Original Document
Original Document
Charles Sheeler on Photography as Art, 1950

Do you realize that if all the discussions having to do with the question "Is photography Art?" were laid end to end they would extend from here to-nowhere?

In the meantime photography is promising as a child and there are high hopes for it in its adulthood. Those of us who have been intrigued by acquaintance with a camera are happy to see the application of photography in constantly extended fields. As a means of personal expression it is only limited by the calibre of the operator. The marked progress in optical correction, as well as increased speed, of lenses has in these recent years greatly enlarged our acquaintance with the visual world. Man has produced an eye which in this respect is better than his own. With this and other greatly increased facilities at the disposal of the photographer he is more and more free to move around in the larger world which has been presented to him. With the increase in his vocabulary it is the responsibility as well as the privilege of the photographer to endeavor to extend the field of application. It is true that increased facilities are not an unmixed blessing, with something gained there is the danger of something lost. There seems to be a prevalent idea that the sheer weight of numbers is a virtue which with the help of a miracle can only result in better photographs. It is easy to forget that we only take out that which we have put in. Gone are the days, we hope, when it was thought to be desirable to apologize for photography, being the unique medium that it is, by the dismal failure to disguise it as of the Graphic Arts. There is a tendency to think that painting and photography are converging roads. That photography is an equivalent to a shortcut to painting.

This could only bring us back to the Bromoil * which hoped to be a charcoal drawing. Why make the same mistake again when there are so many new ones that can be made. There is a tendency in current abstract photography to disguise the source–nature–by using unidentifiable forms. This is to encroach upon the field of painting. The searching eye is capable of discovering in Nature a combination of forms which, when recorded and presented in a print, have astonished those who have missed the seeing. This can be abstraction, with a credit line to Nature.

All Nature has an underlying abstract structure and it is within the province of the artist to search for it and to select and rearrange the forms for the enhancement of his design. It is also within the province of the photographer to seek the same underlying abstract structure and, having found it to his satisfaction, to record it with his camera, with an exactitude not to be achieved through any other medium.

The result is an image which has passed through a lens and having been projected upon a sensitized emulsion makes an inalterable record of the thing seen.

*The Bromoil process, introduced into photography techniques in 1907, was a procedure by which the black-to-white gradations of a photograph were eliminated by bleaching the silver, leaving a shallow relief of colorless gelatin on the photo printing paper. The gelatin would then absorb oil-based pigment applied to the surface with a brush, but the degree of absorption was .controlled primarily by the value relationships established in the original photograph. The principal change in the character of the photographic image would be in texture–which would somewhat simulate that of a charcoal or pastel drawing.

Credit: Charles Sheeler, Paper read at a Symposium on Photography, Museum of Modern Art, 20 October 1950, in Martin Friedman, Bartlett Hayes, and Charles Millard, Charles Sheeler (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1968), 95-96.
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