Between Amateur and Aesthete: The Legitimization of Photography as Art in America, 1880-1900

Between Amateur and Aesthete: The Legitimization of Photography as Art in America, 1880-1900

Between Amateur and Aesthete: The Legitimization of Photography as Art in America, 1880-1900

Between Amateur and Aesthete: The Legitimization of Photography as Art in America, 1880-1900

Synopsis

The popularisation of amateur photography and the recognition of photography as an art framed the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Until now, these crucial events in the history of photography surprisingly have been unexamined. Paul Sternberger offers the first thorough investigation of the part played by the amateur photographer and of the struggle to legitimise photography as art. The fascinating study shows the late nineteenth century to have been a complex time for both photographic theory and practice in America. At the same time it enlarges our understanding of photographic history.

Excerpt

Rather would I die, than to give up my faith in the ability of photography to produce works of art.

—EDWARD LIVINGSTON WILSON, "THE DIGNITY OF PHOTOGRAPHIC ART"

This book focuses on radical changes in the practice and theory of photography and discussions of its status as art. The two critical decades of these changes, 1880-1900, are framed by two of the most crucial moments in the history of the medium: the introduction of the amateur camera and the institutionalization of art photography. The investigation historicizes debate over photography's claim to artistic legitimacy, studying the strategies employed by American writers and photographers in their attempts to elevate photography to the status of the traditional arts. It examines the contemporary journals in which photographers theorized artistic practice and the photographic pictures they took to be validations of the medium's claim to a position among the fine arts.

Faced with the condemnation of photography as inherently inartistic because of its apparently mechanical and chemical nature, a burgeoning class of amateur photographers strove to construct a place for photography . . .

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