Photography as Fine Art

I’ve been thinking about the opinion that “photography isn’t art”. Needless to say, some photographic artists I know take a pretty dim view of this. Nonetheless, it’s something you will hear, if you haven’t already, especially at galleries and other exhibitions of artistic photography. It would be best to keep the wine to a minimum when this discussion breaks out.

What makes photographic work qualify as art? It is, in part, the actual photo, as taken, and the preparations that the photographer makes to compose the photo — not different from a poet composing a poem or a lyricist composing a song. The art is in the approach that the photographer takes to produce the final work.

Some people aim-and-shoot, point-and-click — the Eastman method. Others, the artistic photographers, search out the right subject at the right time in the right place from the right angle with the right lighting and the wind blowing just right, and aim the right camera with the right shutter and the right apeture setting — then click. One of these is artistic, one is not.

Beyond that, for the artistic photographer, the work is not done when the shutter clicks. Now the post-process begins. The photo captures what is there; the artist adds to it, subtracts from it, emphasizes this and diminishes that, until the work shows what was not there, what was not anywhere, ever. This is now the artist’s creation.

This is art. This is fine art.

Consider a sculptor, who begins with a raw lump of clay or a block of marble, then removes the excess to reveal the art within. Or a painter, with pencils and palette and knives and brushes at hand, who projects his imagination onto a blank canvas. We believe this is art, and few question it.

Consider the photographer, who looks out onto a rich landscape, captures it in a digital image, then adds colors, removes shadows, reveals details invisible in nature. The result — an artistic extension of nature, embellished by the artist’s imagination and vision.

Photography can be fine art, in the hand of an artist, from the fertile, creative imagination of an artist. And when photography is raised to the level of fine art, there is no purpose served in diminishing it.


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