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Pure photography or straight photography refers to photography that attempts to depict a scene as realistically and objectively as permitted by the medium, renouncing the use of manipulation. The West Coast Photographic Movement is best known for the use of this style.
Founded in 1932, Group f/64 who championed purist photography, had this to say:
- Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.
The term emerged in the 1880s to mean simply an unmanipulated photographic print, in opposition to the composite prints of Henry Peach Robinson or the soft focus painterly images of some pictorialist photographers. At first, straight photography was a viable choice within pictorialism, as, for example, the work of Henry Frederick Evans. Paul Strand's 1917 characterization of his work as "absolute unqualified objectivity" described a change in the meaning of the term. It came to imply a specific aesthetic typified by higher contrast, sharper focus, aversion to cropping, and emphasis on the underlying abstract geometric structure of subjects. Some photographers began to identify these formal elements as a language for translating metaphysical or spiritual dimensions into visual terms.
This aesthetic caught on in the early 1930s and found its most notable use in what came to be known as The West Coast Photographic Movement. Photographic superstars including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston his son Brett Weston, Dody Weston Thompson and Berenice Abbott are considered innovators and practitioners of this style. Many other well known artists of this time considered themselves practitioners of this West Coast counterculture and even formed a group known as Group f/64 to highlight their efforts and set themselves apart from the East Coast pictorialism movement.
This emphasis on the unmanipulated silver print dominated modernist photographic aesthetics into the 1970s.
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