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You hear a lot of talk about photography not being an art. It’s said, for example, that somehow the ubiquity of cameras has drained art from photography. However, according to the dictionary, art is the expression of creative skills. We all see the world differently and what we like or dislike is a personal perspective. In that sense we can all be artists. The ubiquity of pen and paper has not diminished the power of the pen, nor has photography killed painting, movies or the theatre. If we agree that we can all be artists and that there are a myriad of ways we can express our creativity, it seems to me that the camera regardless of its sophistication is a capable tool for someone’s art. Not everyone’s creative expression will be widely applauded or appreciated. However one thing is certain, photography is a tool for art with a long life ahead of it. Rumors of it drowning in a sea of cell phones are vastly exaggerated.
Art depends on context as much as anything else. A mad modernist painting in a great location, a painting of a medieval horror in a house of worship, may both have impact but out of context one could question either as worthy of our time or still proclaim them of artistic value. This is an exaggeration but put another way it may be easier to understand. Personal photographs of a vacation may have meaning for the family and no one else, photographs of a race may appeal most directly to aficionados of the race. But all of these examples have the potential for impact outside of their context. A family on a beach photo-bombed by a whale in the background would be a rather dramatic example that I suspect would go viral quickly. Rules were developed for photography in order to help people to find their route to impact. But those rules are guidelines and not all photographers grew up in the era when those rules/guidelines were as common as they are now.
Some talk about Photoshopping and over-editing and somehow argue that the same steps taken by Dutch Masters in portraying light or Ansel Adams in his treatment of negatives in the darkroom were good and proper. Our personal views of our own art and our own likes and dislikes are highly individual and if someone else wants to HDR and filter the world I say let them I may not like it but let them explore and have fun, find a style and work with it. To say anything less is to impugn your own art, as your own rules can be equally questioned.
So having established that a camera can be a tool of art that it is equally able to portray impact as paint, the written word, or clay; in looking at our own work we need to understand what about it resonates with our audience. Once we understand our own rules of impact, decide on our choice of tools (and that includes software), understand and become familiar with these tools, we may be much closer to calling ourselves artists and our work artistic without embarrassment.
Finally another factor in art, which should possibly be part of its definition is criticism. We need to expect it, be able to live with it and decide what to do about it. You can choose to be popular and/or you can choose your own path (they may not be exclusive) but everything about your creativity is in your hands. Ubiquity of a tool has nothing to do with how it may be used creatively.
For myself, I try to think about context and impact. It starts with a subject that catches my eye; I work with my tools to ensure that the context is clear and to increase the impact of my subject. It does not always work, nor should it. It’s not easy but I enjoy the challenge. I sincerely believe photography can be art and will remain so into the foreseeable future.
About the photograph:
My very low shutter speed influenced this shot and the eagerness of the chickadee to take flight was not helpful either. It makes the point that rules in photography sometimes get in the way of the interesting.