Is Photography Art?

*This is a blog I’ve wanted to write for a long time, now that my new website is up and running here we go:

Is photography art?

That’s a question I quite often see doing the rounds on the internet and in newspapers, not so long ago an ‘art critique’ wrote a piece in a British newspaper condemning photography as art and comparing it to paintings, of course most articles like this are written to create controversy and therefore readership, most people knew this and dismissed this guys comments as such.

However photography is sometimes relegated to the lower echelons of the art world, comments such as “anybody can take a photo” and “I could do that if I had a decent camera” and such like are often heard when photography and art come together. It is true anybody can take a photo and with the advent of the mobile phone camera millions do each and every day, but here’s the thing anybody can paint a picture, make a sculpture or write a book even, limited only by their own skill level.

I’m sure anybody reading this will have strong feelings towards the art world and such well known pieces of art like the ‘pile of bricks’, ‘sheep in formaldehyde’ the ‘unmade bed’ or any of the other modern pieces of art that sell for a fortune, personally I like to think the ‘art’ involved in those pieces are the way the artists manage to fool the critics into believing the hype, after all you’ve got to respect anyone that can convince an art gallery a tin full of his own poo is worth a million! You could no doubt argue the same thing between a Picasso and a Turner, a Monet and a Matisse and many other examples across any given genre of art.

So with that in mind can photography be art? Yes of course it can, if the photographer has that intent and if you want it to be.

Here’s something to consider, not only is photography an art form but it’s one of the hardest to get right, consider this – take two people, one a painter and one a landscape photographer, both competent in their chosen field, you meet them in a cafe in London on a nice day in August and set them a challenge  – “produce a piece of art for me- a single tree atop a snow covered Scottish mountain shrouded in mist, nothing more nothing less”. The painter travels to their studio and within 24hrs you have your painting. The photographer has to source and travel to a suitable location, of which there may not be one that matches your exact request (we’ll allow them some leverage on the single tree) they then have to compose the scene to exclude any unwanted items such as telegraph poles, cars, people, wildlife etc, wait for the right light, and mist and of course then wait a few months for it to snow (it’s August don’t forget), and then make sure they capture everything perfectly because they may only get the one chance.

My point being when you look at a painting it is what the painter created free from any physical restrictions, it can be whatever they desire restricted only by their level of skill – The landscape photographer has to work with what nature provides in the scene, then maybe negotiate with what mankind has done, deal with the weather and then of course have the technical knowledge to capture and process the image.

A similar sort of thing applies to any photographic genre including the created scene.

So next time you’re wondering whether photography is art think about what the photographer may have had to go through to create it. It may well be a snapshot or it may be the result of hard work, time and skill. Either way the only thing that matters is – do you like the result.

In my role of a landscape photographer (and one who likes trees) I’d like to photograph Cypress trees on the hills of Tuscany, tree lined canals in France, the dead trees of Namibia and the tree lined shores around lakes in the Rocky mountains to name only a few, I’ll have to wait till time and money allow – I wish I could paint!

Even within photographic circles there is controversy, I myself don’t like the work of some of the well known “art” photographers. I have a very simple way of evaluating a photo – I look at it and form my own opinion, if someone has to explain to me why I should like it I rarely do.

*This post was first published in Apr 2015 on my previous website.

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