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What is Contemporary Photography?

Photography as a medium is pretty new compared to the long span of Art History. The first camera was invented in the 1800s and photography as an artistic medium began years after in the early 1900s. Contemporary Photography, as a time period, began in the 1970s when the Contemporary movement began. However, Contemporary Photography as a style or movement is vast and hard to pinpoint. Each contemporary artist uses photography in different ways to capture reality as they want it. It is through this diversity that photography remains a popular artistic medium that is constantly evolving.

The progression of photography can be tracked alongside the advancements in technology. The camera is a tool that captures light and creates and imprint on either glass, film, or a digital file. As cameras became more advanced, photographers were able to significantly manipulate their technical capabilities. They played with light exposure, overlapping frames, and lenses. The artist was in complete control of their process—from manipulating the artistic tool to developing the image later on. The dark room, where photographers could edit negatives, turned into advanced editing software. Everything became digital. Contemporary photographers now are not only expected to know how to take a good photograph, but also how to manipulate their images digitally.

There is no standard subject matter in Contemporary Photography. As photographers appreciate the medium for its ability to capture reality in the moment, subject matter is entirely dependent on the artist. Some worked with portraiture, some in landscape, and some even in abstract—manipulating space and reality to emphasize form, line, and color. With such diverse subject matter, contemporary photography fits nicely into the many different movements happening within the contemporary period. Feminist artists used photography, so did minimalists, and environmental, even conceptual. It is a medium that transcends subject or purpose and allows artists to explore their personal intentions in new ways.

Quite recently, with the advent of smartphones, photography has become widely accessible. Anyone with the technological means is now able to capture their reality and exhibit it through social media. Some established photographers are using smartphones to explore new advances in photography—blending it with more traditional photographic techniques. Photography, more so than any other artistic medium, is becoming so popular that the lines between professional and amateur are blurred.

The fact that contemporary photography is hard to define is perhaps the very reason it is one of the more popular art styles. With its diverse subject matter, photography appeals to different aesthetic tastes and personal interests. Contemporary photography can be both intimate and universal, confined and broad, realistic and abstract, documentary and imaginative. It is ever-changing with artists continually trying to produce work that challenges the medium itself.

Notable Works:

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #6. 1977. Gelatin Silver Print.

Ansel Adams, Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. 1960. Gelatin Silver Print.

By: Get Inspired