This site is 100% ad supported. Please add an exception to adblock for this site.

PH 101 Photo History and Concepts Course Glossary


undefined, object
copy deck
calotype (talbotype)
The first successful negative/positive process, patented in 1841 by William Henry Fox Talbot, by which a latent image produced by exposing paper sensitized with potassium iodine and silver nitrate solutions in a camera is then developed in gallic acid and silver nitrate. Positives are then made by contact printing these paper negatives onto salted paper.
The Americans
Published in 1958, Robert Frank's seminal work documenting his travels in America under a Guggenheim grant in 1955. Significant for its defining of a new photographic vocabulary as it made an individualistic, unglamorized, and alienated portrait of "typical" America. Many later artists would look to this work and style as a module for fresh artistic expression.
New Topographics
1975 exhibition of ten photographers with an interest in the "man-altered landscape."
collodion (wet-plate process)
Photographic process in which a negative is made by coating a sheet of glass with a light-sensitive emulsion of collodion (gun cotton dissolved in alcohol and ether to which potassium iodine and potassium bromide have been added). The plate is inserted into the camera and exposed while wet.
Based on a rejection of structuralist theory, it looks to language as a structure to be dismantled. Since all cultural products are "texts" in the sense of documents, everything -- even life itself -- becomes a text. However, texts never mean what they say because sign and meaning are entirely separate. Reality is at best a mental construct whose apparent meaning is determined by context (as opposed to structure).
Family of Man
A highly praised and historically significant exhibition of photographs organized by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955 to celebrate journalistic photography and its unique aesthetic form.
A pair of photographic views taken side by side from very slightly different angles and mounted side by side. Though viewed separately by each eye in a stereoscope viewer, the two images appear to combine and produce the illusion of three dimensions.
Changing New York
1939 book of photographs by Berenice Abbott capturing New York City's cultural, social, and architectural transitions.
Otherwise known as a blueprint, a low-cost permanent print made by exposing paper impregnated with iron salts and potassium ferricyanide, which darkens when exposed to UV light, turning to Prussian blue.
A photographic image made without a camera, either by placing objects on or above a sensitized surface and exposing it to light or simply by directing light onto the material.
On Photography
An important book by Susan Sontag that makes a critical examination of the function of images in culture. Published in 1977 and based on earlier essays appearing in The New York Review of Books.
An effort to counter the transformation of the photograph from document into aesthetic commodity; at the same time, it seeks to formulate a new relationship between the camera image and social realities. Postmodernists claim that as representations of reality, camera images cannot claim uniqueness, in that (unlike one-of-a-kind handmade images) they appropriate and duplicate something that already exists.
social landscape
A term coined by Nathan Lyons, curator of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, as a means of expanding the vocabulary of documentation while avoiding what he and others felt to be the presumptive sentimental posture of the older documentary style. Related to Lyons' noteworthy 1966 exhibition Towards a Social Landscape.
A theory which explains all phenomena by natural categories instead of supernatural. It looks for causes as opposed to reasons. When applied to the arts, naturalism implies that the artist, like the scientist, should observe and record dispassionately. Accordingly, Peter Henry Emerson's naturalistic theory of photography says that enduring art is made directly from nature; the artist's role is to imitate these effects on the eye. Emerson believed that only the central portion of the human field of vision is sharp and that the borders are only roughly sketched in. Thus, to reproduce this effect, Emerson believed images should be slightly out of focus.
A photographic style and philosophy that sought to make the aesthetic photograph more like the unique handmade quality of painting, to be regarded as a persuasive expression of personal temperament and choice.
the decisive moment
A term coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson (and the title of a book of his photographs published in 1952), it has come to describe the interrelationship between circumstances, the eye, and the mind when intuitively the photographer recognizes that moment in time when formal and psychological elements within a scene take on enriched meaning.
see calotype
New Documents
A pivotal exhibition curated by John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967 featuring photographs by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand that illustrated the concept of subjective Social Realism.
camera obscura
An optical device devised by 15th-century painters to aid in accurate and proportionate spatial renditions of scenes to be painted. The camera obscura basically constituted a room or flat surface upon which observers could view a scene projected, upside down and reversed, through a pinpoint light source. Eventually, this evolved into a box, with an aperture and viewing screen -- the fundamentals of a camera.
Perspective of Nudes
A photographic series by Bill Brandt from 1945 to 1960 using a Kodak wide-angle camera to give him an unconventional and altered perspective that transformed the nude into a warped sculptural form. Like Andre Kertesz's nudes made with a distorting mirror, these images are hallmarks of some of the most inventive and imaginative abstract photographic expression in the history of the medium.
Brotherhood of the Linked Ring (Links)
One of the early and most influential of the Secession groups, founded by Emerson and Davis, among others, in London in 1892 to promote Pictorialist photography; actively sought to alter accepted exhibition formats and promote new venues.
A group organized by Alfred Stieglitz in 1902 to compel the serious recognition of photography as an additional medium of pictorial expression. The other founders included John Bullock, Gertrude Kasebier, Joseph Keiley, Edward Steichen, and Clarence White.
A term coined by Man Ray to describe his unique photograms.
A quarterly magazine debuted in 1952 dedicated to photography that was initially edited by Minor White and is considered, to this day, the premier critical forum for contemporary photography.
The Photographer's Eye
A 1966 publication and exhibition by John Szarkowski examining what characterized photography. He identified five elements that could be considered in trying to define and critique a photograph.
The study of signs and how we (our minds) know what we know. A sign consists of a concept (signified) and its image (signifier), which is a mental impression. Semiotics is thus an analysis of the relationship between a sign and meaning, or how something acquires meaning.
A periodical introduced by Nathan Lyons in 1972 that was an important vehicle for new photographic ideas and criticism.
The Farm Security Administration. Directed by Roy Stryker, who sought to visually document rural problems and conditions in America in terms of its people and land, the project would bring together a group of photographers from 1935 to 1943 to complete the most realized and important social photography project of the period, producing more than 270,000 photographs. Some of the notable artists working for Stryker included Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Arthur Rothstein.
camera lucida
Invented in 1807 by William Hyde Wollaston, this was an optical instrument intended to make drawing more accurate. The user looked through a prism in which the subject could be seen on a piece of drawing paper and then traced that image.
The North American Indian
An important publication of photogravures (more than 2000 images) of the work of Edward Curtis documenting various native groups.
The Photo League
A photographic group founded in 1936 to promote the use of the camera as a tool to make a straightforward, honest portrayal of urban America. The League had an open membership policy that embraced a broad range of styles but always stressed the promotion of documentary projects, such as the Chelsea and Pitt Street and Harlem Documents.
The first practical photographic process, in which an image is formed on a highly polished copper plate coated with silver that is sensitized by fumes of iodine to form silver iodine. Following exposure, the latent image is developed in mercury vapor, resulting in a unique image on metal that cannot be used as a negative for replication.
Named after the smallest possible camera opening (which enables maximum and uniform detail and depth), the name given to a 1930s West Coast society of photographers that promoted the tenets of a straight, sharply focused, and unmanipulated style of photography that emphasized purity of form.
A photojournalistic collaborative, founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David "Chim" Seymour, and George Rodger in an endeavor to encompass the ideas and efforts of those photographers working on photo essays and global happenings.
New York gallery (actually called the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession) headed by Alfred Stieglitz that brought many avant-garde artists to the attention of America.
latent image
The invisible image produced on sensitized material by exposure to light, which is converted to a visible image by chemical development.
Face of Our Time
The first and only publication of photographs from August Sander's documentation of the German people. He hoped that through a series of portraits, sequenced in a "sociological arc" that began with peasants, ascended through students, professional artists, and statesman, and descended through urban labor to the unemployed, he would make viewers aware of the social and cultural dimensions and stratifications of real life.
Developed by Thomas Edison, the first continuous-film motion picture viewing machine to gain public acceptance. An individual peered through an eyepiece at a continuous 50-foot loop of 35mm positive film, which established the 35mm format as the motion picture standard.
Though difficult to define precisely, modernism -- an entire philosophy embracing a new, clean, and progressive way of seeing -- might be thought of as primarily the vibrant artistic time between the two World Wars, from the 1920s into the 1950s, often marked by experimentation and abstraction, as well as a celebration of the pure, unmanipulated form and image.

Deck Info