The Photograph Manipulated

We’re all familiar with today’s use of Photoshop to correct and enhance images, and we’re also all aware that these techniques derived from the earlier corrections and enhancements that were achieved by even the earliest photographers through cropping, dodging and burning , multiple exposures etc.  The Photograph Manipulated refers to enhancements way beyond that of mere correction of errors, it recognises that images can be changed in such a radical way that the original takes on an entirely different look.  Four early 20th century movement/styles made radical change of the original image it’s core concept; Dadaism, Constructivism, Surrealism and Conceptualism.

When I researched this subject, as suggested in the student guide to this course, I was surprised to find that the majority of the different movements and styles that the title of this essay covers came into being at roughly the same time in history.  Even the very latest of these, Conceptual Art, acknowledges that Marcel Duchamp paved the way with his installation of a urinal, entitled ‘The Fountain’ and signed R. Mutt, for the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, and as most of us already know it was rejected.  The period for the rise of these movements/styles, mid-1910’s to the early 1920’s. When I looked at this it came as no surprise that this was the very period when one of the bloodiest wars occurred, imperial powers fell, new nations rose, dynasties and their aristocracies fell and the financial consequences for all countries involved were severe.  It affected the thinking many of the world’s population, which drove these artistic movements/styles and changed the whole world so radically that  social change occurred everywhere and the old systems of power and social balance never returned to pre-war status.

I tried to create a timeline for the inception of the movements/styles, but I had to acknowledge that whilst there are documented claims for most of the dates, my personal belief is that the upheavals that were taking place at the same time as they were being conceived made it difficult to believe that exponents of each movement weren’t influenced by each other as they dodged around Europe trying to stay clear of the conflict and upheaval and may well have met and discussed their beliefs in person.  This may or may not be so, but the fact is that when one looks at them as a collective image, their similarities are very much entwined with each other as they share commonalities in appearance, though maybe not in philosophy.  All of them share one thing in common that formed the basis for their beginnings, the rejection of photography as simply a literal act of recording what is and wanted to reframe it in a new language of ‘modernism’, where the belief was that “traditional” artistic thinking and creation, along with many facets of the then modern way of living were outdated in the newly emerging world.

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