The fine art print and a formalistic aesthetic are the watchwords of modernist photography. The works of Brett Weston and Ansel Adams are illustrative of this aesthetic. With postmodernism, ‘meaning’, ‘reference’ and ‘quotation’ became the key drivers. As Liz Wells notes: “In photography, the central impact of the postmodern was to destabilise links between representation and reality”. Photographers such as Barbara Kruger incorporated other elements into appropriated images, not only to provoke thought, but to support a particular ideology.
Cindy Sherman’s earliest work made reference to the imagery of Hollywood B-movies. The inferences from her Untitled Film Stills are that the image is from an existing film, (it isn’t), and that by virtue of the images being untitled, the viewer is invited to provide their own meaning. “In this semiotic game, the audience is given a reference which spirals off to yet another representation, not to ‘reality’ itself”. (David Bate)
Postmodernist photography marked a break in tradition, in the same way that in art the impressionists broke from realism and the abstractionists broke from representation. The ‘new’ representations were no longer a first order reality, but one derived from reference to other representations.