Write 3500-4000 words, double-spaced research paper comparing and contrasting the work of two photographers mentioned in this course. They may work within the same tradition of opposing traditions. They may be contemporaries or have lived centuries apart. The most important decision is to choose artists whose work you have admired. Your paper should concentrate on their work, not on their biographies. Your paper should address but not be limited to the following:
What involvement did they use and why?
How did the technology of their time influence their art?
How did they use the elements of photographic language?
What was the true subject of their work? Expression? Making a political statement? Documenting the appearance of something?
Be sure to examine their work in great depth. Include examples for each component of your paper. Caption your example by author, title, date, and the process used, and list your example in your works cited notation.
The two photographer chosen are.
Munkácsi (1896–1963) was one of the most prolific European photojournalists in the 1920s and ’30s, freelancing for a variety of German newspapers but mainly for the most prestigious one, BIZ, the German predecessor to and inspiration for LIFE.
BIZ sent Munkácsi on assignments not only around Berlin but also in Africa, South America, and throughout Europe. Munkácsi’s style was undeniably modern: He often combined unusual vantage points and fast shutter speeds to freeze action at the height of expressive gesture.
In 1934, the publisher of BIZ was pressured to fire all Jewish employees and replace them with Nazi party members. Munkácsi, a Jew, quickly left Germany for New York. “If Berlin tasted of the future, the taste of Berlin was cruelly mistaken,” Munkácsi said. “There was little future left. Life would not leave art alone.”
In the United States, he immediately found work not in journalism but in fashion photography. Carmel Snow, the editor for Harper’s Bazaar, had seen Munkácsi’s work in the German newspaper Die Dame and was looking for a fresh look to her magazine. She was stunned to hear from a Hungarian friend that Munkácsi would be arriving in New York in two days. Munkácsi, who had never worked in fashion before, was immediately hired by Snow to photograph a bathing suit feature. He didn’t change styles; the way he photographed journalism was the way he photographed fashion.
This was radical. To appreciate the freshness of Munkácsi’s vision, it’s best to look at the prevailing fashion photography of the time: shot in-studio, carefully lit, carefully posed, carefully constructed. At the Academy of Art, we call this a constructed reality artistic involvement.
Constructed reality artistic involvement: an image where the scene is primarily created by the photographer or under the photographer’s direction. This construction can be of the physical scene itself or can be visually created through capture or post-capture manipulation or processing.
In contrast, compare the influence of photojournalism on Munkácsi’s fashion work in the following images. They use a different artistic involvement, which at the Academy, we call directed reality artistic involvement.
Directed reality artistic involvement: an image where the photographer’s input works in tandem with what already exists in the scene.
Today we take this approach for granted, but back in the 1930s, it was shocking. The editors of Aperture magazine, in a 1992 retrospective on Munkácsi, wrote: “So pervasive is Munkácsi’s influence that it is easy to forget that he was the first in fashion photography to move models out of the studio and to depict them swimming, running, diving, striding, dancing, floating, leaping.”
Edward S. Curtis
One of the most celebrated ethnographical projects from this time was by Seattle photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952). Curtis thought that Native Americans were “a vanishing race” and sought to record their peoples and their customs for posterity.
From 1901 to 1930, Curtis embarked on an epic photographic project to photograph 80 Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River. The results were published in 1930 with The North American Indian, a 20-volume collection of 2,200 photographs edited down from the 40,000 exposures he made.
As much as historians admire Curtis’s motives, his work is problematic as a scientific body of work. He didn’t photograph the Native American tribes as he found them—as a true documentarian would—but in a romantic way to emphasize their exoticism.
For example, by the early 20th century, many Native Americans had assimilated to the point where they were wearing or significantly incorporating European-style clothing. Curtis had them replace these with a collection of wigs and props that he brought with him. It was not uncommon for him to dress one tribe in the vestments of another. Imagine doing this with Europeans: it would be like posing a German in Scottish kilt.
Aesthetically, he also inserted his subjective identity into the photographs, using soft focus, dramatic lighting, and print manipulation to coax more emotion from the images.
Although he intended to document a culture, his work seems to stray into constructed artistic involvement. At a time when there were no standards for ethnographic documentation, the line between objectivity and subjectivity was easily blurred.
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