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Although art. There were plenty of Emerson-esc exhibitions to

 

            Although the ideologies of Emerson,
Hine, and Stieglitz take a different approach when constructing a definition for
art photography, it is clear that each individual draws a parallel in
challenging the conventional idea of photography before them. Whilst analyzing
the work of these three photographers, I particularly found interest in the
points made by Peter Henry Emerson in Hints
On Art. Emerson strived to depict the personal expressions of the
photographer through their pictorial images and looked at photography as a
medium able to produce beautiful art.  However,
pictorial photography is a quite enigmatic term. History proves that the
practice is not always understood as an art form. Art institutions and museums don’t
always demonstrate the values that Emerson tried to instill for photography. That
being said, today I intend to prove whether or not renowned establishments such
as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
exemplify the qualities that regard photography as high art.

            Peter Henry Emerson’s style of
photography is defined as naturalistic and can be best described in a quote
from Hints On Art where he states, “Seize on any aspect of nature that pleases
you and try and interpret it, and ignore ­­–as nature ignores – all childish
rules, such as the lens should work only when the sun shines or when no wind
blows” (Emerson 1). Although this quote speaks for itself, Emerson believed in
straight forward photography. The photographer expressed his artistic vision
through realistic and honest photography, which excludes any tampering or
editing of images. Accordingly, I kept this in mind while exploring The
Metropolitan Museum of Art’s past year of exhibitions. The Metropolitan Museum of
Art is viewed as one of the best museums in the world. Therefore, it is not a surprise
that many of the museum’s exhibitions include a focus on photographic art. There
were plenty of Emerson-esc exhibitions to choose from, yet the closest in comparison
had to be Modernism On The Ganges by
Raghubir Singh. This particular exhibition within the Met’s collection exemplified
many of the constructions that Emerson laid out for the art of photography. In
this exhibition, Raghubir Singh captured freeze-like compositions throughout
his native country of India. Just as Emerson captured settings such as
landscapes, people, and objects in their natural state, Singh’s collection
captures all of the same aspects with an Indian twist; carving out an Indian
style of modern photography. The photos include various straightforward images
that were captured with nothing but a hand-held camera. Further, it is clear
Raghubir Singh did not follow the “childish rules” of photography, as Emerson
puts it. Instead, the photographer seized specific moments through his artistic
vision that interested him, as Emerson would’ve advised. Yet besides this
standout compilation, I found the majority The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s
collection to contribute to Emerson’s ideology. Another exhibition that showed
potential, in terms of Emerson’s constructions, was In the Beginning by Dianne Arbus. While this exhibition focuses on
the first seven years of Arbus’ career, the artist captured various images of
regular life in New York City. A bit different from Emerson and Singh, nonetheless,
similar values are present in some of her compositions.

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            Moving on, another establishment of
fine art in which I analyzed was The Art Institute of Chicago. It came to no
surprise that, much like the Met, The Art Institute of Chicago also had various
exhibitions in the past year that were organized around photography. Within the
museum’s collection, an exhibition that caught my eye was The Americans by Robert Frank. In this exhibition, Frank captures
glimpses of life in 1950s America while pushing his artistic vision and
underlying themes through his uncut images. This reminded me much of Emerson.  Peter Henry Emerson believed that photography
should be direct and show real people in their own environment. This is seen in
many of his images of fisherman, farmers and other working class people preforming
day to day activities. Of course, Emerson utilized the landscape when
photographing these people, however, Robert Franks work brings a modern spin to
his ideology with an urban landscape. Just as Emerson pushed his philosophy of
photographic art through naturalism and traditional landscapes, Robert Frank
pushes themes involving the state of the country in the 1950s by showing
different members of American society. Last on the list of art institutions is
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I was a bit astonished to find that museum
had little to none of exhibits focused on photography in the past year. The
entirety of the exhibitions is made up of paintings, drawings, sculptures,
antiques, architecture and even fashion. Yet, no photography. This was
especially disappointing.

            Personally, if I were to have the
ability to create my own artistic photography exhibition I believe it would be
only right to continue the narrative by Emerson. One of the points I took away
from analyzing these exhibitions is that many of the photos I viewed contained
some sort of aspect of Emerson’s initial ideals. However, Emerson’s views on
landscape and definition of naturalism in Hints
On Art really stuck out to me. In my exhibition, I would show the
progression from Emerson’s traditional, black and white landscape all the way
to images of more modern and urban landscape. This is because I found it fascinating
that Emerson’s form of landscape is almost unrecognizable from some of the
landscapes I viewed in exhibitions later in time. Ultimately, I believe this to
reflect the changes in time and population. For example, I would include a
photograph by Emerson such as, A Ruined
Water Mill. Which depicts a run down, wooden water mill next to a creek in
high grass. The, right next that photo, include a more modern landscape picture
of a wind turbine in the Midwest. I would make sure the same graphical elements
of the image were in line, yet show the vast change in time and technology.

 This would symbolize not just how far
photography has come in terms of technological advance and art form, but how
far out country has come since our ancestor’s humble beginnings. To me, this
would be a powerful exhibit. The title of my exhibition would be:  The Reincarnation of Naturalistic Photography.

            Withal, two of the three museums listed
are most definitely contributions to the constructions Emerson and his contemporaries
brought to the art form. Being The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Art Institute
of Chicago. After analyzing the exhibitions that both of these establishments
offer to the public and knowing a bit about the origins of photography, the
characteristics and practices are apparent in many later photographer’s work.

While Emerson, Hine, Stieglitz, Szarkowski, and Krauss differed in practice,
all photographers as an art form rather than an invention of science or
mechanical process. That being said, art institutions, such as the ones I observed
today, tell us that photography is now held to that standard. Museums play a
large role in spreading the art form by displaying it to vast amounts of people
all over the world. Individuals can walk into a museum and observe types of
photography they had never seen before. Ultimately, inspiring them to take
part.

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