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How Contemporary Photography is Challenging Art as We Know It

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

There are several genres of art. Renaissance, modern, contemporary… and the list goes on.

Let’s look at contemporary art.

Contemporary art is not to be confused with modern art. While modern art was considered ‘cutting edge’ at one point, it’s not necessarily the art created today.

The art created today is contemporary. It refers to any new art that is off the beaten path and cannot be directly categorized as any type of art that came before it.

Now let’s look at contemporary photography.

Contemporary photography also refers to what’s coming out today. In terms of genre, it’s pretty much ‘anything goes’ as long as it cannot be classified as anything that proceeds it. For instance, if you reproduce a vintage look in your photos, that would not be considered contemporary art.

So far, contemporary photography has a somewhat broad definition. This article will provide some guidelines that will help you recognize contemporary photography when you see it.

When Did Contemporary Photography Start?

Many say that 1980 marks the beginning of contemporary art.

Photography was first invented in 1839. Throughout the next decades, the medium was being developed and the concern was about improving quality. There was some experimentation, but it wasn’t taken to the next level until modern photography exploded on the scene in 1920.

Modern photography saw photographers getting more experimental and using their art as means of expression, but in 1980, it branched out again. The art form grew to be about exploring reality. In this sense, it took photojournalism in a different direction. It required an understanding and documentation of one’s surroundings, but it also added a sense of conceptualism.

Contemporary photography also brings subjectivism into the mix. It captures real life but adds a sense of emotion that makes pieces more meaningful. High fashion photography is a good example as it often integrates subjectivism with avant garde shots that show the clothing and model but brings some oddity that makes the viewer look twice.

Who are the Great Contemporary Photographers of Our Time?

If you are still struggling to grasp the term ‘contemporary photography’ here are some photographers who would fall under that umbrella. Take some time to look them up to become better acquainted with the art form.

Annie Leibovitz

Leibovitz is a Rolling Stone photographer best known for her edgy pictures of famous rock stars. In addition to seeing her work online and in music magazines, you can also catch it at reputable establishments such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Los Angeles’ County Museum of Art.

Chris McCaw

Chris McCaw uses a platinum palladium process that makes his landscapes and nature scenes look otherworldly. Check out his web site and social media pages for examples of his work.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman references everything from classical pieces of art to examples of pop culture. She is often her own subject and adds her identity for a humorous take on the pieces we know so well. Her work can be found at the Tate, the Natural Portrait Gallery and more.

Contemporary photography combines subgenres of modern photography and takes it one step further. It uses realistic subjects but forces us to question the reality we are seeing. Now that you have a better understanding, will you be emulating this style in the shots you take?

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