IS PHOTOGRAPHY ART?

“ART is the process or product of deliberately and creatively arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. In its narrow sense, the word art most often refers specifically to the visual arts, including media such as painting, sculpture, and printmaking.” (Wikipedia)

If you think about that definition sufficiently you will see it is an extremely well put together sentence that answers this question. If we examine the meaning of some of the words which themselves are contained within the definition such as, process, product, arranging, these are all words which have connotations more of manufacture than art. The key to it is the word “creatively”.

It is the means by which a photograph is created that are usually given as the reason “art lovers” disregard photography as an art form so lets look again to our definition of words;

“PHOTOGRAPHY …. Is the process, activity and art of creating … pictures by recording radiation on a sensitive medium…”(Wikipedia).

Henry Moore sculptures were created by recording the blows of a hammer and chisel on stone. A process with mechanical connotations if ever there was one. Or you could look at screen prints a process very closely aligned with modern photographic ink jet printers, or giclée printers as they are often called, and for which the origin of the image used to produce the screen was in many cases a photograph. This includes many of the most celebrated screen prints.

We should extend this examination and look at paintings. Paintings, by which definition I will include, oil, watercolour, pastel, acrylic, sketches and any image created by man or woman are, at the end of the day produced by means of transferring material from brush to paper, or whatever, as required by the medium being used.

It is my belief that whether or not photography is an art depends first upon the person making the photograph and then on the person seeing the photograph. Here it is important to reflect on the difference between simply taking a photograph and making a photograph and to consider the reason for which the image was recorded.

The original file, an unprocessed 32 second exposure.
The original file, an unprocessed 32 second exposure.
"Indefinite 2" The finished image.
“Indefinite 2” The finished image.

Photographs of the people around us, our immediate environment and the items within it, are often made as a record and as such need to be accurate as to shape, proportions and colour or they do not fulfil the purpose for which they were made. These “record shots” (another much misused and mis-understood term, which we can maybe examine in another article) are, in the opinion of many, not art because they lack the element of creativity. Nor do they fit with the definition of Art given above since the photographer will have had, I many cases, any hand in “deliberately and creatively arranging elements in a way that appeals.” However even in choosing where to place his camera the photographer has an impact upon arranging elements so beware the use of this term.

So, if the photographer adds an element of creativity, in my opinion, the photograph becomes art. Whether it is perceived as such by the viewer will depend upon many things. These include whether the viewer can see the creativity contained in the image, the viewer’s personal taste and prejudice. This last is one of the main stumbling blocks but it impacts politics, religion, diet, in fact pretty much everything, so we must expect it to be reflected in peoples views of both art and photography.

Personal taste is also to a large extent impacted upon by our own ability to see the creativity imparted to the work by the artist. Do you think Tracey Emin’s unmade bed is art? Do you think Damien Hirst’s cow in formaldehyde is art? Well it is indeed personal taste, you will have your views and I have mine, and yes, they are personal so I’m not telling you. I’m going out with my camera.

And, as an aside, why mankind has ever referred to taking a photograph is one of the mysteries of the mis-use of language. In recording an image nothing is taken, since the light would not have been available to re-use later on. Oh well, perhaps I really am becoming a grumpy old man.

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