PRINT February 1983


Photography: A Concise History

BEFORE 1949 HISTORIES OF PHOTOGRAPHY had been essentially, often exclusively, chronicles of inventions and technical improvements, although a few also had treated photography as an aspect of social history. Beaumont Newhall’s History of Photography (1949), which grew out of his historical exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1937, was the first to concern itself primarily with the pictures themselves, rather than with the means by which they were made or their worldly content.

Newhall treated technical inventions not as neutral events in a continuous chain of progress but as opportunities for a new kind of picture. He also gave an unprecedented role to photographers’ intentions and circumstances and applied his critical judgment to the esthetic form and artistic content of the pictures. Most importantly, in organizing his History Newhall abandoned the simple linear chronology

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