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Contemporary Photography

In the 1980s, as photography reached the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of its invention, photographers began to reflect on its widespread presence in the world, and on its uses and origins. The results ranged from pictures that mimicked the contrived, fabricated look of advertising photography to images that were made with anachronistic materials and techniques revived from the nineteenth century. Photography was also fast becoming a favorite medium of artists unaffiliated with its traditions. The medium was used by conceptual artists in revolt against painting and sculpture and later in the movement known as postmodernism, which focused on the saturation of popular culture with photography.

There was no mistaking that the classical documentary styles of the middle twentieth century were less interesting to a new generation of photographers and artists than the potential for making photography a malleable instrument of self expression and cultural critique. This period of intense interest in photography’s extra-esthetic roles coincided with the development of revolutionary new technologies for making camera pictures. By the end of the 1980s, digital cameras were being sold to the public; by century’s end, programs like Adobe Photoshop had put the ability to refine and manipulate digital images into the hands of everyone. While this prompted some photographers to double down on traditional processes (some that predated film), others seized the opportunity to make photography a medium of the imagination.

© 1974, Barbara Kasten
© 1977-1985, Jim Goldberg
© 1986, Joel Peter Witkin
© 1986, Susan Rankaitis
© 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.
© 1987, Barbara Ess
© 1988, David Levinthal
© 1988, David Levinthal
© 1986, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen
© 1986, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen
© 1987, Zeke Berman
© 1987, Sarah Charlesworth
© 1989, Nancy Burson
© 1986, George Le Grady
© 1989, George Le Grady
© 1987, John Divola
© 1991, Ellen Brooks
© 1988, William Wegman
© 1990, Steel Stillman
© 1976, Estate of Ana Mendieta
© 1976, Estate of Ana Mendieta
© 1980, Estate of Ana Mendieta
© 1992, Maria Martinez Canas
© 1998, Martina Lopez
© 1996, Abelardo Morell
© 1998, Sally Mann
© Alfredo Jaar, Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York
© 2012, Ellen Carey
© 2009, Muriel Hasbun