Photography: What is Contemporary and What is Not?

This week, my objective is to understand the meaning of what is contemporary in the forefront of my field.  The answer to this question is that contemporary photography is that which brings focus to subject matter that is unusual and abstract, subject matter that the viewer has not come across before.

To further acknowledge this question, my research activity has involved observing the works of photographers I have previously come across as well as general visual brainstorming. Upon my survey, I have found that every image I have observed is completely unique in its own way.  From this I have learned that contemporary photography is method, process, futuristic and nostalgic and references life now as well as then.  However, contemporary photography can also reference how we wish life to be.  To follow up on this brainstorming activity, I have selected three particular categories which I find acknowledges the contemporary to a high extent.


Fine Art / Atmospheric Photography

Finding the contemporary in fine art category is never difficult due to its diversity in subject matter and location.  Fine art and ambient photographers such as Berndnaut Smilde and Gregory Crewdson are contemporary in how they transport the audience to a make believe setting where the audience is encouraged to question the narrative, the location and the subject matter all at once.  In photography such as this, it is a common to find that we can never fully understand the image or if we do, the viewer is still left to consider alternative possibilities to what they are seeing or to think of a further development in a visual narrative. The ‘contemporary’ is found in the act of making the audience use their imagination and to become immersed into an image.

B, Smilde. ‘Nimbus D’Aspremont’. 2012′

Portrait Photography

In portrait photography, we can find the contemporary in aspects of fashion, make up art as well as recognition of the person in the photograph. Portrait photography is a category where the viewer is given full perspective of the individual where they may find they can gain interest or even relate to this person in some way.  Portrait photography is contemporary in how we can observe character in more ways than one.  Portraits can reveal people in a completely realistic and photojournalistic way where the images would be used in front page magazines and other forms of public social newsfeed.  In this instance we learn about the person in the image as the viewer is given additional information but also a realistic outlook of that person’s life.  However, portrait photography can also involve playing a role where the individual is placed as a set up character that they represent.  The contemporary in this if found in how we would expect to perceive a person (for example a celebrity in a fashion magazine) but also how we are given a more personal insight of a person that represents how we would not expect to see them.

C. Sherman. ‘Film Still no 21’. 1984

Still Life Photography

Still Life photography can be contemporary not only for general art photography display but also in advertising product promotion.  This category can show objects or natural life forms in a perspective that is experimental and daring where the viewer develops a desire or bond with the item they are observing.  This can be done by photography the subject matter in a sense where it is given its own character or where it can be related to locations and activities.  Still life photography canals provide a sentimental value and also can address its importance by having the subject matter photographed in a dramatic sense.  Photographers such as Victoria Ivanova uses this to create a sense that even though an object is so small and ordinary, it is made to look as it it is the most important thing in the universe.  The contemporary is found in how still life is treated to appear more than what it is through exaggerated composition.

Victoria Ivanova. ‘The Monument’



Copyright Berndnaut Smilde (2016) ‘Works‘ {Online} Available from: (Accessed 27/07/2016)

ARR MOMA (2016) ‘Cindy Sherman-Gallery 2‘ {Online} Available from: (Accessed 27/07/2016)

ARR WOoarts (2016) ‘Victoria Ivanova‘ {Online] Available from: (Accessed 25/07/2016)


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