A few days ago I did a ‘meet the artist’ session at a gallery. The last time I did one was for work that was displayed as part of a photography exhibition. This one was a part of an art exhibition featuring a wide range of works – 2d, 3d and digital. Mine were the only photographs being shown and it got me thinking about the different responses to photography as art.
Intention, I have an idea that I want to create. Sometimes it’s a fully worked up picture to the very last detail of story, costume, pose and location. Sometimes it is an emotion or idea. Not to say it can’t evolve though as I talked about here.
It is clear that some segments of the art world regard photography as a poor relation. Certainly, some art exhibitions don’t want photographs and even in those that say they do they are often poorly represented in the final selection. I can see two possible reasons why people may feel this way. The first is about uniqueness. We tend to think of something as unique as being more valuable. So a photograph which can be printed many times may be perceived as less valuable. That is why so many of us photographers sell our work as limited edition prints rather than open editions. However, its worth keeping in mind that many artists also produce prints of their work rather than just originals.
The second reason is that it can be considered by some not be ‘proper art’. Yes, photos can be a record shot (a favourite phrase of camera club judges) capturing what is there for posterity with no intention. I’m not arguing the case for all photos being art. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that whole genres like street photography and landscapes fall into this though. These photographers can plan out and wait for ages for the shot they envision. That might be the right person to walk through the scene or for the weather to create the perfect image with the landscape.
In selecting the costume, props, location and emotion for a photograph I am doing the same as an artist who plans to draw or paint the scene. I build up colour and texture in the same way as many artists just in photoshop rather than using a paintbrush. As well as spending time taking an image, I often spend many, many hours working on it afterwards. Sometimes the final image can be very different from the original, sometimes it is just about refinement and colour toning.
I blogged a few months ago about whether I am a photographer or an artist. It seems to be a topic that I revisit in different guises. Oh, and the artist’s talk went well to a lovely bunch of people. It was very clear most of them thought photography was art and that’s great to hear particularly from a group that had quite a number of fellow artists working in traditional media.
Often my strongest work comes from what evolves from my original mental picture for a fine art photograph. Lots of things can influence changes. Frequently the concept is refined naturally as we try out poses and work with props. Sometimes it is in response to outside factors though such as as the British weather.
Weather is rightly somewhat of a preoccupation here in the UK. I’ve heard many jokes about the British weather obsession and they are mostly true! Our weather is incredibly changeable – I think we’ve seen three different season’s worth in the last week or so alone… A slight aside but it really is also a perennial topic of conversation. I even recommended it to some friends visiting from America as a go-to in any situation where they were dealing with English reserve!
As a location photographer dodging the rain is often a required skill. Another is balancing dull days on which skies still want to blow out losing the detail. On this particular day, the weather was a big factor. I made the mistake of saying how nice it was at the start of the shoot. I’d taken just half a dozen frames when the heavens opened!
When we arrived at the location for this set I was amazed at how windy it was in that particular spot. It must have been a geographic quirk as it hadn’t been at our earlier location. The bonnet – made from an old beach hat the evening before – was actually depending on the ties to keep it in place. But the wind meant the long ribbons streamed in the wind nicely, almost as if I’d planned it!
So we embraced the wind and started playing around getting the shawl to stream out. I’d got it in mind to use an image of it held. But I decided it worked better as a stand-alone element because it fitted so well with this pose.
Motion is great in pictures, it really makes them come alive. But capturing that feeling can sometimes be challenging. I’d originally intended to try and give the sense of walking through the fields. However, I prefer the final image with all the wind and extra motion.
All fine art photographs are about having a vision. However, it is important to explore opportunities to refine and improve your mental picture. And just for the record, it was really only a small gale and 20-minute rainstorm otherwise known as a great British summer day…!
‘A Windy Walk’ is available as a limited edition archival print starting at £135, please get in touch to purchase this and other prints.