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Judith Being Carted from Oaklawn to the Hill. The Way Art Moves, 1920

Alfred Stieglitz, Judith Being Carted from Oaklawn to the Hill. The Way Art Moves, 1920, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection 1949.3.441

The idea that every picture tells a story is one of the most common clichés of photography. Countless 19th- and early 20th-century photographers, including Eadweard Muybridge and Alfred Stieglitz, have explored its narrative potential. In the mid-20th century, anecdotal photography thrived in magazines such as Life or Look, where carefully sequenced pictures and texts told stories of modern life. Yet in the last 50 years, artists working with photography have investigated new ways to construct narratives, and in the process have transformed the medium, forging critical links with other art forms, such as performance and installation art.

Relapse/Detox Grid, 1998–2000

Nan Goldin, Relapse/Detox Grid, 1998–2000, nine silver dye bleach prints, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase with funds donated by the FRIENDS of the Corcoran Gallery of Art) 2015.19.4709

In the late 1960s, Dan Graham (American, 1942 - 2022) and Jeff Wall (born 1946) combined photographs with narrative texts and placed them in art galleries and publications to challenge traditional forms of display and the pristine aesthetics of the fine art print. In the 1970s and 1980s, photographers such as Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924 - 2019), Jim Goldberg (American, born 1953), Larry Sultan (American, 1946 - 2009), and Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) exposed their lives and those of others, using single or multiple pictures, to examine broad cultural questions of family and identity. More recently, artists such as Victor Burgin and Judy Fiskin (American, born 1945) have pushed the narrative possibilities of the medium still further, using video to address the shifting meaning of art at different times and in different contexts.