Michael Fried's modernist theory of photography

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This essay critically analyses Michael Fried's book Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. It examines the relevance of Fried's categories of absorption and theatricality to contemporary photography and his assumption that photography is an inherently modernist art. In his book Fried explains the shift to large-scale colour photographs in the 1980s as signalling a return to problems of beholding, which dominated painting since the 1750s and 1760s. In contrast, this essay argues that this shift reveals the importance of the legacy of conceptualism and minimalism to recent photography and, in particular, the role of the conceptual 'document' within contemporary artistic practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-395
Number of pages9
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Jeff Wall (1946-)
  • Medium specificity
  • Michael Fried (1939-)
  • Photography theory
  • Roland Barthes (1915-80)
  • Theatricality
  • Thomas Ruff (1958-)


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