Straight photography

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Pure photography or straight photography refers to photography that attempts to depict a scene or subject in sharp focus and detail, commensurate with the qualities that distinguish photography from other visual media, particularly painting. Originating as early as 1904, the term was used by critic Sadakichi Hartmann in the magazine Camera Work, and later promoted by its editor, Alfred Stieglitz, as a more pure form of photography than Pictorialism. Once popularized by Stieglitz and other notable photographers, such as Paul Strand, it later became a hallmark of Western photographers, such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and others.

Although taken by some to mean lack of manipulation, straight photographers in fact applied many common darkroom techniques to enhance the appearance of their prints. Rather than factual accuracy, the term came to imply a specific aesthetic typified by higher contrast and rich tonality, sharp focus, aversion to cropping, and a Modernism-inspired emphasis on the underlying abstract geometric structure of subjects.

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. Well known photographers, including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, his son Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Dody Weston Thompson and Berenice Abbott are considered innovators and practitioners of this style. Many other photographic artists of the 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 sharp and detailed silver prints dominated modernist photographic aesthetics into the 1970s.


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