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A Brief History of Capturing Time: How Photography Became an Art

Late humanist photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once told about photography
To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.

Indeed, it is, from its very core. At every nook and corner, shutterbugs are found lurking over their subjects just to capture those exquisite moments. Their eyes are all affixed to this tiny square of a viewfinder. Their world becomes a captivation of their own imaginations.

Some people say photography is the most dynamic form of art in the 21st Century. That’s why photographers are well revered all over the world. But in 19th century that story was a bit murky.

The Gloomy Period
That era wasn’t any cake-walk for photographers. Critics always liked to castrate photography as a form of art. They claimed a very unartistic amateur photographer, armed with a good camera, is capable of producing perfectly acceptable images. By contrast, a person who had no idea how to paint, sculpt or carve, would have far greater difficulty creating an acceptable painting or statue. So for this effortlessness, one question lingered in the minds- how photography and art could be put in a same bracket.  

Other critics disagreed though. They said photography would have far greater impact than a painting of the same scene. And because cameras capture reality, impact is an important ingredient of camera art. Lastly, even if an untrained camera operator manages to take an acceptable picture, it is unlikely to match the creativity of a picture taken by a professional photographer. But these points barely scratched a mark at that time.

That is why photographers struggled a long way for artistic recognition throughout the century.

The Dawn
But socio-economic and cultural change made the paradigm shift for photographers. Their destiny had been rewritten from the ashes of negligence. Science, invention and war changed the entire social façade of the 20th century. People got enchanted by the lively works of photographers. The grotesque images of civil war, the horrors of a battle fields, and the social segregations were rightly framed. With each succeeding war, as cameras became more advanced, the role of photography has evolved to convey the realities of combat and the agonies inflicted, primarily on the soldiers in the field. There is a tragic artistry to the unforgettable pictures of the dead and wounded in the 20th century wars. These lifelines could not be portrayed by paintings.  And thus paintings and other forms of art started to lag behind.

Capturing Reality
Some photographs are heroic. Some tells horrifying truths.

Joe Rosenthal's iconic snapshot of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima in February 1945 is enshrined in memory as a prelude to victory.
On the other hand, picture by Elliott Erwitt, a segregated Water Fountains in North Carolina points out the injustice of social segregation. This picture later became a well-recognized symbol for the need for change. 

Silver Lining
There is little doubt nowadays that photography, aside from its enormous variety of uses, is legitimately considered a fine art discipline. Almost any well-known and respected museum has sections dedicated solely to photographic art; and there are a number of museums and galleries dedicated specifically to photography. Photography finally stood on its ground and found its place in the art world.

In the last decades, photography's potential has radically expanded. The advances and development of new technologies and new aesthetic theories combined with the enhanced role of photography as a marketable commodity has influenced the way the medium is now being used and perceived. The accepted and expanded state of this medium is the result of a rich history in which photography flourished even more by being so closely tied to developments in technology, in the arts, and in the social sphere.

So Happy Clicking! And a Happy World Photography Day!

A Brief History of Capturing Time: How Photography Became an Art A Brief History of Capturing Time: How Photography Became an Art Reviewed by Arnab Naskar on Sunday, August 19, 2018 Rating: 5


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