We, like most artists, started our journey of learning photography by photographing in the style of those who inspired us. Of course, like all artists in all mediums and genres, at some point we needed to break away from our "teachers" and find our own vision. That's a journey in itself and a story for another day. But it all had to start somewhere. The work of the members of Group f.64, especially Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, were our main influences when we first became interested in photography. So, what was Group f.64?
Adams, Weston, and Cunningham, along with Willard Van Dyke, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, and Henry Swift formed Group f.64 in the San Francisco region in the early 1930s. Their first exhibit was at San Francisco's DeYoung Museum in 1932 and included work of the members along with work by Preston Holder, Consuella Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, and Brett Weston (Edward's son). The group's main objective was to emphasize photography's unique capabilities in order to distinguish it from other art forms and establish the medium's identity as explained in this quote from the manifesto displayed at their first exhibit.
The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group. The chief object of the Group is to present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West; in addition to the showing of the work of its members, it will include prints from other photographers who evidence tendencies in their work similar to that of the Group. Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire spectrum of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.
The group's work fit into the genre called, at that time, "straight" photography as opposed to "pictorial" photography. The latter which was popular at the time the group was formed. Continueing from the manifesto:
Group f.64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the “Pictorialist,” on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts. The members of Group f.64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself. The Group will appreciate information regarding any serious work in photography that has escaped its attention, and is favorable towards establishing itself as a Forum of Modern Photography.
The group disbanded in the mid-1930s but the work of the members grew into a movement which defined West Coast photography from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Mary Alinder, a long time assistant to Ansel Adams, has a new book about the group "Group f.64 Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and the Community of Artists Who Revolutionized American Photography."