Or rather, when is photography actually art? – An eternal topic of dispute…
In view of the fact that photography is omnipresent nowadays, we may also allow ourselves to take a critical look at it. I don’t necessarily mean whether the image has been heavily edited or whether a special filter has been applied. In this article, I would rather like to take a mental look at the content of the photos. Is what I’m about to see an interesting and thoughtful piece of work, informative, an expression of self-promotion, even advertising … or does someone just want to share a beautiful moment?
At first, this approach seems arrogant, because not every uploaded image claims to be a great photo. However, it doesn’t have to be, as soon as it sees the endless expanses of the Internet. It happens quite naturally that we somehow classify and evaluate the many images we see every day in order to understand them. This is a natural process. So anyone who presents their photos on the Internet must bear in mind that they may also be seen and have a certain effect. – No offense!
A little notion alongside
The curator of the Biennale of Contemporary Photography 2020, David Campani once said:
“All Art is Photography”. I find this statement very intriguing, as basically everything we know about art and contemporary history has been forwarded through photographs. For example, without a photograph of the Mona Lisa, only those would know what she looked like who had gone to the Louvre and stood in the almost endless queue.
By now, exhibitions in the most diverse museums of the world deal with photography and offer this field a broad stage. Among other things, topics such as reportage, portraits or landscape photography find their attention. These photos can be considered as artistic works, similar to nude photography or still life. But they can also be merely a representational photo, or even without any intention.
Not only the photo is relevant, but also the photographer behind it
This is where we come straight to the point that photography is not just photography. There is no binding answer to the question of when a photographic image counts as an artistic work. The basis of creation is generally the trade itself. The progression between genres is just as squishy as in the definition of art, and the perception of artistic creation is interpreted differently even in Western cultures.
The essence of photography is first of all the attempt to depict reality as faithfully as possible. One can also speak here of rational photography. However, as we all know, the reality depicted is subjective, since we all have different interpretations of an image. For this reason, it always depends on the person behind the camera. Does the photographer see himself as an artist, or is he a documentarian? Does he want to portray his works genuinely and honestly, stage them or perhaps even abstract them beyond recognition? In any case, what is important is a creative process and an intention!
Just because a photographer has a master’s certificate does not mean he is also an artist, but he can still be artistically active. The situation is similar with designers. Both disciplines are often separated from each other, but art and design do not necessarily contradict each other. Rather, they complement each other. A good designer is also an artist, and an artist uses a design element more often than he thinks about it. However, it is not possible to deduce from this what the essence of artistic photography is. Here we come to the real difference. Design is always purposeful and planned, while art is free and unbound. It is committed only to itself.
Art photography or photo art?
In addition, there is another differentiation between art photography and photo art. Thus, art photography is not an artistic re-creation, but merely the photographic reproduction of a work.
Photo-art, on the other hand, is sometimes called ‘Fine Art’ Photography and translates as “schöne Künste”. Its character is a clear creative process and the release of works under limited edition to convey a certain value. So, in the end, Fine Art photography is also just a genre within photography.
The essence of photo art
In general, an artistic photograph or photo art is an individual expression of the photographer who created the work. After photography left its initially occupied position in science, it has been considered a recognized art form since the beginning of the 19th century. For a time, painters of the time feared that they might even slip into insignificance as a result of photography and be replaced altogether. This was due in part to the fact that photographs were staged and edited to resemble painting. The artistic motivation was the same, only the process was different.
On closer inspection, it comes down to whether the photographer has a certain artistic streak and tries to incorporate it into his works. This gives photos a deeper meaning all by themselves and even enables them to tell their own story. On the other hand, it is of course decisive whether the photo touches a viewer at all. The essence of art is to convey values, visions and above all emotions.
And what is not art now?
I believe, without wanting to step on anyone’s toes, that most private snapshots have a high emotional value, but not necessarily an artistic value. It’s a similar story with smartphone photography. I don’t want to deny that there are also great projects, but in general the individual parameters that actually distinguish photography are missing. This also has something to do with the appreciation of artistic work in general. Photojournalists and social photographers also avoid considering their work as art. These works – often photographed in black and white, serve to document contemporary history and, in turn, have their own unique aspirations.
In the end, photography is both art and craft. It always depends entirely on the person behind the camera and what they make of their photos. There are simply areas where the mere craft is required, such as an ID photo, and again there are the most diverse branches within art photography. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether the focus is perfect or the sensor is bursting at the seams with megapixels, as long as the image has an impact and triggers something in the person looking at it. Photography is not only diverse, it also offers its own niche for every taste, and we should be really grateful for that!