Modern Photography, 1931

The Studio, Special edition

Adapted from BAPhot.

? ed. (1931) Modern Photography. London: The Studio Ltd.

This book comprises photographs contemporary to 1931, intended to provide ‘a comprehensive series of illustrations by the leading photographers of the world which we hope will give a fair idea of the stage of development that has been reached’ (editorial), and a couple of articles, the main one being G.H. Saxon Mills, Modern Photography, its development, scope and possibilities. I came across this piece through Batchen’s Each wild idea and found a copy in the Netherlands.

Saxon Mills is described in the editorial as, ‘a member of a great advertising agency, sees both the progressive and practical side of the camera, the art and its application’. Batchen says that,

Saxon Mills defines “modern photography” as something “whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary and representational.” Seeking to broaden his definition beyond the bounds of a “distorted” and sometimes “unintelligible” modern art practise, Saxon Mills suggests that “it is in the halfway between subjective and objective that the camera finds its true métier.”

Batchen on G.H. Saxon Mills, Modern Photography: Its Development, Scope and Possibilities (The Studio, 1931)

The full quote is,

And so, willy-nilly, I am forced at last into defining and confessing what meaning I, at least, read into this unfortunate symbol. And, idiotically irrelevant as it reveals such a use of the word to be, I am assuming that ” modern ” means a successful or unsuccessful attempt to meet the true æsthetic obligations of a true work of art. If what I believe is so, then ” good modern ” is the highly unsatisfactory synonym for a contemporary “work of art.” And ” modern photography ” means photography whose aim is partly or wholly æsthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary and representational.
All of which at least clears the air, allowing the dust of dialectic battle to subside and leaving us free to discuss the æsthetic possibilities of photography ! Let us, therefore, take the bull by the horns, and straightway ask the question-when is a photograph a work of art ? The ” commissioned ” photograph, which has to show or illustrate something as its main purpose, sets out to be a work of art when in addition to portraying the matter submitted to the camera, it deliberately considers the manner of the showing. We shall later consider the photograph whose sole purpose is an æsthetic one.
Now the difference, in a commissioned photograph, between considering the manner and not considering the manner, is potentially the difference between infinity and nothing. The virtue of such a picture is not in the object-which any fool can photograph-it is all in the how-it-is-taken. And it is just here that the artist steps into the arena.

G.H. Saxon Mills, Modern Photography, p.6

Here’s the pdf, I have not included all the photographs.

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