Contemporary Photography: Influences, Relationships & Examples

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  • 0:01 Contemporary Photography
  • 1:05 Abstract…
  • 2:09 Shunning Formality
  • 3:01 Social Issues
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Contemporary photography is not your grandma's photography. It doesn't adhere to tradition or fit into a box. In this lesson, we'll view proof of this as we discuss contemporary photography, its influences, and how it relates to modern culture.

Contemporary Photography

Once upon a time, photography centered on chronicling an event or capturing someone's likeness for posterity's sake. Subjects were posed, lenses were keenly focused and creativity was kept at a minimum. This isn't the case today. Photographs no longer have to be set up, well lighted and clear in order to be considered acceptable. Instead, much of contemporary photography highlights freedom of expression and out of the box thinking.

In today's lesson, we'll discuss some of today's most popular contemporary photographs. As we do so, we'll discuss what has influenced them and how they relate to the world in which they were created.

To begin, let's nail down what we mean when we use the term contemporary photography. Although it's a rather broad one, many use it to denote modern photography that defies past convention. Rather than be ruled by proper lighting and accurate representation, contemporary photography centers on freedom of emotion, expression, and interpretation.

Abstract Expressionism's Influence

Speaking of the word abstract, we come to perhaps the biggest influences on contemporary photography: abstract expressionism. Birthed in post-World War II America, abstract expressionism triumphed freedom of expression and emotion. Taking the art world by storm, it tossed aside the old idea that in order for art to be good, it had to be realistic and refined.

Pushing the notion of classic portraits and muted colors to the background, abstract expressionists felt free to experiment with free form splashes of paint, bold colors, and whatever else their creative juices conjured. Art no longer had to be about something or someone, it could just be art for the sake of expression and emotion.

Like a son going into the family business, contemporary photography has taken up the abstract expressionist mantle. For instance, take a look at this photo (seen in video lesson) by Wolfgang Tillmans, a celebrated German photographer. Unlike the classical photos of yesteryear, this contemporary work is unfocused, with nontraditional lighting and exposure.

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