My conception of Group f/64 is this: it is an organization of serious photographers without formal ritual of procedure, incorporation, or any of the restrictions of artistic secret societies, Salons, clubs or cliques…The Group was formed as an expression of our desire to define the trend of photography as we conceive it…Our motive is not to impose a school with rigid limitations, or to present our work with belligerent scorn of other view-points, but to indicate what we consider to be reasonable statements of straight photography. Our individual tendencies are encouraged; the Group Exhibits suggest distinctive individual view-points, technical and emotional, achieved without departure from the simplest aspects of straight photographic procedure.(Adams, 1933)
The original 11 members of Group f/64 were Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, Henry Swift, John Paul Edwards, Brett Weston, Consuelo Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, Sonya Noskowiak, and Preston Holder. Despite the diverse range of subject matter that the group represented, the common unifying factor was the practice of the usage of the camera as a recording device to document non-manipulated pure images (Huxley, 2020). The famous works by group f64 include Ansel Adam’s dramatic images of the Yosemite National Park, Edward Weston’s close-up’s of fruits & vegetables, sand dunes and nudes, and Cunnigham’s images of calla lilies. Even though at first these subjects seem to have no common connection, the photographs by the group of these subjects have a great connection – a careful consideration by the photographers to meticulously capture the exact characteristics of what was in front of the camera, binding them together to render an emotional experience of the form, which became the main attribute of their photographic art (Met Museum, 2004).
“Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.”(Group f/64 Manifesto, August 1932)
The group held the conviction that photographs should celebrate rather than hide the camera’s unparalleled capacity to capture realities “as it is” because the camera was more capable of seeing reality than the human eye, as it was not influenced by the personal biases and preconceived notions that can affect the human perception. The group, besides advocating the use of aperture f/64 that provides the greatest depth of field, also supported contact printing that involved developing prints by directly placing the photo paper in contact with the negative instead of the usual procedure of projecting the negative image on to the paper; and the usage of glossy instead of matte or fine art papers, thus giving more freedom to the photographer to choose his form and frame it, taking his role from that of a printmaker to being a selector. Their main aim was to produce images that embraced the inherent strengths of the art by putting forth pictures with texture, composition, complete tonal range, and light and with extreme sharpness in the entire frame. This process, a sort of pre-visualisation, as dubbed by Weston, became the group’s mantra, which allowed the photographer to preview his scene on the ground glass, like a viewfinder on a camera, before he captured the photograph (Met Museum, 2004).
“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”(Weston, 1930)
Not much public interest was raised initially when the works by the group were exhibited in 1932 but by the time the group disbanded its influences on the direction of photography could be seen in the works of photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who documented the effects of the Great Depression on communities (Britannica, 2018). The group started to drift apart in 1935 when some artists started to believe in the power of photography to document suffering and to make a difference in the world, contrary to the apolitical vision of the group. The dynamics of the group gave way to individual dreams and aspirations, which was of little concern as the collective effort of the group held to make the belief of “pure” photography, stand strong for over a generation. (Blaustein, 2014).
The presence of women photographers starting with Cunningham, the most famous, to Alma Lavenson, Sonya Noskowiak, Consuelo Kanaga, and Dorothea Lange, was one of the important aspects of the group. The group’s fame and significance was related to their ability to provide more flexibility and possibilities to the medium. Their style of capturing and printing pure and unmanipulated imagery influenced the photojournalism and documentary photography of the 1950s, It can also be safely regarded as the first modern art movement that was equally defined by women and men alike and working as equals (Kordic, 2016).
Even though the group disintegrated quite early, its contributions to the medium of photography throughout the 20th century have been influential and significant. Despite their aim of capturing and presenting the world as was seen by the naked eye, the group managed to transform their images into art, through their mastery over technique, which included an exceptional use of light, contrasts, and composition (ARTSY, 2020).