When and how photography became art

Photography was invented in the 1820s and quickly became popular thereafter, but it was originally considered a mere skill rather than a form of art. For almost 100 years photographic prints never appeared in any art galleries or exhibitions, and photography was seen to be more part of technical knowledge rather than art on its own.

However, this perception changed when such talented photographers as Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams entered the stage. They finally lifted photography into a well-deserved honourable title of fine art. 

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Ansel Adams, Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park, 1933-1942, National Archives and Records Administration

Many other artists took part in the development of photography, but these two photographers and their collaborators have probably left the most noticeable trail. They not only changed the perception of photography in general but they also popularised this form of art enabling it to be presented in the world of museums and art galleries. 

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Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait, 1919, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Photographers long before Alfred Stieglitz considered themselves to be artists, but the rest of the world didn't share these views. Stieglitz was the first photographer for whom photography made it into art galleries in the 1900s. He founded the very first gallery himself and it was called “The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession” in 1905 and then “291” from 1908.

It was this gallery that exhibited photographic works alongside other artworks like sculptures and paintings and was the first place where photography received the same status as other forms of art. Stieglitz, of course, exhibited his own images too, which has shown that photographs can not only do what paintings can through their composition and quality, but they are a unique work of art in their own right.

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Alfred Stieglitz, A Venetian Canal, 1894 (printed 1897), The Art Institute of Chicago

Thanks to Stieglitz's gallery many other modern artists have discovered photography as a form of art they could explore. One of these artists was the Surrealist Man Ray, who is now considered one of the most diverse photographers of the 20th century.

Ansel Adams is another well-known artist who has influenced the development of fine art photography. His work has supported the early environmental movement in the US and was just aesthetically perfect. His work has set a new standard for landscape photography, especially by the way in which he played with light.

Another significant achievement of Ansel was that the Photography Department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York was founded thanks to his collaborators which has had a great influence on the perception of photography in the world of art. Some of his works were first exhibited there in 1941, setting another strong precedent as to why photography can be considered to be a very solid form of art.

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Ansel Adams, Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada from Manzanar, California, 1944, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

So, by the early 1940s photography was officially considered as an art form in the United States, and people in Europe and other areas worldwide soon started sharing this opinion. Leading to its general adoption as a valuable form of art with investment potential. 

Photography has gone a long way since, and still life photography, documentary and portrait photography have become some of the most popular genres just to name a few. If you find still life photography quite appealing to your taste, you may wish to explore our collection here. We would also love to connect with you on our social media channels - our Instagram account, our Facebook page, on Pinterest or Twitter. Hope to see you there!

This article was put together thanks to and with the help of The Westologist.


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