Photography as Art

“The invention of photography by French painter Louis Daguerre in 1837 radically changed the relationship of the human being to the image. Photography proved that it was possible to give an objective likeness of reality using mechanical means. Henceforth creative art and photography were to be in constant tension or competition.”

                                                                      * Andrea Wolter-Abele: “How Science and Technology Changed Art,” 1996 (64)

 

“Photography is not Art. It is not even an art. Art is the expression of the conception of an idea. Photography is the plastic verification of a fact. The difference between Art and Photography is the essential difference between the Idea and Nature.”

                               *Marius De Zayas, in Camera Work, 1913

  

     The emergence of photography in the 19th century offended the Romantic bias of critics such as Baudelaire and Ruskin. That photography came into being as a “secondary” art form was a generally accepted notion. The medium’s well-known struggle for acceptance as an art form on par with painting, led heroically in this country by Alfred Stieglitz, was fought and won nearly 100 years ago. Incredibly, some critics are still debating the question of whether photography can be considered a fine art today.

      Discussions of photography’s origins and early tribulations are still instructive, revealing much about the nature of the medium. In his presentation introducing the new invention in 1839, this declaration by the French Minister of the Interior emphasized its scientific and mathematical attributes:

“Mr. Daguerre has at length succeeded in discovering a process to fix the different objects reflected in a camera obscura, and also, to describe, in four or five minutes, by the power of light drawings, in which the objects preserve their mathematical delineation in its most minute details, and in which the effects of linear perspective, and the diminution of shades arising from aerial perspective, are produced with a degree of nicety quite unprecedented.” (Goldberg PiP 31)

     

Not only would this prove a valuable aid to the most skillful draughtsmen and painters, the minister contended, “With it, the most unskilled may make drawings, with the same dexterity as the most clever artist.” (32)

It was precisely this promotion of photography to non-artists that outraged Baudelaire, who was convinced that “all badly applied advances of photography” contributed greatly to the impoverishment of the French artistic genius. In his defense, this at least indicates his awareness of the potential existence of “well-applied” photographic art. Even so, he spent great energy expressing a modernist’s vitriolic contempt for photography in its romantic infancy:

“A new industry arose which contributed not a little to confirm stupidity in its faith . . .The idolatrous mob demanded an ideal worthy of itself and appropriate to its nature. . .  In matters of painting and sculpture, the present-day Credo of the sophisticated, (in France especially) is this: `I believe in Nature, and I believe only in Nature, (there are good reasons for that). I believe that Art is, and cannot be other than, the exact reproduction of nature (a timid and dissident sect would wish to exclude the more repellent objects of nature, such as skeletons or chamber pots). Thus an industry that could give us a result identical to nature would be the absolute of art.’ A revengeful God has given ear to the prayers of this multitude. Daguerre was his Messiah. And now the faithful says to himself: `Since Photography gives us every guarantee of exactitude that we could desire (they really believe that, the mad fools!), then Photography and Art are the same thing.’ From that moment our squalid society rushed, Narcissus to a man, to gaze at its trivial image on a scrap of metal.” (Baudelaire124)

           

PHOTO-PAINTING

“Because the early photographers who sought to produce creative work had no tradition to guide them, they soon began to borrow a ready-made one from the painters. These false standards became firmly established, so the goal became photo-painting rather than photography.”

* Edward Weston

 

“I photograph what I do not wish to paint, and I paint what I cannot photograph.”

               * Man Ray

           

Oscar G. Rejlander, who wrote that since the medium could not contain “any new idea, pose, light or expression capable of representing impressions produced on the human mind,” it was therefore “not the work of man.” And since the work of man was the work of God, photography must then be “indirectly, the work of the devil.” (Rejlander 144)

Fortunately, not everyone was bashing photography as the bastard child of science and art. There were people who intuitively grasped the importance of the camera’s usefulness as an instrument to document important structures, monuments, events, and even everyday life. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Mathew Brady and several others documented the Civil War. William Henry Jackson strapped hundreds of pounds of equipment to a burro while making records of America’s scenic vistas. Overseas, Francis Frith made the first photos of Egyptian pyramids, while John Thompson photographed life in China and the streets of London. Therefore Rejlander, wallowing in a temperamental artist’s guilt over the exorbitant fee he collected from Queen Victoria for a mere photograph, may have been referring to himself as Satan’s puppet.

Criticism escalated as studio-bound photographers indulged in what is perhaps the most discredited genre the medium has produced, the “photo-painting.” Using soft-focus, uncorrected lenses, intentionally scratched glass plates, hand tinting, and the sentimental themes common to romantic painting, pictorialism emerged as photography’s first foray into “art for art’s sake.” Photographers commonly used models to stage historical scenes. “A great many horrors,” wrote the purist Edward Weston, were “perpetrated in the name of art, from allegorical costume pieces to dizzying out-of-focus blurs.” (Weston 171) Once again, Baudelaire’s criticisms were scathing:

“By bringing together a group of male and female clowns, got up like butchers and laundry-maids at a carnival, and by begging these heroes to be so kind as to hold their chance grimaces for the time necessary for the performance, the operator flattered himself that he was reproducing tragic or elegant scenes from ancient history . . . As the photographic industry was the refuge of every would-be painter, every painter too ill-endowed or too lazy to complete his studies, this universal infatuation bore not only the mark of a blindness, an imbecility, but also had the air of a vengeance . . . a cheap method of disseminating a loathing for history and for painting. . . committing a double sacrilege and insulting at one and the same time the divine art of painting and the noble art of the actor.” (124)

 

                  Combination printing was also popular, frequently used to bring clouds into landscapes at a time when film did not have the latitude to handle extreme exposure differences. “A photographed produced by combination printing must be deeply studied in every particular, so that no departure from the truth of nature shall be discovered by the closest scrutiny,” England’s Henry Peach Robinson insisted. Nevertheless, this method of using multiple negatives to create sentimental imagery made Rejlander and Robinson objects of scorn in the twentieth century, though several photographers, since WWII, notably Jerry Uelsmann, have used similar techniques. (Goldberg PiP 155)

                  In the modernists’ rush to condemn all such pictorialist endeavor, the excellent portraiture of artists such as Nadar, and Scotland’s David Octavius Hill have often been overlooked. In 1842, Hill was among the first painters to seriously pick up on the mechanisms of photography. He initially turned to photography to assist in the preparation of a large canvas that would combine more than a hundred portraits. So obsessed with photography that his wife and friends felt compelled to remind him that he was “an artist,” Hill sheepishly gave up the craft and returned to painting. Ironically, his paintings are ignored, while in 1917 Paul Strand referred to his portraits as “amazing . . . built with the utmost simplicity upon large masses of light and dark.” (Strand 147)

 

STIEGLITZ AND THE PHOTO-SECESSION

“The originality of a work of art refers to the originality of the thing expressed and the way it is expressed, whether it be in poetry, photography or painting. That one technique is more difficult than another to learn no one will deny; but the greatest thoughts have been expressed by means of the simplest technique, writing.”  

                          *Alfred Stieglitz (Whelan 118)

 

“He was undoubtedly the most insistently `artistic’ practitioner of all time; with the adverse effect that is was he who forced `art’ into quotation marks and into unwanted earnestness. On the other hand, Stieglitz’s overstated, self-conscious aestheticism engendered a healthy reaction. We got a school of anti-art photography out of his protestations.”

                                                             * Walker Evans, on Alfred Stieglitz, 1969. (Rosenheim 104)

           

Alfred Stieglitz is acknowledged as the individual who did more than any other to promote photography as an art at the same level as other art forms. A tireless, quixotic crusader, Stieglitz was the founder of the Photo-Secession, a group of artistic photographers and their intellectual supporters. The foe was commercialism, and its accompanying indifference to quality. (Whelan xxvi) Stieglitz also edited two widely respected publications, Camera Notes (1897-1902) and Camera Work (1903-1917) that served as forums for considerable discussion and debate. A champion of the avant-garde in all arts, his 291 Gallery was the first in the United States to exhibit European painters such as Picasso, Rodin, Matisse and Brancusi.

Visitors to the gallery were put off by the incessant chatter of Stieglitz. Ashcan-School painter John Sloan complained that Stieglitz talked so much that he never went back, whileThomas Hart Benton remembered that the photographer “never talked directly to the point, but wove a web of discourse over, under and around a subject.” (Whelan xv) Stieglitz’s logorrhea was inspired by intimations that his medium was not art:

“Artists who saw my early photographs began to tell me that they envied me; that my photographs were superior to their paintings, but that unfortunately photography was not an art. I could not understand why the artists should envy me for my work, yet, in the same breath, decry it because it was machine made—their 'hand-made' art being necessarily superior. . .  There I started my fight . . .” (Whelan 117)

Paul Strand wrote that his mentor gave the world “a highly evolved crystallization of the photographic principle, the unqualified subjugation of a machine to the single purpose of expression.” (Strand 148) This would imply that Stieglitz understood the inherent potential of the medium for “straight,” rather than pictorialist or painterly, photography. And by the time Strand met up with Stieglitz, this was likely true. Yet Stieglitz’s own photography went through two main stages: at first he produced romanticized pictures which borrowed impressionistic styling; later he moved into realism. A.D. Coleman’s thoughts on Stieglitz lend perspective:

“At the time Stieglitz (a decidedly bourgeois gentleman with aristocratic tendencies) began his crusade, the most rampant forms of High Art were adherent to Romantic subject matter and style: livestock in rural settings, sturdy peasants, fuzziness, orientalia. Stieglitz wanted imagery resembling Whistler prints. This definition of High Art and High Art Photography was a creative dead end. His disciples addressed these themes, the result being an attenuated school of photography based on imitation of the surface qualities of a nostalgic, enervated school of painting.” (Coleman 481)

                 

            Walker Evans, who in the 1930s— as the first photographer ever to be given a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art-- took straight photography to new artistic heights, recalled that Stieglitz gave him an “aesthetic to sharpen my own against—a counter aesthetic.” (Evans 362) Thus Alfred Stieglitz, albeit inadvertently, also inspired the postmodernist movement in photography. Coleman again:

“He subsequently became aware of—and to his credit embraced—that ferment in which post-impressionist seeing and camera vision commingled to generate radical new forms of visual expression. So he ended up proselytizing for a way of working in photography which was diametrically opposed to what he had initially propounded; the last issues of Camera Work were devoted to the blunt, harsh, Cubist-influenced images of the young Paul Strand.” (Coleman 482)

“This is the real photography,” Stieglitz trumpeted from his new bandwagon, “the photography of today; and that which the world is accustomed to as pictorial photography is not the real photography, but an ignorant imposition.” (Whelan 123)

           

IN DEFENSE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

“The existence of a medium, after all, is its absolute justification . . . comparison of potentialities is useless and irrelevant. Whether a watercolor is inferior to an oil, or whether a drawing, an etching, or a photograph is not as important as either, is inconsequent. To have to despise something in order to respect something else is a thing of impotence. Let us rather accept joyously and with gratitude everything through which the spirit of man seeks to an even fuller and more intense self-realization.”

                                        *Paul Strand, 1917

Beyond the noble efforts of Alfred Stieglitz, there have been plenty of artists, intellectuals and critics who have rallied to photography’s defense. Picasso, a friend of French photographer Brassai, was one modern artist who saw photography as a separate but equal art form. In 1966, he wrote:

“When you see what you express through photography, you realize all the things that can no longer be the objective of painting. Why should the artist persist in treating subjects that can be established so clearly with the camera? It would be absurd, wouldn’t it? Photography has arrived at a point where it is capable of liberating painting from all literature, from the anecdote, and even from the subject. In any case, a certain aspect of the subject now belongs to the domain of photography. So shouldn’t painters profit from their newly acquired liberty, and make use of it to do other things?” (Picasso 431)

Renoir had also remarked, some years before Picasso, that photography had saved art from the tedium of depicting the corner grocer. Yet think of the photographic abstractions of Man Ray and Maholy-Nagy, and discussions of subject matter become secondary to considerations of the physical characteristics unique to photography. Strand’s comment that photography was the first and most important contribution of science to the arts, and his assertion that all other arts are really “anti-photographic,” now demands closer attention.

 

The element of time

 “Since the light of the star which was daguerreotyped took twenty years to traverse the space separating it from the earth, the ray which was fixed on the plate had consequently left the celestial sphere a long time before Daguerre had discovered the process by means of which we have just gained control of this light.”

* Delacroix, in 1850, speaking about a pinhead size impression of Vega made by astronomers at Cambridge. (Sontag 157)

 

“Photography as an art is the offspring of the scientific age.”

* Berenice Abbott

 

When teaching beginning photography, I always cite the mantra, “Timing, Lighting, and Composition,” as the three essential elements of every photograph. Of the three, timing – which includes both the moment the photograph is made and the ability to freeze that moment for eternity—is the primary element that distinguishes photography from other art forms. Strand, who dabbled in photographic abstraction to better understand what painters were thinking, wrote:

“The camera can hold in a unique way, a moment . . . (the photographer) may do with a machine what the human brain and hand, through the act of memory, cannot do. So perceived, the whole concept of a portrait takes on a meaning, that of a record of innumerable elusive and constantly changing states of being . . .in this sense portrait painting, already a corpse, becomes an absurdity.” (Strand 149)

           

Early photographic images were rooted in temporalities of a social and usually romantic nature. As the technology improved, faster films and lenses were developed, and photographers such as Eadward Muybridge and Jules Etienne Marey began exploring. (Druckrey)  In 1878, when Muybridge came out with his pictures of a galloping horse, the results proved that no one had ever correctly observed the animal’s gait before. This triggered intense debate over whether it was artistically truthful, or even convincing, for an artist to copy such a photograph and paint what the eye could not see. (Goldberg PiP)  Oliver Wendall Holmes, himself something of a buff, rejected the imperative of photographic realism in art, in essence exonerating the medium from its role as handmaiden to painting. In 1889 he concluded:

“Muybridges’s photographs are of indirect importance to the artist. Art for the purpose of representation does not require to give to the eye more than the eye can see . . . we do not want Mr. Muybridge to tell us that no horses ever strode in the fashion shown in the picture (a Sturgess painting). It may be fairly contended that the incorrect position (according to science) is the correct position (according to art) . . . only extremists contend that art must discard every other consideration in an endeavor to represent merely the True.” (Holmes 188-89)

The element of time in photography has provided the world with informative glimpses of other phenomena, such as Edgerton’s bullet exiting a partially burst balloon, or a ballerina frozen in mid-pirouette. There’s a formal beauty captured in these unlocked mysteries that we would never have known without the camera.

Whatever photography’s claim as a form of personal expression equal to painting, its use of mathematics and science, derived from a machine, give it a uniqueness that from the outset attracted modern artists. In an obverse irony to the much-maligned photo-painting, modernist painters derived inspiration from “chrono-photography.” (Wolter-Abele) The medium of film was seen as a technical and artistic challenge. In 1918, modernist Alvin Langdon Coburn called the camera the “instrument of fast seeing,” echoing the Futurist apotheosis of machines and speed. (Sontag 124) The Futurists, who were using the iconographic language of analytical Cubism to further develop the theories of Impressionism, wanted to give their paintings greater dynamism by making the element of time visible. Picasso considered setting his pictures in motion using a clockwork mechanism, or producing a series of works that could be shown in rapid succession, like a film. Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2,” which formulated his artistic answer to the advance of photography, encapsulated the movement of a female body dismantled along the lines of Cubist analysis. Viewers could not understand the painting, and it was considered so shocking that Duchamp himself withdrew it. (Wolter-Abele)

 

NOT A FINE ART AFTER ALL?

“Photography occupies the ground between popular and legitimate (high) taste, and its character is therefore defined in a classifying system rather than by anything substantive—such as being mechanical, being a craft, a mere copy—in other words, by failing to meet the criteria for High Art.”

*Roger Seamon, “The Plight of Photography as a Modern Art,” 1997 (247)

 

“Art (in the twentieth century) has no right to exist if, content to reproduce reality, it uselessly duplicates itself. Its mission is to conjure up imaginary worlds. That can be done only if the artist repudiates reality and by this act places himself above it.”

*Jose Ortega y Gasset, 1956 (Seamon 245)

 

     In the early pages of this paper, various criticisms of photography by intellectuals such as Baudelaire and Ruskin were presented, as evidence of the art world’s initial resistance to a medium perceived by many as “a soulless, mechanical copying of reality.” (Sontag 126) In this final section, I will explore the reasons why to some, as incredible as it may seem, this refusal to accept photography as a fine art persists even today.

In the early years of photography, in both France and England, photography was the preserve of the intellectual elite, and it was the upper- and upper-middle class amateurs who made the effort to give the medium artistic prestige. These efforts failed, which raises the question, “What was it about photography that prevented it from becoming a fine art even when it was produced and sponsored by the ruling elites?” (Seamon 247)

It was not public opinion that held the medium down, A. D. Coleman insists, but rather the art establishment’s defensive antagonism. The general public has always been interested in photographs, “even (perhaps especially) those not certified as Art.” The problem has never been the lack of an audience, but “the withholding of certain kinds of incentives: prestige, power and money.” (Directorial 481) In a 1997 article published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Roger Seamon investigated the reopening of the “is photography art” question by Kendall Walton and Roger Scruton. Negative in their slant, Walton and Scruton argue that to look at a “pure” photograph is to look at the thing itself, not an interpretation of reality, and that the absence of an aesthetic dimension accounts for the failure of all efforts to call photography an art. Which leaves Ansel Adams and his ilk “between a rock and a hard place,” as it were.

Seamon himself, as indicated by the quote at the beginning of this section, ultimately agrees with Walton and Scruton. Photography’s chance, he argues, has come and gone: 

“It’s not a matter of `not yet’: Photography has already had its classic period, when roughly the first half of this century, the best art photographers—Strand, Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Sander, Evans, Adams, et al.-- abandoned pictorialism and forged a tradition that looked back to Brady, Atget, Adamson and Hill. They took beauty as their subject, celebration as their dominant expressive stance.” (246)

 

Seamon’s claim that photography is the “major artistic medium that proclaims that the world is beautiful and that the major task of the artist is to reveal that beauty in a transparently mimetic way,” is limited in its relevance to all uses of the medium. However, as his own perspective seems limited to a mindset rooted in the Romantic Paradigm, this helps forward his contention that photography is also the modern art that most consistently “expresses the official values of our culture, the belief in human equality . . . and our democratic vision.” (246) The low `status’ of photography, he insists, “lies in the shift from classical to modernist criteria in the fine arts:” (245)


Too ordinary?

Even as individual photographers—many of who have been discussed here—have demonstrated undeniable artistic originality in their use of the medium, Seamon’s cadre of detractors believe that photography will never rise above what Pierre Bourdieu in 1965 called a “middle-brow art.” (Seamon 245)

Bourdieu agrees with Gasset’s explanation of modern art—which he claims takes to an extreme the conclusions and intention implicit in all art since the Renaissance—as a systematic refusal of all that is ‘human,’ by which he means the passions, emotions and feelings which ordinary people put into their ordinary existence. (248) This ordinariness, Seamon writes, diminishes photography’s status:

“The beauty and moral dignity of the ordinary is at the heart of what we might call democratic classicism, but to top-level intellectuals since the romantic period, that ethos is aesthetically heretical. Photography did not attain high-art status until the belief in the reality and importance of beauty, and the significance of art as a path to truth were abandoned by photographers who defined themselves as avant-garde artists.” (245-46)

 

Lack of expressive intent?

            Several modern critics have weighed in with theories that echo back to the days of Baudelaire. In 1974 John Berger, who doesn’t believe that photography meets the standards of Fine Art, wrote that “painting interprets the world, translating it to its own language: but photography has no language of its own.” (Berger 291) Similarly, Kendall Walton wrote in 1984 about the “transparency” of photographs, claiming that a photo is not about the world—it says or implies nothing, but “is only expressive of the attitudes toward what is represented.” (Seamon 247) And Owen Barfield, in 1977, called the camera “a caricature of the imagination, although a true emblem of perspective.” Yet since there are also paintings that lack expression, this alone cannot account for the lowly status of photography. (247)


Too literal or real?

            “Legitimate” art we are told, emphasizes the “how” over the “what,” asserting the primacy of the mode of expression over the object represented. In too much of photography, writes Walter Benjamin, the creative principle surrenders to fashion, raising every tin can into the realm of beauty without grasping the human connections that it enters into. Sontag agrees: “Nobody ever discovered ugliness though photographs. But many, through photographs, have discovered beauty.” She criticizes Weston for having “so bland an ideal of beauty as perfection.” While once unthinkable, in the modernist context it this one of the criteria against which photography was measured, and came up short. (249)


Too social?

         Photography, if we are to believe Seamon, is just too damn democratic to be High Art. Artists, he tells us, did not usually present the world with personal, eccentric expression. They understood their task as the individual expression of “an exemplary, but not extraordinary, moral awareness.” Photography on the other hand, and particularly documentary, which Seamon calls the “expression of the deepest moral and artistic values of liberal democratic societies,” reflects communal ideals. Neither Lewis Hine nor Walker Evans were trying to express themselves in an overt manner. “Both in celebration and protest,” he claims, “it is photography which has carried the evaluative burden which high art had abandoned, and it has paid the price.”(250)

Thus social realism, and especially journalism, even when executed with the style of a Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith or Sebastio Salgado, still ranks low in the hierarchy of modernist values. Ingrid Sischy, an arts editor and writer, explains:

“That limiting, fragmenting system which divides people who use the medium into categories—fine-art photographers or commercial photographers or new photographers—may have had many exceptions and challenges over the years, but it is still firmly in place. No matter that, for instance, a photographer’s imagery is highly imaginative, and stands on its own: if it was originally produced on assignment, he or she is still pigeonholed as “less” than an artist, and has a harder time being taken seriously than someone whose pictures are first seen in an art gallery.” (Cookman 5)



On museums

“I can’t stand these damn shows on museum walls with neat little frames, where you look at the images as if they were pieces of art. I want them to be pieces of life!”

                                                     *W. Eugene Smith (439)

 

“You don’t want your work to spring from art; you want it to commence from life . . . I’m no longer comfortable in a museum. I don’t want to go to them, don’t want to be `taught’ anything, don’t want to see `accomplished’ art.  Museums have a wonderful function, but there comes a time when the artist had better stay out of them, I think.”

                                                         *Walker Evans, 1971

It’s instructive to note that both of the above quotes come from photographers who have raised social realism to its highest aesthetic standards. Smith and Evans, both of whom continue to be widely exhibited posthumously, were uncompromising and unrepentant about their stylistic and editorial choices, rejecting the “art for art’s sake” mentality until the end. Evans, who in 1938 was the first photographer to be given a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art, fled from his opening in terror, shyness, or perhaps guilt at the realization that his precious subjects were somehow being co-opted into the machinery of organized art production and sales. (Rathbone)

Simply displaying photographs on museum walls however is not enough to qualify them as Fine Art. “The Family Of Man,” an epic celebration of life put together in 1955 by Edward Steichen for the MoMA, was considered a defining moment in photography’s history but in the strictest sense it didn’t rate. Although Steichen intuitively represented the heart of classical photographic practice, by not focussing on artists or schools of art, “The Family of Man” was appreciated by art snobs only for its classical aesthetic. Its supposed focus on subject over form, Seamon assures us, makes it almost “impossible to imagine it within the modernist idea of art, except as a joke or interesting anomaly.” (249)

At any rate, since Ansel Adams helped found the first department of fine art photography at MoMA in 1940, few museums have had sufficient initiative to open photographic departments. This is actually a good thing, John Berger believes, because it means “that few photographs have been preserved in sacred isolation, so the public have not come to think of them as being beyond them.” Furthermore, the public shouldn’t think of photographs in the same terms as other art forms:

“By their nature photographs have little property value because they have no rarity value. The image is not unique, but infinitely reproducible. We categorize things as art by considering certain phases of their creation. By this logic all man-made objects could be art. Art should be categorized by what has become of its social function. Property. Most photographs are outside this category.” (Berger 291)

No work of art can survive without becoming valuable property, Berger believes. Within his Western, consumerist paradigm that values covetousness and ownership over the spiritual, Art’s importance is ultimately measured by its value in the marketplace of trendsetters and collectors. Over a period of 20 years musician Graham Nash compiled an impressive collection, including dozens of images by virtually all of the medium’s most influential artists. In 1990, he sold the entire collection through Sotheby’s for around $2 million, or the cost of a few Van Gogh’s. Individually, a typical price for a Cartier-Bresson, Stieglitz, Man Ray or Arbus was listed between $1,000 to $3,000, lending credence to Berger’s “rarity” theory. Some of the more upscale items include an $18,000 Weston, and $75,000 for a platinum geometric study by Paul Outerbridge titled “Saltine Box, Version II,” from 1922. (Figure 45) As the whims of collectors rise and fall, so goes the value of photographs. As sobering as this may be, it is still a less bitter pill to swallow than the cynical analysis of Roger Seamon, for whom Art remains a class marker:

“Modern art is for specialists, not the community. Blockbuster exhibits are the artworld equivalent of popular science. Modernity means expertise and specialization, and thus the art world developed specialist art, emphasizing the sheer potential of the medium and self-consciousness in opposition to mimetic and morally normative expression. Straight and classic photography was the loser.” (250)

Seamon safely agrees with Gasset that “the complex, witty, and pathos-filled distortions of Picasso are better than the works of Walker Evans.” Better, perhaps. More expensive, certainly . . .