Are photographs art or are they just a record?

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.

Why do I consider my photographs 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.

‘Proper Art’

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.

 

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