The controversy as to whether photography is art has been raging in the art world for for the last 150 years.
The question still remains whether photography is an art or a new form of documentation seen by the eye instead of the mind. Should photography be considered a creative visual art comparable to painting or sculpture, or does the mechanical process inherent in the action of taking a photograph remove it from the art field? There are many arguments for each side of the question. One cogent argument contends that yes, photography is an art and should be considered the same as painting, sculpture and other recognized forms of visual art. The decisions involved in creating a photograph are analogous to those made by any other artist. A photograph is not just a record of the world, but a created image with its own artistic features. The naysayers advance the theory that no, photography is not art. A photograph is just a record of the world and any beauty or aesthetic qualities a photograph may have are due to the beauty of the world it records and not a feature of the photograph. It is the decisions of an artist at the moment of creation that determines something as art. The mechanical process necessary to make a photograph removes the person from being directly involved in body and soul at the critical moment of creation, and therefore, removes any claim photography has to being an art.
Needless to say, art is a subjective thing. Some people might take a look at a Jackson Pollack “splatter” artwork and contend that modern art is not art, since it “doesn’t look like anything.” Going even further, consider Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. They appear at first glance to be simply canvases painted black but are actually composed of black and nearly black shades. When first shown at MOMA in the 60’s there were protests and membership was cancelled and people contended that their own children could paint better! Art elicits varied emotions!
So let’s return to the question in question – Is photography art? Or is it true what some say, “anybody can take a picture.” But some pictures are better than others. Does the mechanical skill of the guy at Wal-Mart who takes baby pictures fare as well when compared to serious photographers? I have to admit that perhaps the guy at Wal-Mart is just as talented and just as serious. On a slightly different topic – consider language – it is the same whether it is used to create great poetry or to scream obscenities at a baseball game. Does skill make it art?
I hope this discussion has made you think – perhaps you were surprised. I will now leave you with some wonderful quotes about art and photography.
Take note of and ponder the following photo quotes. It’s always worthwhile to learn from masters.
“The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages are perpetuated in quotations”. – Benjamin Disraeli
1. “ You don’t take a photograph, you make it. – Ansel Adams
Full awareness of what makes a good photo is essential in taking great photographs.
Why would anyone be interested in this photo and what elements can be included or excluded to make it truly great?
2. “ Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Do you know how many photos you have taken up until now? You will have to take thousands of pictures to reach a point where you can begin to evaluate them objectively. Looking upon your photos as if you were looking at them through someone else’s eyes is a good way to give yourself constructive criticism. Comparing your first photos with your most recent, do you see improvement? Do you remember how you loved some of your first photos – do you still love them or are they now not so good anymore?
3. “ Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. – Matt Hardy
You often don’t or can’t see beauty in the world until someone shows it to you. Take a look around you just now – even without moving from the computer. Can you see something in a new way, a different way of presenting something common? Just take a look again…
4. “ Nothing happens when you sit at home. I always make it a point to carry a camera with me at all times…I just shoot at what interests me at that moment. – Elliott Erwitt
When the world is your canvas, so to speak, you need your tools with you to capture everything around you. Make a habit of always carrying a camera with you—you will never suffer the regret of wishing you had.
5. “ Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow. – Imogen Cunningham
Never be fully satisfied with what you’ve done.
Never stop photographing. It is very likely that your best photograph has not yet been captured.
6. “ You’ve got to push yourself harder. You’ve got to start looking for pictures nobody else could take. You’ve got to take the tools you have and probe deeper. – William Albert Allard
We are always looking for reasons for not taking good pictures. Cartier-Bresson used film camera, same lens, no flash, same shutter speed – he didn’t need the newest digital equipment to take great photos.
We all have access to some subjects that no one else has access to – look at your friends’ hobbies, the workplaces of friends and family, and any place you have access to to find a vision that comes uniquely from your access. Many people would dream of having the same access you have, and you might not have considered how valuable your access is.
7. “ If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up. – Garry Winogrand
How often have you seen a photo that is missing something, thinking, “This is a good photo but I’d make it different somehow.”? Sometimes small things make a big difference. Don’t be afraid to shake things up.
8. “ I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good. – Anonymous
Sometimes it is interesting to hear the story behind the photo and you see the photo in a new light. But in most cases a photo shouldn’t need a story to back it up. It has to speak for itself.
9. “ Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop. – Ansel Adams
Even one of the masters in photography, Ansel Adams, didn’t expect to get more than 12 great photographs each year.
How can anyone expect more?
Take a look at your last year in photos – do you really see 12 photos that stand out from the rest?
10. “It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get. – Timothy Allen – On editing photos
Editing photos can often be the most difficult but also the most satisfying part. Sometimes taking a quick look at all the photos and then going away for a while before taking a closer look lends a fresh eye to your viewing. You may see things you did not notice previously. Stepping away from the mass of photos can make certain images stand out in your mind’s eye, leaving a memorable impression that can characterize a good photo.
Don’t stop – pursue photography! Keep on shooting! Photography is Art!
Can’t resist one of my favorite quotes – “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams