through tradition and create a modern Chinese culture by borrowing so-called Western standards. Echoing this movement, from 1919 to 1921, a group of photography enthusiasts (known later as the “Light Society” 光社), most of them foreign-educated academics from Beijing University, gathered to photograph the campus and hold photographic exhibitions. In 1923 they formed the first amateur photography group in China, “Research Association for Art Photography” (艺术写真研究会), and organized exhibitions and annual publications between 1924 and 1928. Key member and editor of the annuals, Liu Bannong (刘半农 1891–1934), published the earliest book on fine art photography in China, Bannong on Photography (Bannong tanying 半农谈影) in 1927.

Continuing this legacy in the 1930s, well-educated middle-class people, largely involved in the publishing and commerce industry, formed amateur photographic societies in Shanghai. The two most prominent of these, the China Photographic Study Society (中国摄影学社) and the Black and White Photographic Society (黑白影社), organized exhibitions and published catalogues and photographic magazines to showcase members’ work. Lang Jingshan (郎静山, 1892–1995), an influential member of the China Photographic Study Society, drew from traditional literati ink painting, producing composite photographs that earned him international recognition in photography salons from the 1930s.

In the late 1930s, photographers in Yan’an took up their cameras as ideological weapons for the CCP. Sha Fei (沙飞1912–50), an advocate of photography’s propagandistic potential, joined the Party in 1937 and immediately founded one of the first CCP pictorial magazines, Jinchaji Pictorial (Jinchaji huabao晋察冀画报). Through this magazine and also workshops, Sha trained many communist photographers, using photography to educate the masses and build the CCP’s propaganda framework. In December 1956, the first official national photography organization, the China Photographers Association (PRC), was established. After its establishment, photographic exchanges with the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc increased, sharing socialist ideas of nation building. In the first two decades of the PRC, photography was almost completely restricted to propagandistic news reporting. Photographing random items, people, or scenes, i.e. without specific reference to socialist life, was not acceptable and even considered “bourgeois.”

Ideological control over photography increased during the Cultural Revolution. Photographs were doctored to eulogize Mao Zedong as a heroic figure, and leaders that fell out of favor were often removed from historical photos. Following the aesthetic principles promoted by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, photographs depicted people with rosy cheeks and glowing eyes, fixed on the beautiful future of socialist life with Mao at the helm. However, the Cultural Revolution’s brutal realities were surreptitiously documented, notably by photojournalist for the Heilongjiang Daily, Li Zhensheng (李振盛 1940 –). Li hid shocking photographs of high-ranking cadres being violently, publicly humiliated under the floor at his home, until they were revealed in 1988.

Between the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 and the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, photographic practice and amateur photographic groups burgeoned in an era of relative ideological freedom under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. A group of individuals (later called the “April Fifth Photographers”) documented the “April Fifth Tiananmen Incident” in 1976 in the absence of official photojournalists. They challenged the Party-state’s photographic control, initiating a movement of photographic practice by the people. Making art not politics brought these photographers together to form the “April Photography Society” (四月影会), the first photography group of the post-Mao era. From 1979, the group held three annual exhibitions, presented under the single title Nature, Society and Man, all showing images of “everyday life,” celebrating quotidian beauty and private sentiments which challenged officially sanctioned visual culture.

Inspired by this society, other photography groups formed. Nearly overlapping with the “85 New Wave” (85新潮) movement in the visual arts, these groups initiated the photographic “New Wave” in 1980s China, with various different approaches. Renren Photo Society, influenced by Hong Kong photography, pursued a salon aesthetic. Shaanxi Group and North River Alliance aimed their respective lenses at rural everyday life and urban reality. Five Ones and Fission Groups, influenced by the influx of translated Western philosophy and modern art, experimented with a formal modernist approach. The Modern Photography Salon, with strong support from the state, promoted authentic news photography. This “New Wave” photography of the 1980s nurtured the development of trends that would become the better-known contemporary Chinese photography from the 1990s.

History of Modern Photography in Korea (Late Nineteenth Century–1940s)

Although photography was first introduced to Korea in the early 1880s, it failed to become widespread because of the unstable political situation. For this reason, Korean photographic culture was initially led by Japanese photographers with studios in Korea, until artist and calligrapher Kim Gyu-jin (1868–1933) opened Cheonyeondang Studio in 1907. Art photography only began to develop in the 1920s and 1930s, thanks to a better supply of smaller cameras, an increase in the number of amateur photographers, the invigoration of photography groups, and photography contest exhibitions organized by newspapers. Art photography at that time was dominated by Pictorialism and Academism, as promoted by the major contest exhibitions, but there also existed a small group of experimental photographers who were influenced by Surrealism and German New Objectivity. After the Korean War, Realist photography emerged, aiming to document the harsh social reality of the ravaged nation. Thus, art photography was roundly criticized as a derivative technique that simply imitated paintings and was alienated from reality. Nonetheless, the art photography movement of the Japanese colonial era is historically significant for providing the first opportunity for Koreans to recognize that photography, rather than merely reproducing images, could be used as a tool for expressing a person’s individual subjectivity.

Korea began to adopt photographic technology in the early 1880s, seeing photography as a way to empower the nation. Early photographers Kim Yong-won (1842–91), Ji Un-yeong (1852–1935), and Hwang Cheol (1864–1930) purchased cameras in Japan or China and opened studios in Seoul. However, due to the domestic and international political turmoil of the time, the photographic styles and methods of these pioneers failed to gain a foothold. During this period, therefore, Korean photography was led by Japanese commercial photographers such as Murakami Tenshin (1867–?) and Iwata Kanae (1867–?), until the opening of Cheonyeondang Studio.

During the rise of Korean art photography in the 1920s and 1930s, “art photography” came to refer to a specific style of photography heavily influenced by Pictorialism, which became popular among Japanese amateur photographers who had been introduced to the work of English photographer Peter H. Emerson in the 1890s. The concept and practice of art photography was translated by the Japanese, and then introduced to Korea. Korean “art photography,” which differentiated itself from commercial photography, appeared as a comprehensive concept incorporating photography as a hobby, photography as a medium of subjective expression, and photography as avant-garde experimentation.

Shin Nak-gyun (1899–1955) finished his studies at the Tokyo Photography School in 1927 and returned to Korea, where he taught in the YMCA Photography Department. Shin published photography books (e.g. Introduction to Photography (1928)) and gave lectures introducing and popularizing the pigment print technique. The first Korean photographer to hold an art photography exhibition was Jeong Hae-chang (1905–64) in 1929. The son of a wealthy pharmacist in Seoul, Jeong took up amateur photography and held at least four solo exhibitions between 1929 and 1939. Around 500 of his art photos have survived. Jeong also conducted various experiments combining photography with Korean art traditions. For example, he used a photo to make a folding screen, like Korean traditional painting, and also mounted photos into fans or circles.

Leisure culture continued to develop among the urban middle class of the 1930s, leading to a rise in the number of amateur photographers. Newspapers began organizing photographic events, such as the Joseon Photography Salon (1934–43) by Gyeongseong Ilbo and the Summer Landscape Photography Salon (1937–40) by Chosun Ilbo, offering a welcome opportunity for amateur photographers to display their work. Indeed, most of the representative photographers of early modern Korean photography debuted in such photo contests. Generally known as “salon photography,” the art photography of these contests largely consisted of idyllic rural landscapes eliciting poetic sensations. The style was defined by its use of soft focus, the balance between light and gradation, and its spatial composition, with a low horizon and wide spread of space. Representative works include Rural Landscape (1939) by Yi Hyeong-rok (1917–2011) and Sunny Place (1935) by Limb Eung -Sik (1912–2001).

By the late 1930s, more experimental photography began to emerge, influenced by Pictorialism and avant-garde photography such as Surrealism, German New Objectivity, and the photograms of László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray. A representative example of this trend is Pocket Watch (1930s) by Bak Pil-ho (1903–81). However, in Korea, avant-garde photography drew more interest from artists such as Yoo Young-kuk (1916–2002) and Jo U-sik (dates unknown) than from amateur photographers, and thus failed to develop into a full-fledged movement. The avant-garde movement was hindered by the fact that many Korean photographers were forced by the Japanese to produce war propaganda photographs when the Pacific War started to ramp up in the late 1930s.

Photography in Brazil

While nineteenth-century photography in Brazil mainly documented the development of cities and their relation with nature, the photo clubs that appeared from the 1930s onwards consolidated a system of photographic production and display that was the basis for modernist photography in the country. Major modernist photographers such as Thomas Farkas (1924–2011), José Oiticica Filho (1906–64), and Geraldo de Barros (1923–98) were influenced by Constructivist ideals and Gestalt theory. Later, photojournalism in the 1940s and 1950s would not only absorb these geometric art influences, but also add anthropological and humanist concerns. The military coup in 1964 increased repression of information and culture, and as such the 1970s are marked by an increasing number of artists, such as Miguel Rio Branco (b.1946), Mario Cravo Neto (1947–2009), and Claudia Andujar (b.1931), turning to art photography as a way of escaping this institutionalized repression. Documentary photography with social themes was sometimes disguised as ironic or formal experimentation, for instance in the works of Antonio Dias (b.1944) and Antonio Manuel (b.1947). After the end of dictatorship we find a more prominent use of photography as art as the Brazilian art market develops and becomes more informed. Contemporary artists that use photography include Rosângela Rennó (b.1962), Vik Muniz (b.1961), Rochelle Costi (b.1961), and Paula Trope (b.1962).

Three main issues define the early stages of the history of photography in Brazil. Photography was invented locally by Frenchman Hercules Florence (1804–79) in Campinas, in the state of São Paulo. Florence was a self-taught draughtsman who took part in the Langsdorff Expedition (1825–9) and went on to live in Campinas. In 1832 experimentation led him to discover a silver-based process he called Photographie, for which there was virtually no use. In 1840, the Daguerreotype process was introduced in Brazil, at a public presentation in Rio de Janeiro by the French abbot Louis Compte. D. Pedro II (1825–91). The Brazilian emperor was present at this event and he went on to produce, promote, and collect photography. In that sense the problem of photography’s invention transcends that of technical discovery, evidencing that it is the relationship between technical development, artistic knowledge, social function and value (defined by the emperor’s acceptance) that define its early history.

The emperor’s interest led to the growing popularity of photography in the nineteenth century in Brazil. This is evident not only in the number of photographers active at the time (mainly specializing in portraits), but also in the presence of works by European photographers in the country’s main photographic collections: those of the emperor and the collector and historian Gilberto Ferrez. The importance of works of photographers such as Marc Ferrez (1843–1923), Militão Augusto de Azevedo (1837–1905), Augusto Malta (1864–1957), Albert Henschel (1827–82), Victor Frond (1821–81), George Leuzinger (1813–92), August Stahl (1828–77), and Felipe A. Fidanza (d.1904) nevertheless exceeds the documentation of the development of Brazil’s main cities and its relation with nature. These photographers show signs of having aesthetic concerns relating to those of painting, for example the work of Giovanni Castagneto (1851–1900) and Nicola Facchinetti (1824–1900).

However, art in Brazil was still heavily influenced by French academy standards, which did not recognize photography as an artistic media. At the same time, photography as a technique was mainly restricted to professionals and this secrecy may account for the fact that pictorialism was only introduced in Brazil in the twentieth century, through European photographers working in the press (such as Jean Manzon [1915–90]), and through a growing amateur milieu led by photo clubs, notably the Foto Cine Clube Bandeirantes (1939). Artificialist experimentation was almost nonexistent, although Valério Vieira’s (1862–1941) composite and panoramic photographies are a noteworthy exception.

The practice of a modernist photography certainly developed through the activities of photo clubs. In the 1950s, their popularity seems to have consolidated a system involving practicing, showing, and disseminating photography, even internationally. The increased exposure of the Brazilian art system to European modernism, however, was not felt in the photo clubs until the late 1950s. Major modernist photographers like Thomas Farkas (1924–2011), José Oiticica Filho (1906–64), and Geraldo de Barros (1923–98), although members of the photo clubs, were all influenced directly by Constructivist art and Gestalt theory, which was known because of its appearance in the São Paulo Art Biennials, beginning in 1951. Farkas used geometrical composition in straight photography, and images in his series of the construction of Brazil’s capital, Brasília, are remarkable because of their extreme quality and use of composition. José Oiticica Filho, Hélio Oiticica’s (1937–80) father, experimented with and without the photographic camera, producing a variety of works ranging from geometric abstraction to art informel. Geraldo de Barros was one of the main artists from the Ruptura group; his photography is directly connected to São Paulo’s Concrete art movements. In his “Fotoformas” (Photoform) series, the artist typically interferes or reconstructs photographs geometrically; creating a sense of complexity that ultimately comments on form as much as Brazilian culture. Geometric abstraction had a huge impact in the 1960s and 1970s in amateur photography circles, as well as in photojournalism and advertising. Photojournalism would not only absorb geometric art influences, dealing with increasingly complex compositional problems, but also focus on anthropological and humanist interests—for example exploring Brazilian indigenous populations, the sacred rites of African-Brazilian religions, the Amazon jungle and other remote regions, and regional customs. Works by pioneers such as José Medeiros (1921–90), Flávio Damm (b.1928), and Pierre Verger (1902–96) are exemplary of this movement. Verger’s work, for instance, presented African-Brazilian culture, and the religious rites of Candomblé, some of which were forbidden and unknown to the majority of Brazil’s white and bourgeois population.

With the advent of the military coup in 1964 repression of information as well as cultural and artistic production and events increased. Therefore, the 1970s were marked by a growing number of artists turning to art photography as a way of escaping institutional constraints and expressing themselves. While photographers like Miguel Rio Branco (b.1946), Mario Cravo Neto (1947–2009), Claudia Andujar (b.1931), Alair Gomes (1921–92), and Hugo Denizart (b.1946) mainly did not achieve visibility until the 1980s, they are a part of a very politicized generation of artists that questioned art tradition and experimented conceptually with photographic and filmic representation that also includes artists like Hélio Oiticica, Ana Bella Geiger (b.1933), Antonio Dias (b.1944), Artur Barrio (b.1945), and Antonio Manuel (b.1947). Their works often use the photographic, but what sets Brazilian production apart derives from Neoconcretism’s use of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. The notion that artistic form can increasingly incorporate social reality led to viewer participation and engagement. That can be seen in Antonio Manuel’s “Flan series” and its use of newspaper matrices to produce and disseminate fake news or in Anna Bella Geiger’s “Brasil Nativo/Brasil Alienígena” series (Native Brazil, Alien Brazil, c.1975) and how it comments on traditional “tropical,” “exotic” postcard images, which use indigenous Brazilians as props. Helio Oiticica’s Bólide caixa 18 (Homenagem a Cara de cavalo) (Bólide box 18, Hommage to Horseface, 1965) is a key work in Brazilian art history. It also exemplifies how photography would be used in Brazilian contemporary art. As part of a phenomenologically charged work, the photograph taken from a newspaper of a small drug dealer killed by police in an unjustified manhunt, the bolide connects form and ethics, while using photography to inscribe into the work not a document, but rather a symbolic statement.

From the 1980s onwards, the notion of photography as art in Brazil comes to the fore with an art system more informed by international discourses on contemporary art. In the 1990s, artists such as Sebastião Salgado (b.1944), Rosângela Rennó (b.1962), Vik Muniz (b.1961), Rochelle Costi (b.1961), and Paula Trope (b.1962), among others, become prominent for their use of the artistic and photographic tradition. Salgado draws on the modernist canon of photography, clearly relying on the tradition of humanist photography, mainly W. Eugene Smith’s way of engaging in realistic representation of social issues without forgetting concerns with form. In the work of Rennó, Muniz, and Costi these formal concerns rather turn into revitalized conceptualist strategies that are strongly connected to international theory, pointing to both the historical separation between art and photography and the lack of local critical photographic theory in contemporary Brazil.

Czech Avant-Garde Photography

Early twentieth-century Czech photography—with few exceptions—lagged behind the development of contemporary modern art. There had been small changes after World War I when some photographers enriched their work with Futurist, Expressionist, and Cubist influences: František Drtikol came to his own version of art deco, and his student Jaroslav Rössler used Cubist morphology in his photographs at the beginning of the 1920s. An essential impetus to shift to the principles of modern photography was an exhibition of Alfred Stieglitz and Clarence H. White held in Prague in 1921 and an example of the work of Czech-American amateur photographer Drahomír Josef Růžička. After 1920 Czech photographers began to respond to the stimulus of abstract art. Abstract compositions appeared in the works of Drtikol and Rössler. Rössler’s work from 1923 to 1925 (photographs of moving lights and geometric compositions) aligns him with the world’s leading pioneers of abstract photography. In the second half of the 1920s a photographic cycle entitled Abstraktní fota—Kompozice (Abstract Photos: Compositions) was created by Jaromír Funke. Inspired by Cubism he initially photographed glass and paper geometric shapes and gradually became more and more interested in their shadows; finally, he extruded the objects outside the photos and depicted only nonfigurative “shadow play.”

Rössler was a member of Devětsil, an association of Czech avant-garde artists that declared photography and film the successor of traditional art. Photography played a significant role in the new expressive forms of Devětsil artists, among them so-called “picture poems” with which Karel Teige realized the interrelation of poetry and visual art. Devětsil’s members, such as Jindřich Štyrský, Toyen, Josef Šíma, Teige, and Rössler, created poetistic collages combining fragment photos, typography, drawing, and other artifacts in simple geometric compositions. A synthesis of contemporary efforts was achieved in Vítězslav Nezval’s poetry collection Abeceda (Alphabet, 1926) with photographs of the dancer Milča Mayerová, who performed individual letters of the alphabet in a Constructivist layout by Teige.

The German avant-garde, especially the Bauhaus, had a great influence on Czech photography in the 1920s and 1930s. There were many connections between the Bauhaus and photographers in Czechoslovakia: some of them studied at the Bauhaus (e.g. Jindřich/Heinrich Koch, later leader of the photography department of the Kunstgewerbeschule at Burg Giebichenstein near Halle; photographer Zdeněk Rossmann and his wife Marie Rossmannová; or Slovak organizer of the social documentary photography movement Irena Blühová), and photographers living in Germany maintained contact with the Czech avant-garde (László Moholy-Nagy) or their works were published in Czech avant-garde journals (e.g., Albert Renger-Patzsch, Aenne Biermann). Participation by Czechs in the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart in 1929 and familiarization with works of other exhibited authors also played a key role.

The influence of German photography in conjunction with knowledge of Russian Constructivism resulted in the use of New Vision principles in Czech photography. The first images in the spirit of Constructivism—photographs and photomontages with the subject of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Petřín View Tower in Prague in diagonal compositions—were made by Rössler starting in 1926. Funke and Vladimír Hipman explored in their works the beauty of industrial objects and buildings. Other prominent representatives of New Vision photography were Josef Sudek, Alexander Hackenschmied (known after his emigration to the United States as Hammid), Ladislav Emil Berka, Eugen Wiškovský, and Karel Kašpařík, as well as some German authors living in Czechoslovakia, among them Heinrich Wicpalek and Grete Popper. A number of examples of technically perfect images of various materials were published in the book Fotografie vidí povrch (Photography Sees the Surface, 1935) edited by Funke and Ladislav Sutnar with photographs of students of the Prague’s State School of Graphics, one of the most important educational institutions in the field of applied photography at that time. The principles of New Vision found their application in a wide range of professional advertising photography on the one hand and amateur photography on the other.

The amateur photography movement had a large membership in interwar Czechoslovakia. There was a dense network of amateur clubs, whose members published their works in numerous magazines devoted to amateur photography and displayed them at exhibitions. Jan Lauschmann, Jiří Jeníček, Přemysl Koblic, and Josef Voříšek were among the most progressive amateur photographers. Economic growth in the 1920s and an increasing number of popular periodicals were a stimulus for development of advertising photography. Sudek with his photographs for the publishing house Družstevní práce and its sample shop for prints and objects of industrial design Krásná jizba, Rössler with Parisian advertising photographs from the late 1920s and early 1930s, Zdeněk Rosmann and Jindřich/Heinrich Koch were the leading exponents of this type of photography in Czechoslovakia.

From the 1920s social themes appeared in the genre photographs of Funke, Sudek, Adolf Schneeberger, Přemysl Koblic, Václav Jírů, and others. In the first half of the 1930s, due to the Great Depression, the leftist movement of social documentary photography became stronger; it was inspired particularly by so-called German workers’ photography and the magazines Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung and Der Arbeiter Fotograf. The leader of the movement was Lubomír Linhart, and its protagonists included Oldřich Straka, Karel Kašpařík, Tibor Honty, Ladislav Sitenský, Karel Hájek, and Václav Jírů. Sociologický fragment bydlení (A Sociological Fragment of Housing, 1932–33), eighty large-format collages by the architect Jiří Kroha pointed to the inequalities among different social classes and occupies a distinctive position in the context of Czech social documentary photography. The 1920s and 1930s were also a boom time for photojournalism. In the 1920s documentary photographs appeared mostly in newspapers; in the 1930s the number of vogue “society magazines” increased in which comprehensive photo essays were published. An example of such a journal was Pestrý týden with its versatile in-house photographer Bohumil Šťastný. Karel Hájek, working for the magazines of the Melantrich publishing house, became a real star of Czech reportage photography of the 1930s. Agencies such as Centropress and Press Photo Service earned an important place in the photo news service.

From the 1930s Surrealist tendencies were very strong in Czech photography. Several members of the Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia were intensively engaged in photography. For example Štyrský, a key figure of Czech Surrealism, photographed shop windows and signboards, cemeteries, or cracked and defaced walls. He created cycles of non-manipulated photographs Žabí muž, Muž s klapkami na očích, and Pařížské odpoledne (Frogman, Man with Blinkers, Paris Afternoon, 1934–5), which depicted random encounters of banal objects in unusual constellations. A motif of blending of sex and death occurs relatively frequently in his photographs. In 1932 he published Emilie přichází ke mě ve snu (Emily Comes to Me in a Dream) with daring erotic collages in which he used fragments of old pornographic photographs in new contexts. Similarly, from 1935, Teige created an extensive set of collages with frequent erotic subtext, in which he often used details of photographs of well-known creators such as Karl Blossfeld, Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Funke, or Miroslav Hák. František Vobecký, who photographed his own assemblages created just for this occasion, worked outside the Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia.

Modern Japanese Photography

Modern photography in Japan incorporated varied styles that were sometimes contradictory in aesthetic approaches and intentions. Fundamentally there were two broad trends. The first encompassed innovative movements including New Photography (Shinkō shashin), Constructivism (Kōsei-ha), and Surrealism (Chōgenjitsushugi), as well as new techniques like photomontage and photograms. The second focussed on a more realistic expression conveyed through straight photography. The latter was particularly used to capture prewar city life during a period that witnessed broad economic prosperity, an explosive growth in the urban population, and a flourishing urban middle class. However, realist photography was also used extensively in wartime propaganda of the late 1930s and 1940s, while photojournalism was the dominant style of the 1950s. Many photographers experimented with more than one style. Publications were key to the spread of modern photography, with journals, exhibition catalogues, and photographic books all significant methods of circulating images and information. Foreign ideas also frequently had a significant impact on shaping the Japanese photography world, as conveyed through photo periodicals and traveling exhibitions.

The idea of photography as artistic expression rather than for practical purposes emerged in the 1890s. Inspired by an 1893 Tokyo exhibition of pictorialist works by London Camera Club members, amateur photographers began utilizing alternative printing processes to create images that mimicked ink painting, a style popular into the 1920s. Though pictorialism is considered a precursor to modernism, Fukuhara Shinzō’s (福原信三) influence on later pictorialism embodied modernist philosophy. From 1922, Fukuhara wrote extensively about his key concept Hikari to sono kaichō (Light with its Harmony), arguing that instead of relying on print manipulation, photography should employ its fundamental formal characteristics—light and shade—to express the artist’s inner world.

Strong shifts toward objective modern photography occurred in the mid-1920s with the emergence of New Photography. The Bauhaus and German New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) were key in shaping this movement. Images by artists like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, and Albert Renger-Patzsch appeared in photo magazines including Asahi Camera and Photo Times and were displayed in the seminal 1931 Doitsu Kokusai Idō Shashin-ten (German International Traveling Photography Exhibition), derived from the 1929 Film und Foto exhibit in Stuttgart. Inspired by these works, Japanese photographers embraced what they called the New Realism, an approach diametrically opposed to pictorialist romanticism. They produced images emphasizing the camera’s mechanical capabilities, celebrating modern technology through abstract and mechanized form. Horino Masao (堀野正雄) was one of the best-known photographers to work with this new machine aesthetic. His seminal book Kamera. Me x tetsu. Kōsei (Camera. Eye x Steel. Composition, 1932) exemplified the movement, employing oblique angles and shifting vantage points to showcase urban steel construction.

New Photography also encompassed other techniques beyond machine aesthetics, including multiple exposure, macro-photography, and photograms. Although the movement’s original impetus was objectivity, it eventually included more subjective artistic expressions as well. The movement’s core ideas were promoted in the periodical Kōga (Light Pictures), launched by Nojima Yasuzō (野島康三), Nakayama Iwata (中山岩太), and Kimura Ihee (木村伊兵衛 ) in 1932. Although it only ran for eighteen months, Kōga became the most influential platform for the spread of modern photography. The inaugural issue included the essay “Return to photography” (Shashin ni kaere) by Ina Nobuo (伊奈信男), widely considered as a manifesto for the modern photography movement. Ina wrote that photography, as an artistic form relying on a mechanical apparatus, was the art best suited to contemporary life. But he also commented that as social beings, photographers had a responsibility to engage with society, not merely document it abstractly. The founders of Kōga ultimately produced differing versions of modern photography that extended beyond the initial parameters of New Photography, with Nojima best known for innovative portraits and nudes, Kimura for candid street photography, and Nakayama for experimental imagery including photomontage.

Many of the most provocative ideas emerged in Kansai (Western Japan), where artists favored the term avant-garde (zen’ei) rather than new. Here, photography clubs played a particularly important role. Amateur groups such as the Ashiya Photography Club (founded by Nakayama Iwata) and the Naniwa Photography Club engaged in a wide range of photographic experimentation. Naniwa members included Yasui Nakaji (安井仲治) and Koishi Kiyoshi (小石清); Koishi’s innovative series of photomontages “Shoka Shinkei” (Early Summer Nerves, 1933) is regarded as one of the most important modern photo-books. Though not considered part of New Photography, there was also a short-lived Constructivist movement in Kansai in the mid-1920s, pioneered by Fuchikami Hakuyō (淵上白陽) in Kobe, who advocated emphasizing the abstract beauty of form in his publication Hakuyō (est. 1922). In the late 1930s, Kansai photographers were also more active in exploring Surrealism than those in Tokyo. Yamamoto Kansuke (山本悍右), originally part of the Nagoya Photo Avant-Garde, was among the key artists of this movement.

Ina Nobuo’s ideas ultimately helped usher in a shift toward socially engaged realism in the 1930s. This trend was particularly dominant in the Tokyo area, where artists such as Kuwabara Kineo (桑原甲子雄) extensively documented Tokyo street life. Natori Yōnosuke (名取洋之助), influenced by his experience as a photojournalist in Germany, was another key figure promoting straight photography. In 1933 Natori helped form the Nippon Kōbō (Japan Studio), which published the magazine Nippon from 1934. Issued in multiple Western languages, this was a propaganda vehicle that used photojournalism to showcase positive aspects of Japanese culture as the Japanese Empire became increasingly militaristic. It included images by Horino Masao, Domon Ken (土門拳), and Watanabe Yoshio (渡辺義雄). Other propaganda publications including Shashin shuhō (Photography Weekly) relied on journalistic images as well, but also incorporated photomontage. Examples of dynamic modern graphic effects utilizing photos can be found in these periodicals. By the late 1930s, avant-garde photography was viewed with suspicion and subjected to censorship, and realistic photography was the norm, a trend that continued through the immediate postwar period. Photojournalism remained prevalent in the 1950s, although strains of Surrealism lingered and artists like Ueda Shōji (植田正治) also worked independently. Significant figures embodying straight photography in this period include Hamaya Hiroshi (濱谷浩 ) and Hayashi Tadahiko (林忠彦). By the end of the decade, young photographers like Narahara Ikkō (奈良原 一高), Tōmatsu Shōmei (東松照明), and Hosoe Eikoh (細江英公) would take Japanese photography in an entirely different direction with their innovative ideas.

Further Reading

  • Al-Fotographiyya Al-Suriyya [Syrian Photography] (1876-1877) al-Muqtataf 1: 685

  • al-Hajj, B. (2007) L'Orient des photographes Armeniennes, Paris: Editions Cercle D'Art.

  • Batchen, G. (2001) Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Benjamin, W. (1992) 'A Short History of Photograph' in One Way Street and Other Writings, trans. J.A. Underwood, London: Verso.

  • Birgus, V. (2000) The Photographer František Drtikol, Prague: Kant.

  • Birgus, V. (2002) Czech Photographic Avant-Garde 1918–194, Prague: Kant.

  • Birgus, V. and Mlčoch , J. (2000) The Nude in the Czech Photography, Prague: Kant.

  • Birgus, V. and Mlčoch , J. (eds) (2004) Jaroslav Rössler: Czech Avant-Garde Photographer, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Bolton, R. (1988) The Contest of Meaning, London: MIT Press.

  • Burgin, V. (1982) 'Photography, Phantasy, Function' in Thinking Photography, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

  • Butler, R. (1997) The Europeans: Emigre Artists in Australia, Canberra: National Gallery Australia.

  • Choi, I. (1999) History of Korean Modern Photography, Seoul: Nunbit.

  • Canongia, L. (2002) Artefoto, Rio de Janeiro: CCBB.

  • Carvalho, M.L.M. (1996) Novas Travessias—Contemporary Brazilian Photography, London: Verso.

  • Crombie, I. (2004) Bodyculture, Max Dupain, Photography and Australian Culture, 1919–1939, Melbourne: Images Publishing in Association with National Gallery of Victoria.

  • Debroise, O. (2001) Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico, Austin: University of Texas Press.

  • Dufek, A. (2003) Jaromír Funke, Prague: Kant.

  • Ennis, H. (2007) Photography and Australia, London: Reaktion Books.

  • Fani, M. (2005) Une histoire de la photographie au Liban 1840–1944, Beirut: Editions de l'escalier.

  • Fárová, A. (1999) Josef Sudek, Munich: Kehayoff.

  • Fernandes Jr, R. (2003) Labirintos e Identidades – Panorama da fotografia no Brasil (1946–98), São Paulo: Cosac & Naify.

  • Ferrez, G. (1985) A fotografia no Brasil (1840–1900), Rio de Janeiro: Funarte/Pró-memória.

  • Gabara, E. (2008) Errant Modernism: The Ethos of Photography in Mexico and Brazil, Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.

  • Gallo, R. (2010) Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Gautherot, M.K., Frampton, K. and Burgi, S. (2010) Building Brasilia, London: Thames & Hudson.

  • Gernsheim, H. (1986) A Concise History of Photography, Mineola: Dover.

  • Greenberg, H., Kicken, A. and Kicken , R. (2007) Czech Vision: Avant-Garde Photography in Czechoslovakia, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

  • Herkenhoff, P. (1994) Contemporary Brazilian Photography, São Paulo: Câmara Brasileira do Livro.

  • Jiang, Q. et al. (1998) Chinese Photography History 1937–1949 [Zhongguo sheying shi, 1937–1949], Beijing: Zhongguo sheying chubanshe.

  • Kaneko, R. (2001) Modern Photography in Japan 1915–1940, San Francisco, CA: Friends of Photography.

  • “Kindai shashin no gunzō” (The Modern Photography Movement in Japan) (1986) in K. Kineo et al. (eds) Nihon shashin zenshū (The Complete History of Japanese Photography), Vol. 3, Tokyo: Shōgakkan.

  • Kossoy, B. (1980) Origens e expansão da Fotografia no Brasil—século XIX, Rio de Janeiro: MEC/Funarte.

  • Kossoy, B. (2002) Dicionário Histórico-Fotográfico Brasileiro, São Paulo: IMS.

  • Kwon, H. (2011) 'King Gojong's Portrait and the Advent of Photography in Korea', Journal of Korean Art and Archaeology, 5: 58–71.

  • Martins, L. (2013) Photography and Documentary Film in the Making of Modern Brazil, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

  • Mraz, J. (2009) Looking for Mexico: Modern Visual Culture and National Identity, Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.

  • Mrowat, A. (2007) 'Karimeh Abbud: Early Woman Photographer (1896–1955)', Jerusalem Quarterly, Summer: 31.

  • Nassar, I. (2011) 'Early Local Photography in Palestine: The Legacy of Karimeh Abbud', Jerusalem Quarterly, Summer: 23-31.

  • Nassar, I. (2006) 'Familial Snapshots: Representing Palestine in the Work of the First Local Photographers', History & Memory, 18(2): 139–155.

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Bate, David et al. Photography. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/overview/photography.

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