Exercise 1.4: What is a photographer?

Brief: Read Marius De Zayas' essay 'Photography and Artistic-Photography'. Summarise the key points

Mexican writer and artist, Marius De Zayas (1880-1961), proclaimed the downfall of art and its relationship with religious representation. Mystery had been suppressed, and with mystery, faith had disappeared.  

Before De Zayas wrote his essay 'Photography and Artistic Photography', first published in Camera Work no. 41 (1913), he had been making caricatures for the New York Evening World. As an illustrator, Marius De Zayas had perfected the use of form to depict the newsworthy personalities of the day. His drawings consisted of forms that were so simplified that they could be classed as pure abstraction. The illustrator wasn't concerned about tonal ranges or depth of field. He expressed his message using bold, uncomplicated lines. There was a trueness to his images. 

As a modernist, Marius De Zayas (1913: 125)  believed that, "Photography is the plastic verification of a fact". Unlike a painting, which is unable to fully represent the artist's intention, the photograph captures an accurate replication of what the photographer has viewed. Therefore, photography should not be classed as an art form, because art is the "expression of the conception of an idea (De Zayas, 1913)."  

Bearing in mind that his article was written over one hundred years ago, I wonder whether he would still hold this view in the digital age of image manipulation. The ability to alter the reality of an image, means that it is not always a true depiction of what the photographer saw. At this point, I wonder if De Zayas has forgotten about how, pre-photography, the camera obscura enabled artists to accurately copy and replicate a particular scene that was as true to nature as possible.

Despite De Zayas believing that Art cannot fully represent the intention of the artist, there are plenty of photographs which I find difficult to understand the motive behind them.  

For Marius De Zayas, art had become devalued. The galleries in which masterpieces were once revered, had become museums of an age gone by. He believed that, "the imaginative element has been exhausted" (De Zayas, 1913: 127), because every possible outcome had been accomplished. Art had consumed itself, and what remained was chaos. 

Continuing through his article, De Zayas' opinion of art is anchored to the reality of form. That it "can only be transcribed through a mechanical process, in which the craftsmanship of man does not enter as a principal factor. I wonder if this view is biased towards his career as an illustrator, who used bold lines to depict articles as truthfully as he could. Therefore, it could be argued that De Zayas had a bias towards images being accurate. In other words, the photographer is a scientist, who's purpose is to document and record fact. This picture of truth is then able to be analysed. 

In this respect, De Zayas (1913: 131) regards Steichen as an artist and Stieglitz as an experimentalist. 

Before I had started this course, my idea of ladscape photography was very much with the aim of documenting a particular scene. However, as I flick through my course file, I am intrigued to find out whether my view alters.