During the 20th century, both fine art photography and documentary photography became accepted by the English speaking art world and the gallery system. In the United States, a handful of photographers, including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Edward Weston and others spent their lives advocating for photography as a fine art. At first,fine art photographers tried to imitate painting styles, but Weston, Ansel Adams, and others formed a group which advocated straight, sharply focused photography.
Here in St Louis we can boast of a wealth of opportunities to view fine art photography, learn to become a serious photographer, or collect fine art photography. There are 13 college level photography programs in the greater St Louis area and the St Louis Camera Club is the largest camera club in the U.S.A with over 400 members. The club meets weekly and usually has a turnout of over 100 members each week. It is also the oldest camera club in North America and the largest.
The St Louis Art museum has a very comprehensive collection of fine art photography covering the entire history of the medium from ancient times to very contemporary works and has a study group for serious collectors or those who are simply interested in the study of photography.
The Sheldon Art Galleries has one of its six gallery spaces dedicated full-time to exhibits of photography. Their current director and curator, Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, a photographer herself, has brought in work by national and internationally recognized artists like Edward Curtis, Tina Barney, Candida Hofer, John Gossage and many others, and also shows the best local artists.
Dan Younger of the University of Missouri St Louis says to his students, "Photography is the people's art. Photography as an art form is nothing more than the people's art used for personal expression by an artist who uses a camera. While art may be considered an elevated or ennobled thing, art photography in it's pure form is still the medium of the people, and I'm proud to work in a medium that is still sought out by the public as the one form or art that is accessible to all.
Mel Watkins, also of UMSL, heads up the Photography Project which is a program of the Public Policy Research Center at UMSL. Each year the PPRC Photography Project teaches participants from three to six community groups to take high quality photographs of their work to improve the quality of life in St.Louis. These groups address issues in four categories: community revitalization, historic preservation, youth/older adult enrichment and social services. After a community group's 9-13 weeks of training is complete, a selection of their best photographs is shown in two simultaneous exhibitions that remain on view for 2 or 3 months. The exhibitions are shown at two locations; one at the Photography Project Gallery on the UMSL campus and another in businesses, libraries or community centers in the neighborhoods where community group participants live or work.
Many galleries show and sell photography in our town. Ellen Curlee, who recently closed her gallery, which featured contemporary photographers of a national reputation said that as many as 150 people would attend her openings and come to lectures by the artists. And Duane Reid shows the works of Michael Eastman, a St. Louisan who is now nationally recognized. Both say that there is a strong body of collectors of fine art photography in St Louis.
As you can see there is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy and learn about photography in St Louis. So grab your camera, take a course, or go to one of the many galleries or museums to view a work of art.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.