What Is Subjective Photography?

By Clayton Yuetter
Subjective photography originated in Germany after World War II.

Subjective photography was the concept of Otto Steinert, a German photographer in the 1950s. It occurred largely in response to the propaganda and artless use of photography during the Second World War. Subjective photography emphasizes consideration of the photo that goes beyond the actual subject, inviting the viewer to interpret and reflect on the visual experience it produces.

The Concept

Subjective photography focuses on the importance of self-expression, as opposed to a factual account of the subject being photographed. Otto Steinert, its founder, suggested that it is "humanized and individualized photography" whose purpose is "to capture from the individual object a picture compounding to its nature." Subjective photography is meant to be self-reflective, relying more on the viewer's interpretation and experience than the actual object being photographed.

Origin

Steinert, the creator of subjective photography, worked in Saarbr├╝cken, Germany, as a portrait photographer after the World War II. Soon after taking over a photography class he formed an artist group called "fotoform" that sought a reinvention in photography. In 1951 he exhibited the first showing of subjective photography in Saarbr├╝cken. The exhibit included more than 700 photos from international artists that sought reformation in the consideration of photography. Steinert would go on to organize several more subjective photography exhibits in the next decade.

How it Differed to Pre-war Photography

The photography during the Second World War, particularly in Germany, had a very functional purpose. Portraits were like those taken in yearbooks, and only aimed to capture the existence and factual detail of its subject, rather than any artistic detail. Subjective photography, on the other hand, sought to be more than practical. Instead, it focused on producing an "experience" for the viewer that forced him to make an interpretation.

Reaction Against Propaganda

In many ways, subjective photography was a reaction to the propaganda of the Third Reich during the war. Most of the photographs published during World War II were censored and used as part of the greater war effort. They sought a very concrete message that favored a political agenda that served the concept of nationalism. Opposing this, subjective photographers focused on celebrating individualism, reflective experiences and interpretation.

About the Author

Clayton Yuetter has worked as a professional writer since 1999. His writing has appeared in many journals and websites such as The Milk House, The Country Folks, Progressive Dairyman and Three Times Daily. He received a Master of Arts in writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway.