Contemporary Photography

The role and means of taking photos have undergone significant change over the century and have become much more than a strictly technical process. Modern photographic technique, as one of the most progressive visual art forms, is known for its distinctiveness, originality, and defying boundaries.
The photographer gives us an idea of what he considers contemporary photography to be. Is it art? For some, it is the ultimate contemporary art form, but for others, it is just a beautiful game.
contemporary photography
June 05, 2024
Daryna Markova
contributor DOM Art Residence

What is Contemporary Photography?

Photography is a type of contemporary art that develops at an incredible rate at the present stage. In 2020 alone, it was estimated that over 1.4 trillion digital photos were taken worldwide, highlighting the widespread accessibility and popularity of the medium. According to all users, photographic moments can be documented and recorded instantly.
Social media is the biggest platform and has impacted the viewing and taking of photographs in a significant way. Instagram is one of the most popular social networks for sharing photo and video content; as of 2021, more than a billion people use the site every month, and millions of posts, photos, and videos are uploaded daily.

Is Contemporary
Photography an Art Form?

Present-day photography is indeed part of contemporary art. It is entertainment or a concept that speaks about certain aspects of life and stirs emotions. As with virtually any kind of art, postmodern photography can indeed be a visual product to be appreciated in terms of style and, on the other, a vehicle for conveying messages.
Photographers can edit photos or even create ideal circumstances to capture the desired shot they want. Contemporary photography can be looked at as a creative process, that is the presentation of the event in such a manner that would have an impact on the spectators.

This could include trying out various techniques, such as using a slow exposure time whereby the camera sensor captures light for a longer time than usual, using multiple exposure times whereby the camera sensor captures light for more than one time, and using different lens types whereby the camera sensor captures light in different ways.
It also involves approaching or depicting topics that were previously left uncovered or ignored or presenting a perspective that the audience has never witnessed before, thereby opening up the realm of possibilities regarding what can be achieved through contemporary photography.
Among all types of digital post-production, manipulation is relevant to the option presented as it enables contemporary photographers to work with collages, layers, and other kinds of image manipulation that make it possible to create fictional or imaginary images. This combination of digital and analog methods makes it possible to explore virtually any photo project and rethink photography's capabilities as a genre.

Key Features of Contemporary Photography



In contrast to the values normally used in traditional photojournalism, in which beauty, balance, distribution, concentration, and choice of subjects might be the main values to consider, conceptualization is more focused on the idea in question in the picture.
Conceptualization in photography concerns the ideas that the photographer holds while selecting what best captures their intended message. It might be a commentary on social problems, an exploration of an author's experience or feelings, or anything considered relevant nowadays.
Since conceptualization is all about expressing meaning in the most creative and exploratory way possible, another critical component that can be employed entails the use of symbolism and metaphor. Sometimes, contemporary photographers employ the technique of having what may be referred to as a subplot in the picture to map the flow of the story to be followed in the images and thus engage the viewers as more than mere observers.
This could entail actors acting out scenarios, making captions to give some background information about the picture, or integrating bursting images to tell the story of the photograph.

Digital influence

Advanced digital cameras have specifically made photography a favorite hobby for every amateur hobbyist due to the high quality of images, and they are within reach of everybody. The use of digital technology in producing photography has been instrumental in shaping present-day photography.
New-age photography technologies like digital cameras and photo editing software have offered contemporary artists freedom and a free way to be creative. Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and similar software solutions enable photographers to correct the finished material as much as they wish or altogether build new, unique material.
Instagram and Flickr have also brought art closer to everyone so that contemporary photographers can show their creations to anyone in the world. The function of digital prominence has also affected audience reception concerning photography and the roles of the producer and consumer interchangeably.
On social media platforms, viewers have gone a step further and become users who click on ‘like, share, and comment’ on photographs in such a manner that they influence the discourse of such photographs. This public participation has achieved one of the goals of photography – to join the creative processes of the photo on digital platforms.

Inspiring Examples

No discourse about contemporary photography would be complete without including some of the famous figures who contributed a lot to the growth of this art.

Anne Geddes

Anne Geddes has gained popularity through the photography of babies and mothers. Geddes' gift is not transforming the typical sweater-weather baby photographs into dreamlike scenes but the grace of her subjects.
One of Geddes’ best-known works is her ''Baby Calendar,'' in which she portrayed adorable babies posing in a themed setting representing a particular month. These calendars became immensely popular internationally.
Besides its business and political activities, Geddes is also well-known for her charity work. She has taken the initiative to champion the cause of children, especially concerning the injustices that are committed to them, such as abuse and negligence.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans is a German-born photographer who presents a variety of photos in the genres of portrait, still life, landscape, and nonrepresentational works. Tillmans started photography in the late 1980s. He rose through the ranks to become one of the best and most creative contemporary photographers of his generation.
Tillmans often depicts rather normal situations and events yet gives them an air of spontaneity. Regardless of whom or what he is photographing – friends, cities, or objects – he has this incredible capacity to find something lovely in the ordinary.
Much must be made of Tillman’s sensational accomplishment of being the first non-British artist and the first photographer to receive the Turner Prize in 2000.

Andreas Gursky

Andreas Gursky is one of the most celebrated photography artists. Through his large-format and detailed color photographs, he explored globalism, contemporary culture, and the new economy. He attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and had the privilege of taking photographs under the guidance of Bernd and Hilla Becher.
Most of Gursky's work is monumental, detailed, and refined. He shoots rows of mountains, cities, or monuments and applies digital art and photorealistic techniques to give the photographs a touch of realism and fantasy.

Gursky’s images have traveled through galleries and museums internationally, and some of his production houses appear in auctions. He has aimed to portray the aspects and features of present life correctly and in detail and, therefore, has received acclaim and followers.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is a contemporary pop and postmodernist American photographer. The most renowned series Sherman made is the so-called ''Untitled Film Stills'', made between 1977 and 1980. Sherman adopted different subject positions based on typical stereotyped characters in Hollywood movies from the 1950s and 1960s.
Sherman examines several concepts, including the drama of the self, gender, and the role of images in the world, forcing the audience to reflect on the truthfulness of the representations they see.

Besides ''Untitled Film Stills'', Sherman has made many other groups: ''Fairy Tales'', ''History Portraits'', and ''Clowns''. Each of the series represents the concept of identity and portrayal in different ways through a very innovative approach.
More specifically, she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1995 and is now among the most influential artists.

Joshua Citarella

Citarella rose to fame in the early 2010s when he started expressing himself through saving and discovering the digital realm and its impact on society.

He was famous for using art photography to express social issues, using a call to action in his work, and combining traditional and digital techniques to create powerful pictures that comment on the role of technology in our lives.

Trends in Contemporary Photography

Today, art photography has become an ever-changing field as it is affected by the technological growth in society and even in the personal lives of people:

  • Mobile Photography. Photography on the go has become one of the new realities of contemporary photography, as applications and social networks facilitate the sharing of the created work and receiving feedback.

  • Mixed Media. Currently, numerous photographers try to combine the means of art photography with painting, sculpture, or digital, which produce complex images that step beyond the realm normally associated with photographs.

  • Social Commentary. A lot of modern contemporary artists employ their medium as a means to address various social problems, such as injustice, deforestation, and the like.

  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Such technologies are opening up additional possibilities for photography, which moves beyond the flat surface of the picture. VR and AR can provide a learning experience, making viewers active participants in the artwork.

  • Environmental Photography. This genre therefore seeks to create awareness of nature in the form of conservation and a willingness to protect and promote it.

From Megapixels to Mosaic: The Evolution of
Contemporary Photography

In contrasting the current state of contemporary photography with the analog period, even a less profound observer will immediately notice the outstanding role of digital technologies. Notably, in 1991, the first digital camera ever, called the Kodak DCS, possessed a resolution of only 1.
With the advent of social media, specifically in the last decade, the way we convey as well as receive art photography has drastically changed. From one glorious moment on the Instagram platform, 95 million photos and videos are uploaded, showing the large amounts and various forms of visuals that people from all over the world can consume.
When considering the role of digital in the current state of photography, we can see that the dynamic has shifted significantly, placing the tech element at the center of the artistic process. Thanks to the possibilities of the digital world, contemporary photography has evolved and opened the gate to new ideas and solutions.