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A Criticism of Beaument Newhall's The History of Photography

최봉림 1

1홍익대학교

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ABSTRACT

Beaumont Newhall's The History of Photography owes its origin to the catalogue of the exhibition Photography 1839-1937 at The Museum of Modern Art in 1937. In 1949, this catalogue underwent a change into 'world history of photography', revised and enlarged later in 1964 and 1982, through which the importance of U.S.A. in world history of photography has always been overestimated. Either unwittingly or consciously, such a nationalistic intention is apparent: Newhall, who became the founding curator of Department of Photography at Museum of Modern Art, N. Y. in 1940, and also from 1949 served as the first director of International Museum of Photography of the Kodak Company, imperialistic/multinational manufacturer of photographic materials and equipments, intended an implicit but evident declaration that the history of American photography correspond to that of world photography. Furthermore, Newhall's book reveals no little problems in classification. Ignoring the conventional classification of photographic genres, he juxtaposes actualities, portraits, and fashion photographs simply because they have been appeared in the press; then again, photographs of almost the same context both in production and consumption are sometimes divided into different categories: although chosen from among the photo essays published in Life magazine alike, one belongs to 'Documentary Photography', and the other to 'Photojournalism'. These are not all the examples of the inappropriate classification he applied. Sometimes he attempts a detailed categories, sometimes a extensive. He subdivides the 19th century's art photography, which regarded the main trends of painting as an exemplar in order to elevate photography to the status of fine art, into 'Narrative photography' and 'Art Photography', whereas 'The Quest for Form' covers all European photographic avant-garde movements and experiments by 1920s: New Vision, Russian Constructivism, John Heartfield's photo-montages, and photo-collages of Dadaism and Surrealism are mingled multifariously in no more than 17 pages. Newhall's The History of Photography is one of the most influential comprehensive texts in English on general history of photography. Even so, it is a 'world history of photography' vitiated by the nationalistic prejudices and the inappropriate classifications.

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