A New Way of Seeing: Photographic Views (1930s–Present)

Arthur Rothstein, Farmer and Sons Walking in the Face of a Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, Gelatin silver print, April 1936, April 1936, © Arthur Rothstein (P1980.56.3) Dorothea Lange, Woman of the High Plains "If You Die, You're Dead–That's All." Texas Panhandle, 1938, Gelatin silver print, 1960s, © Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland, Gift of Paul S. Taylor (P1965.172.8) Laura Gilpin, Storm from La Bajada Hill, New Mexico, 1946, Gelatin silver print, Negative 1946, print later, © 1979, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist (P1978.85.1) Eliot Porter, Twilight Canyon, Glen Canyon, Utah, May 26, 1962, Dye transfer print, © 1990, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist (P1990.51.5103.1) Luther Smith, Bullrider, 1985, High School Rodeo, Mineral Wells, TX, Gelatin silver print, 1985, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, © 1985, Luther Smith, Gift of the artist (P1996.5.4)

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The thrust of nineteenth-century photography lies largely in the medium’s remarkable ability to record the world. But by the mid-twentieth century, personal expression had become the goal for a growing number of photographers, as it had for artists using other media. The artists did not seek descriptive accuracy as much as expressive awareness when they documented the West. In portraiture, the heroic has frequently given way to psychological insight. In landscape, the personal moment has replaced the “general best view.” This artistic self-consciousness has even transformed documentary photography, which is frequently an expression of the photographer’s personal stance. Some artists began to experiment with the medium’s ability to convey emotional content, while others explored its ability to concentrate attention on pure formal composition.

No matter how much they favor personal expression, however, photographers have continued to thrive on their medium’s inherent connection to the world. The introduction of the 35mm camera, color, and digital technologies has merely added new tools to their expressive arsenal. By injecting their personality into photography’s inherent quality of “having been there,” these artists call upon viewers to expand their own visual and emotional consciousness.


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