Summary of Straight Photography
Straight photography emphasizes and engages with the camera's own technical capability to produce images sharp in focus and rich in detail. The term generally refers to photographs that are not manipulated, either in the taking of the image or by darkroom or digital processes, but sharply depict the scene or subject as the camera sees it. Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz pioneered Straight photography in New York while the Hungarian-born László Moholy Nagy exploited pure photography to maximize the graphic structure of the camera-image. These straight or pure approaches to photography continue to define contemporary photographs, while being the foundation for many related movements, such as Documentary, Street photography, Photojournalism, and even later Abstract photography.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Straight photography for the first time, since the invention of photography, respects the medium's own technical visual language. The camera's distinctive vocabulary includes form, sharp focus, rich detail, high contrast, and rich tonalities. Straight photography is also synonymous with pure photography, since both terms describe the camera's ability to faithfully reproduce an image of reality.
- Straight photographers visualized the image before taking the photo. Edward Weston defined this term in 1921 and stated: "Get your lighting and exposure correct at the start and both the developing and printing can be practically automatic." Ansel Adams could not agree more when he asserted "the photographer visualizes his conception of the subject as presented in the final print. He achieves the expression of his visualization through his technique - aesthetic, intellectual, and mechanical." This visualization of the image was complemented by format cameras - a camera that used large film sizes either 4x5 in. or 8x10 in. - that enabled the photographer to preview the scene on the ground glass.
- László Moholy-Nagy's notion of New Vision (Neues Sehen) of photography has close ties to the ideas of the Bauhaus school. His technique looked at the world through the camera lens, using it both as a framing device for documenting and as a means of experimentation. Moholy-Nagy, intent on creating a graphic structure in the image, championed unconventional viewpoints and playful printing techniques to develop a fresh rapport with the visible, industrial world.
- Straight photography is a process- and time-based approach. It represents immediacy, the passing of time as in history, or the freezing of time as in a snapshot. In a photograph, time is described by the movements of the subject. As Henri Cartier-Bresson stated "we work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment on the way in which life itself unfolds. But inside movement there is one moment in which the elements in motion are in balance." This notion of the "decisive moment" defined much of the Straight photography of the mid-20th century.
Overview of Straight Photography
From the time of the camera's invention in 1839, it was used as a tool to document everyday objects, daily scenes, nature, and cultural artifacts. The basis for photography as it is practiced today stems from Henry Fox Talbot's invention of the calotype: a paper negative produced by exposing a sheet of paper coated with silver chloride to light. Talbot, a British scientist, mathematician, author, and inventor of photography, shortened exposure times and allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative. He would have us believe that the photograph was created by the action of light, by nature herself, on sensitive paper, and depicted by optical and chemical means alone. His French counterpart Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a painter, printmaker, and inventor of the Daguerreotype, shared Talbot's belief that photography "gives nature the ability to reproduce itself .. not with their colors but instead with a very fine gradation of tones."