In his new book, How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age, photography critic Andy Grundberg details the medium’s move from the periphery to the center of American artistic production between the 1960s and ’90s. This shift, Grundberg asserts, is integral to the transformation of modern art into contemporary art, understood as an abandonment of abstraction in favor of engagement with everyday experience. In the camera, artists found a powerful means of looking at the world and its images that, in turn, helped bring political and social concerns back into the realm of artistic practice. In this way, “contemporary art has become photography, if by that we mean not the medium itself but its function as a messenger of contemporary life” (264).

The two terms of Grundberg’s title, “photography”and “contemporary art,”make for...

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