What Is Contemporary Photography

It’s easy to confuse contemporary photography and modern photography. It’s also common to ask what contemporary photography specifically refers to.

Modern and contemporary are commonly used interchangeably to describe something new or of the moment. However, when we talk about art, modern and contemporary are not the same thing. 

Modern photography refers specifically to a period during the first half of the 20th century when photographic artists moved away from more traditional styles. The modernist art period came to an end in the 1960s, and photographic artworks created after this period are categorized as contemporary photographs.

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Read on to learn what contemporary photography is, and how it is defined.

Contemporary Photography Definition

A Photography definition is simply the process of capturing light and images using a camera. Contemporary photographers can create photographic images using either an analog camera or a digital camera. 

Contemporary in the art world refers to artworks created in the present time or very recent past. Usually, contemporary artists are usually alive and still actively working. Therefore, contemporary photography can be described as a photograph made during our lifetime. 

SN Arts JANE contemporary Photography Print on Fine Art Paper, 120x200 cm

Contemporary photography differs from an image created in a much earlier period, or even just a half-century ago during the modernist era.

What Is Contemporary Art?

Unlike many art movements that preceded it, contemporary art does not have a clearly defined period or a unifying style. The view of what is considered contemporary artwork is constantly evolving from a contemporaneous moment in time. What we call contemporary photography today may not be regarded as such in a few decade’s time.

While contemporary photography has no universal style or all-encompassing ethos, it will likely be defined in the future by its use of technology. The advancements in digital photography and editing over the past decade are far more advanced than those available to modernist photographers.

The rapid advancement in photographic technology has enabled phones and even watches to take photographs. Digital editing software has redefined the role of the contemporary photographer and opened the door to a new era of image manipulation.

What is contemporary art? Read more here.

How Photography Became a Contemporary Art

When photography was first created, it was seen as both a threat to fine art and yet not accepted as a part of it. It has taken almost a century for photography to be fully accepted and respected as a type of contemporary fine art. For years, photography was held at arm’s length on the margins of the contemporary art world. 

what is contemporary photography picture jonas lerichePhotography is now a respected and integral part of contemporary art. Contemporary photography and modern photography are both widely exhibited and displayed in art museums and art galleries.

But it was not a smooth road to acceptance for many photographers. Andy Grundbeg further explores how photography finally became accepted as contemporary art in his book How Photography Became Contemporary Art.

The History of Contemporary Photography

The history of photography is still relatively short compared to other artistic mediums. There have been broadly three major movements since photography’s invention less than two centuries ago. 

Photography was originally created in 1826. Early photographs were more scientific in nature, experimenting with new technology. It took some decades for artists to start creatively experimenting with photography. 

The term vintage photography refers to the earliest styles of artistic photography. Vintage photography was quickly followed by the modernist movement when photography flourished between the late 1800s and 1960s. Following the modernist era was contemporary photography. There are currently no bookends to define a period for contemporary art from exactly start to finish. 

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While contemporary art is usually created by living, working artists, some contemporary artists may have also worked during the modernist era and fall under both categories. 

Famous Contemporary Photographers

Many of the best-known artists of the present day are contemporary photographers. Some of these famous living photographers include:

  1. David Hockney
  2. Jonas Leriche
  3. Andreas Gursky
  4. Jeff Wall
  5. Annie Leibovitz
  6. David LaChappelle
  7. Nan Goldin
  8. Nobuyoshi Araki
  9. Wolfgang Tillmans
  10. Shirin Neshat
  11. William Wegman
  12. Jeff Koons
  13. SN
  14. Sophie Calle
  15. Chris McCaw
  16. Herve Lewis
  17. Cindy Sherman
  18. Barbara Kruger
  19. Sally Mann
  20. David Bailey

Enjoying Contemporary Photography

Many collectors enjoy modern photography and like viewing original photography. You can purchase original or one-of-a-kind contemporary photography in an online art gallery or crypto art marketplace. Explore our photography art for sale.


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