Photography Between the Wars 1919-1939
In the aftermath of World War I—the first modern, mechanized conflict the world had yet to see—sweeping changes transformed photography. Artists of the avant-garde embraced the medium, seeing it as the most effective tool to express the fractured state of modern life and the new technological culture of the twentieth century. In Europe, these concentrated interests encouraged a wide variety of new approaches which blossomed during the 1920s-30s. Photographers adopted radical techniques and darkroom alchemy to achieve what the influential Hungarian teacher László Moholy-Nagy celebrated as the ‘new vision.’ Under the leadership of Alfred Stieglitz, American Modernism maintained focus on abstraction and nature.
Across Europe, from Paris to Prague, the scars of war-ravaged nations gave rise to an avant- garde response and artistic output flourished. Jaroslav Rössler (1902-1990) and Jaromir Funke (1896-1946)were both pioneering figures of Czech modernism in the 1920s-30s. Seeking to fulfill the dreams of his youth, Kertész moved to Paris in 1925, where he established himself as a successful photojournalist, combined a street photographer’s wry humor and eye for the decisive moment with the formal aesthetic of a modernist.
Arguably the most important photographer of his time, Alfred Stieglitz fervently believed that American Modernism should not be concerned with industry. He saw abstraction as the "true medium". In 1925, he began what would become a truly historic series of compelling photographs which he named Equivalents (1925-1937). In his own work and in his promotion of other artists, he sought to prioritize visual and metaphorical abstraction— artworks which communicate the artist’s inner vision and lived experience though an intuitive and spiritually expressive language.
Other American photographers during this period, namely Paul Strand (1890-1976) and Edward Weston (1886- 1958), also looked to nature as a wellspring of creation. Driftwood #3, Maine, 1928, a waxed platinum print, is a quintessential example of the fruits of the artist's labor- intensive process and his use of photography to transcend the natural world. Other works from this series belong in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Philadelphia Museum of Art. Weston's meticulous darkroom skills and flawless sense of composition are expertly depicted in White Sands, New Mexico. With its careful attention to the detailed texture of both sand and sky, the many shades of grey allow the white highlights to truly shine.