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Related Resources

Building a Collection: Photography at the National Gallery, Lecture by Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head, department of photographs


Sarah Greenough
Senior Curator and Head, Department of Photographs
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Diane Waggoner
Associate Curator, Department of Photographs
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Photography Between the Wars

In the aftermath of World War I—the first modern, mechanized conflict—sweeping changes transformed photography. Avant-garde painters, graphic designers, and journalists turned to the medium, seeing it as the most effective tool to express the fractured, fast-paced nature of modernity and the new technological culture of the twentieth century. A wide variety of new approaches and techniques flourished during these years, especially in Europe. Photographers adopted radical cropping, unusual angles, disorienting vantage points, abstraction, collage, and darkroom alchemy to achieve what the influential Hungarian teacher László Moholy-Nagy celebrated as the “new vision.” Other photographers, such as the German August Sander or the Americans Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans, sought a more rigorous objectivity grounded in a precise examination of the world.