“Fine Art” photography?

Using the WordPress tag surfer feature as I occasionally do (generally when I’m bored to tears cos I’m supposed to be working but all the computers and stuff are actually running ok), came across this blogpost. Possibly written in context of… um… “erotic art”, nevertheless I couldn’t help but find myself in substantial agreement with many of the observations therein as they pertain to the whole “photography as art” camp.

Note: If you’re not of the “photography is art” camp you’ll probably love it. If you are then maybe you should read it!

And while we’re on the subject, consider these two pics…

_G102600

_G107765

Are they photographs? Or are they art? And if the latter, what sort of art? Art? Ok Art? Crap Art? Wannabe Art?
Well, far as I’m concerned strike out all the above. They ain’t art, they’re photos.
If I’d wanted to produce “art” I woulda got the airbrush out or something. A few charcoal sticks. A coupla brushes maybe.
So surely I, as the guy who took the bloody things in the first place, have the final say on it. Don’t I?

About fotdmike

Occasional photographer; occasional writer/blogger; occasional activist; occasional computer-geek. Bit of a fool really.
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25 Responses to “Fine Art” photography?

  1. Alex Towler says:

    Of course its art, like taditional paintings they capture a moment and an emotion a time, something that is lost forever and will never be exactly the same. What more could you ask for in Art…

  2. fotdmike says:

    Hi Alex!

    Thanks for the comment, but as far as I’m concerned capturing a moment in time with a camera is still photography, not art.
    Had I spent an extensive amount of time “manipulating” them then maybe I’d feel differently, but as I didn’t…

    😉

  3. Alex Towler says:

    My opinion is that it does take a certain ammount of skill to capture the emotion though and thats whats important

  4. tam says:

    I have to agree, it’s photography. Art, to me, is paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc… But photography is photography. I do agree with Alex, it DOES take a certain amount of skill to capture a moment beautifully. If the skill is not there, the photos are lifeless.

    Clearly NONE of my photos could ever be considered art. HA HA!

  5. forkboy says:

    Perhaps we should consider rephrasing the question/issue? Is the photographer and Artist? If so, then perhaps a given picture taken by them can be Art. But if the photographer isn’t an Artist, then perhaps their photographs are not Art.

    I think it is better said by Robert Balcomb who, in 2001, wrote “So consider this: For photography to have its place in the world of Art, it must have within it that quality of having been achieved by the hand of a competent Artist, along with the hand of a technically competent photographer. Many technical photographers do magnificent work in the way of recording what the world has, but only Artist-photographers can do work that can hold its place in Art salons and Collections.”

    I am not an Artist and therefore it is highly unlikely that I will ever shoot a picture that is Art.

  6. fotdmike says:

    Well, following on from Alex’s comment first, I’m not entirely certain one can capture an emotion as such. What is possible is to produce an image that evokes an emotion (or mood even), and I suspect that’s probably what’s meant.
    And certainly to do that a certain level of competence is required. Clearly one needs a rudimentary level of skill in using a camera but, more importantly I think, one needs to understand those combination of elements (overall setting, colours, specific “things” etc) that will achieve the desired effect. A good knowledge of psychology might provide that type of understanding. Alternatively, some people do seem to possess an innate ability to recognise such combinations. But whether that renders the final product “art” or not is, I suspect, another matter entirely.
    I’m reminded of that iconic photo that came out of the Vietnam war… of the little girl covered in burns running down the road.
    Undoubtedly it was a superb documentary/photojournalism image, and it certainly evoked emotions. Not sure that I call it art though.

    So, moving on, I tend to agree with Tam here… “Art, to me, is paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc… But photography is photography”.
    I have a nasty sneaking suspicion that a large part of the reason why so many photographers insist on calling their work art is (a) to bestow some sort of significance or validity on what they do which, they fear, it otherwise wouldn’t possess, and (b) because they lack the requisite skills/discipline to produce “art” in any of the more traditional forms.
    Perhaps I’m wrong in this latter. But I fail to see why, if someone possessing such skills wanted to specifically produce a “work of art” they’d bother with photography when it’d be so much simpler to start working on canvas (or whatever) straight away. But maybe that’s just me, and a reflection of what I’d do.
    I’m reminded here of so many of the HDR images that I’ve seen. Undoubtedly to achieve such an effect requires a not inconsiderable level of skill in photo-manipulation, and that indeed is a skill that merits recognition in its own right. But, to my eye, the end result so often seems to emulate the “feeling” of images that can be produced by an airbrush and, in so very many of the examples of HDR that I’ve seen, with much greater success. So why bother with a photo-based one in the first place?

    Which leads neatly into forkboy’s comment. I think that quotation from Robert Balcomb has a helluva lot going for it. And it fits quite neatly with a view that I’m gradually developing… that a photograph can certainly be an artistic rendering… but does that necessarily make it “art”?

  7. Alex Towler says:

    To have any discussion regarding photography as art, surely we need to decide what is Art, what defines it? and that is where the rift lies, there are so many different factions that take Art to mean different things.

  8. fotdmike says:

    Absolutely! I think this is a huge part of the problem… some sort of definition everyone can agree on.
    The weird thing is, at a superficial level everyone knows what “Art” means, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of asking someone to provide a precise definition, well, clearly there are many different interpretations.

  9. forkboy says:

    Perhaps the oft-sited proposal of what is obscenity applies to art as well: I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.

    Which, of course, makes Art always in the eye of the beholder.

    However, and for my two-cents worth, I think it is a bit unfair to think of Art as being only those traditional outlets (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.). A quick search for the definition of ‘art’ on the Internet yields a number of results, but one in particular caught my attention:

    a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation; “the art of conversation”

    Are we not, each of us, trying to improve upon our photographic skill sets through study, practice and observation? Of course, we could construe these efforts as yielding better looking photographs, but that in itself doesn’t make it art.

    But I’m not certain that just because our chosen palette happens to be a CMOS or CCD sensor buried inside a camera body means it is any less valid an instrument of Art than a sculptures hands, a painters brush, etc.

    All I know is that the more I think about it the less of a conclusion do I find.

  10. fotdmike says:

    “a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation; “the art of conversation”

    Ah. Instantly I have a problem with that definition. For it implies that art is something that can be learned, whereas I’d contend that art (or rather, the ability to produce art) is as much an instinct or innate “talent” as it is a product of learning.
    Whereas the “artistic ability” can be (indeed, should be) developed, honed and refined by the learning of various skills and techniques, I’d argue that a person lacking in that initial “artistic ability” will unlikely ever “produce art” no matter how much studying, practice and observation they do.

    As regards the camera being a valid instrument of art, if that’s taken purely as an unqualified statement the implication is that everyone is producing art the instant they fire off their first shot with their first point’n’shoot.
    However, I’m sure that’s not what you mean, so if it were qualified by that remark of Balcomb’s that you quoted earlier I think it’d render it a much more viable contention.

    And yes, I believe a lot of the appreciation of art (which must necessarily feed into what one considers art to be) is in the eye of the beholder, making it very much a subjective sort of thing.
    And could this be why there is so much difficulty in providing a generally acceptable definition of art, or reconciling the various interpretations of what actually constitutes art?

  11. forkboy says:

    And with that we find ourselves back to the original problem: what is Art?

    I think you take too far my premise that the camera is another tool in the development of art. Just because I purchase paint brushes, a canvas and paints doesn’t make me an Artist or mean that I will produce Art. Instead I contend that it, the camera, is simply another means by which to create Art if one considers photographs to be Art.

    So let’s diverge for a moment and ask the question: Was the work of Ansel Adams, and others of the Group f/64, Art?

  12. fotdmike says:

    Yep, we’ve gone full circle back to Alex’s remark, “what is art and what defines it”.
    In the grand scheme of things perhaps this isn’t of major importance… but it irritates the hell out of me!
    😉

    No, I don’t think you can accuse me of taking your premise too far cos I did in fact qualify it by the remark “I’m sure that’s not what you mean”… the analogy of the paint brushes had also occurred to me.
    All too often though I get the impression that some folk think because they’re taking photographs they’re necessarily producing art.

    Re Ansel Adams, can’t really comment cos I’m not familiar with his work. And I’ve never even heard of the Group f/64!

    So, who wants to attempt a definitive answer to the question “What is Art”?

  13. fotdmike says:

    Re last… ok, just did a quick Yahoo search and arrived at a website featuring the “most famous” works of Adams.
    Well, they’re certainly very nice images and were they to appear on Flickr I might “fave” one or two of them (on the other hand I might not… cos they all seem to be in black & white!). But art? No. Far as I’m concerned they’re photographs. Quite nice photographs admittedly but still, ultimately, photographs. I wouldn’t, for example, want to hang them on my wall.

  14. forkboy says:

    But maybe every time someone fires off their camera they are being an Artist and creating Art? Why not? A painter captures a moment in time of the given subject. Just like a photograph. What differentiates these two methods from each other enough to qualify the painting as art, but not the photograph? Especially in this day and age of digital image processing.

    Sure. Neither do I genuinely believe that every time someone presses the shutter release they are creating Art (and that they are an Artist), but nor do I feel completely comfortable saying they aren’t an Artist.

    Maybe being an Artist, and thus creating Art, is more about intent than anything else? Maybe it’s not the medium in which or through which a person works or what the end product is (physically), but what the intention is of the party?

    For example, when you created your image for the August group project what steps did you go through? It would seem that you had a vision in my mind of what you wanted, you found a proper environment in which to shoot (and that matched your vision), staged props (like staging a model) and then shot the picture. You could just as easily, in theory, painted the scene and would have called it Art. Or so I theorize.

    I know that when I’m shooting pictures I take a lot more time with some than most. In those instances I’m trying to be far more cognizant of the various factors involved that I would typically consider to be related to Art as opposed to technical qualities of the actual photograph (i.e. white balance, shutter speed, etc.).

    Re. Ansel Adams you would likely find yourself in the minority in regards to whether or not his photography is Art. He is very much worshiped in the U.S. for his work and is one of the founding members of the NYC Museum of Modern Art’s photography department. While I certainly wouldn’t deny you the right to consider his work not Art, he is the first person who leaps to my mind when someone mentions Art and photography in the same sentence.

  15. fotdmike says:

    Ok, well, I’ve been having a real mull about this in the interlude. So here’s a few thoughts that occurred to me, not necessarily connected and in no particular order. I’ve numbered them not to imply a specific order but simply to differentiate them…

    1. In all the “traditional” artforms that I can think of the artist (creator) starts out with a “blank canvas”. Here I’m using the word “canvas” in a figurative sense. It could just as easily be paper, parchment, sheet of metal, wood, stone, marble, clay, cloth… whatever. You get the gist.
    And from this “blank canvas” the artist/creator, line by line, detail by detail, builds up or creates what will become the final “image” (and again, I’m using the word “image” in a figurative sense… it could just as easily be a woodcut, a statue, a sculpture, etc).
    Now that “image” may take shape from a vision in the artist’s mind and with no tangible basis in “reality”, or it may clearly be a representation of a scene before the artist… either a scene that the artist has come upon, or a scene that has been carefully constructed.
    And very often this process can be extremely painstaking, and take days, or weeks, or months… or even years sometimes.

    Whereas, it seems to me, that entire process is simply absent in the taking of a photograph. This is not to denigrate the skills that are involved in photography, but do any of those skills, on their own, qualify as art? I would argue not.
    They are perhaps comparable to the purely technical skills the artist requires in order to render an “image”… different ways of using a paintbrush or even different ways of applying paint. Different techniques of using a chisel. Techniques to create a sense of depth or perspective. Etc.
    Moreover, its entirely possible that a person may possess the knowledge of how to use those techniques yet still be unable to produce anything that would generally be recognised as art.

    2. It seems to me that a real work of art should be original, and unique. Sure, there can be reproductions and copies, but are they art in the purest and truest sense?
    Theoretically a photographer could set up their camera to capture a particular scene, then invite all and sundry to come and click the shutter release. Could every single one of those “all and sundry” then legitimately claim to have produced a work of art?

    3. I’ve worked in a number of different mediums in creating art… paint/charcoal/pencil/chalk/ink, pen/brush/airbrush/finger, wood carving, metal engraving, applique, embroidery, etc.
    Yet the “feel” of creating something using any of those tools in any of those mediums is completely different to what I experience when taking a photograph.
    When I’m clicking the shutter there’s a whole spectrum of feelings and emotions that are, quite simply, absent. And even if I subsequently subject a photographically captured image to intensive manipulation I still have no sense that I’m actually creating anything “from scratch”.

    4. Let’s say we take something that I doubt anyone would argue about being a “work of art”… the painting the Mona Lisa. Are all the reproductions and copies and photographs that exist of that also “works of art”?
    Which leads on to the question, are works of art capable of being mass-produced? I would argue not.

    Well, that’s basically a distillation of some of the random thoughts that occurred to me. There were others, but too fleeting to express at the moment.

    So, responding to forkboy’s last comments…

    “A painter captures a moment in time of the given subject. Just like a photograph. What differentiates these two methods from each other enough to qualify the painting as art, but not the photograph?”

    But is that all that a painter does? I think not. If we use the criterion of “capturing a moment in time” as the sole definition of art, then how much else could that apply to that wouldn’t normally be considered art. And with such a wide application of the word, almost without discretion, then why bother calling anything art?

    “Maybe being an Artist, and thus creating Art, is more about intent than anything else?”

    Who can truly know what a person’s intent is, other than the person themself? If this is the yardstick then its quite conceivable that many of the things that have for so long been regarded as works of art aren’t that at all!
    And similarly, there may well be many things that wouldn’t generally be regarded as art that in fact are… using intent as the yardstick.

    “For example, when you created your image for the August group project what steps did you go through? It would seem that you had a vision in my mind of what you wanted, you found a proper environment in which to shoot (and that matched your vision), staged props (like staging a model) and then shot the picture. You could just as easily, in theory, painted the scene and would have called it Art. Or so I theorize.”

    Yes indeed! Had I painted (or even drawn) it from scratch, starting out with a blank “canvas”, then I’d have no hesitation in calling the end product art. But what actually happened was, having composed the scene, I then took a photograph. So the end result wasn’t art… it was a photograph.
    This is not to say that photography can’t be used in art. It can, and very often is. But the photographs in and of themselves wouldn’t normally be regarded, by the person using them in such way, as art in their own right.

    “Re. Ansel Adams you would likely find yourself in the minority in regards to whether or not his photography is Art.”

    Hmm.

    If, a few hundred years ago, I’d argued for the world being round I’d have been in the minority then, too. The thought or fear of being in the minority is not something that I generally use as a guide. I may be many things but I don’t generally think of myself as a sheep!
    😉

  16. forkboy says:

    So if I understand you correctly you are saying that without a doubt, photography is Art?

    Or did I miss something?

  17. forkboy says:

    You know….the one thing about these sticky posts is that one forgets to look below them to see if there are any more recent postings.

    Then again I’m known for being special.

    😉

  18. fotdmike says:

    “So if I understand you correctly you are saying that without a doubt, photography is Art?”

    Perhaps you’d like to explain to someone as obviously dimwitted as myself the marvellously impressive piece of reasoning that led you to that conclusion?
    Step by step preferably.
    🙂

    “You know….the one thing about these sticky posts is that one forgets to look below them to see if there are any more recent postings.”

    Yeah, I’m beginning to wonder whether they’re such a good idea after all. Perhaps we should have a sort of off-the-cuff vote on them?

  19. I personally would say they are both art but then you have to define what art is to ask that question. It makes me really want to take a philosophy of art class all about how to define art.
    Maggie

  20. fotdmike says:

    Hi Maggie.

    Yeah, that seems to be where we’re getting a bit bogged down… coming up with a satisfactory definition of art.
    I’m sure many others have tussled with this problem in the past but its fairly new ground for me.
    I’m only really niggling away at it now cos the topic seems to keep cropping up in discussions with various photographer chums of mine. I’m sure they think I’m a bit of a philistine cos I keep resisting the idea of photography as art, but so far I’ve not heard any argument that persuades me otherwise.
    😦

  21. forkboy says:

    Okay, here is my logic and reasoning as to how I have derived that you really believe photography is Art and not not-art.

    Step 1: While I have mixed feelings regarding whether or not photographs are or can be Art, I have postulated that they could be dependent upon a number of factors.

    Step 2: You are notoriously difficult. 😉

    Step 3: Because you are notoriously difficult it only stands to reason that you would adopt a completely and utterly opposite viewpoint on this subject in comparison to mine.

    Step 4: Because it is simply your being difficult that brings you to argue the counterpoint to my position, it again stands to reason that once your difficultness (look! I’ve coined a new word!) is removed from the equation you would agree with my position and thus, you believe that photography is Art.

    See? So simple.

    And if you want a vote on it…my vote is to define it much as beauty is defined: in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, Art is in the eye of the beholder. If you do not see it as Art, then it is not Art.

  22. fotdmike says:

    Heh heh!

    Well, I’ll accept the foregoing as reasoning. Not sure its very logical though.

    😉

    So, all joking aside and just to clarify things…

    I never have regarded photography as art, and am still disinclined to do so but am prepared to be persuaded otherwise if I can find a sufficiently convincing reason.

    That said, I will concede that certain photographs can be artistic.

  23. forkboy says:

    RESULT!

    He’s weakening folks. Jump in here and help me convert him to the dark side!

  24. fotdmike says:

    Weakening? That implies I’ve changed my mind. Now whilst I’ll readily admit that on a lot of things (far too many for me to even want to think about) my mind’s a bit like the weather, in this particular instance nothing much has changed.

    Or maybe you’re about to come up with a new slant on the topic?

    😉

  25. forkboy says:

    Moi? I’m just looking to have the last word 🙂

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