Please Touch to Start

Photography at Mid-Century

By the twentieth century’s midpoint, photography in America had become one of the most visible measures of an increasingly diversified culture. Picture magazines such as Life and Look, as well as fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, were rich with images; art schools increasingly added photography to their curricula; museum departments of photography were created; and commercial galleries began to devote significant wall space to showing and selling photographs. Drawing on diverse aesthetic currents of the 1920s and 1930s—which included experimentation, purism, surrealism, and social documentary—photographers pursued a variety of stylistic choices and avenues for creative freedom. Many photographers began to grapple with problems of pure form, others with the expression of inner visions, and still others with ways of representing new perceptions of social realities. Some photographers, among them Aaron Siskind, drew on ideas of abstraction that grew out of abstract expressionist painting; others were inspired by the photographic experimentalism that came from new education centers such as the Institute of Design in Chicago—founded in 1937 by the former Bauhaus instructor, László Moholy-Nagy—which called for photographers to find a fresh, personal way of looking at the commonplace. Still others continued in a documentary style, though one that was now heightened by a more intimate and subjective approach to photography.

© 1949, The Estate of Harry Callahan
© 1949, The Estate of Harry Callahan
© 1949, The Estate of Harry Callahan
© 1949, The Estate of Harry Callahan
© 1976, Aaron Siskind
© 1980, Barbara Morgan
© 1966, Ray K. Metzker
© 1963, Ray K. Metzker
© 1974, Estate of Garry Winogrand
© 1942, Todd Webb
© 1977, Julie F. Pratt
© 1959, Christopher Meatyard
© 1984, O. Winston Link
© 1942, Nelson Crawford and Robert Crawford
© Estate of Louis Faurer
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum © Trustees of Princeton University