Is photography an art? That’s a good question and if you were hoping for a definitive answer here, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. This is partly because there is no definitive answer to the question and also because any suggestion in one way or another is likely to set off a chain reaction of opinions too large for our comments section can handle it.
And it’s true – art is totally subjective. What one person considers a masterpiece, another scoffs at with that kind of chin-up disdain you usually associate with a critic, who wears plaid pants and a top-knot. But the truth is that there are a lot of misunderstandings about the function of an image – this is what I believe ultimately defines the gap between creative work and a simple light map of tones in a scene.
Following: Opinion: every photographer should print photos
A quick warning before we venture out though – this is not a conversation about good and bad photography. We are not discussing what makes one image better than another. What follows is simply a mediation on the relative artistic intent of a photograph and how you can turn your own images into something more impactful.
Intention is everything
Not long ago, I finished reading a scientific article, written by a friend of mine. Like many newspapers of this type, it presents a series of photographic plates, designed to illustrate the points raised in the text. These images are well displayed, colorful and detailed – the hallmark of any “good” photograph. However, I’m sure my friend would scoff at the idea of entering a photo competition himself. There is nothing wrong with the pictures, but they just weren’t created with this destination as the destination. It is certainly not art in the common sense of the term.
This does raise a puzzling issue though – why isn’t it art, but what if I were to add a colored background, shoot from a different angle, and add a spotlight effect, with a wireless flash? It’s the same subject, potentially in the same place, so what gives? The answer is because I, the creator, say so.
I destined to create a photo that could be fondly looked at by my peers, that might work well in my Digital Photographer Magazine features and that someone might want to buy. It’s more than just a concept. By the very nature of my efforts to create something artistic, I introduce creative aspects that require effort and intention. I needed to leave with something in mind and apply my skills to make it happen.
I wanted people to look at my shot and wonder how it was made. Most importantly, I wanted to capture an image that my viewers, photographers or others might want to create on their own. And that brings us to the next point.
Collection and reception
Who is viewing your images? Why are they looking? What do they hope to see and what did they expect from you, as a creator, to achieve with them? This is the second element separating a recording shot from a work of art – the perception of your images and how your viewers consume them.
If you send your photographs to an art gallery, then you hope to say something artistic with them. You wanted people to spend time looking at them and interpreting them in a way that made sense to them. You were hoping to elicit an emotional response from them, whether it was a superficial appreciation of the topic or a deeper connection by association: either they liked your cat image because they just liked cats, or because your photo reminds them their long lost feline pal, Fluffy.
Either way, your photography becomes art when it is seen as an obvious function of the images in the minds of those for whom it was intended. When you look at used car photos online, do you assume the photographer considered them to be art?
Beyond the ordinary
Art must inspire. It should tell a story or make the viewer think. When you go to take a photo, it is essential that you know why you are holding the camera in front of your eye in the first place. When shooting a wildlife image or macro shot, it’s often easy to think of the process as capturing something literal. A photo of a bird or a flower is just a record of the markings or the color. An artistic print aims to explore the subject’s setting, lifestyle and behavior, describing it in a way the viewer wouldn’t necessarily see with their own eyes.
Art is idealized, the imagination narrative. It doesn’t have to be precise or natural. As long as it is clear that the intention is to elicit a feeling, rather than a simple evaluation, the viewer must accept it.
As a final thought, consider the photographers we now consider to be the “masters” of the medium – like Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, etc. Their images are now considered historical treasures, but their value has likely matured over the years. . One might consider an image to be art today, but at the time Cartier-Bresson, in its strict application of the “decisive moment”, perhaps had not seen his own work as anything other than art. truthful documentary photography. A record of an instant.
The way we think about an image is what really defines its purpose and impact – that’s all that really matters. However, it is also helpful to be aware of this often unconscious thought process on the viewer’s part, because once you understand it, you can learn to identify and exaggerate the true power of art: the ability to communicate an idea.
I’m starting to sound like an art critic. I will stop there.
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