Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Romy Golan

Advisor

Maria Antonella Pelizzari

Committee Members

Siona Wilson

Christian Joschke

Subject Categories

Cultural History | European History | Fine Arts | Graphic Design | Modern Art and Architecture | Photography

Keywords

History of Photography, France, 1930s, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Charles Peignot

Abstract

This dissertation examines the evolution of photography in France between the two World Wars by analyzing the seminal graphic art magazine Arts et métiers graphiques (1927-1939). This bi-monthly periodical was founded by Charles Peignot (1897-1983), the artistic director of the largest manufacturer of typefaces in interwar France, Deberny et Peignot. Arts et métiers graphiques has been recognized in previous literature as one of the principal vehicles for the modernization of photography in France, primarily because it functioned as an essential conduit for the radical practices developed outside the country. The interwar period is regarded as the watershed in the history of photography. Avant-garde artists and photographers not only established photography’s own expressions but also liberated the medium from its aspiration for high art advocated by Pictorialism by expanding its uses in and as new media. Arts et métiers graphiques has been recognized as a catalyst for this transformation of photography in France. However, this study argues, contrary to such reputation, Arts et métiers graphiques represented a juste-milieu, and even arrière-garde attitude toward photography in interwar France. Instead of revolutionizing photography, the magazine encouraged the medium’s legitimization as a form of high art, combining Pictorialist tenets and modernist understanding of photography.

I examine the emergence and evolution of this attitude by considering photography’s changing relationship with the contemporary development of graphic arts and media. Photography was first introduced to Arts et métiers graphiques around 1930 as an essential element for the modernization of graphic practices such as publicity and book designs. However, because of the magazine’s focus on the aesthetic and formalist aspects of graphic arts, photography soon came to be appreciated for its own visual beauty and quality of execution, rather than for its function in graphic design. Accordingly, Arts et métiers graphiques started to promote photography as an autonomous artistic practice independent of graphic contexts over the course of the 1930s.

The break with past art’s conventions and reliance on graphic media have been defined as two essential backdrops of photography’s revolution in the interwar period. However, Arts et métiers graphiques proves that this schematic understanding did not really fit into France. This dissertation thus reveals another aspect of photography’s modern evolution overshadowed by, but coinciding with, the avant-gardes’ radicalism.

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