Photography as Art

According to this article at The Guardian, there’s a new most expensive photograph ever.

I think we’ve all seen better photos of Antelope Canyon, and I’m not sure what about this one warrants such a price tag.  That said, the inspiration for this post isn’t really the photo or the headline catching dollar figure.  It’s more about the article’s opening paragraph:

Photography is not an art. It is a technology. We have no excuse to ignore this obvious fact in the age of digital cameras, when the most beguiling high-definition images and effects are available to millions. My iPad can take panoramic views that are gorgeous to look at. Does that make me an artist? No, it just makes my tablet one hell of a device.

My girlfriend will read what I’m about to write, probably smile, and then think back to a discussion we had some weeks ago about blind photographers.  I railed against even the idea of a blind (read: zero vision) person being able to make art with a camera.  As I’m prone to do, I got up on my high horse and went on at length about how it just couldn’t work…  how, in my mind, an artist must be able to interact with their finished work in a meaningful way (i.e., a completely blind photographer wouldn’t be able to even look at their own work).  Her argument centered on the intent of the artist.  When I countered with the contention that the photographer would have no idea what they had produced, she said that was immaterial.  For her, intent is the primary and ultimate deciding factor.

I think I’ve begun to agree.

Whether the result is good or bad is moot.

As you can imagine, I also disagree wholeheartedly with the premise that photography is not an art.  It doesn’t have to be, it often isn’t, but that doesn’t simply and terminably preclude it from being an art.

Whether photography as a medium can be put in the same class as painting or sculpture is debatable (I think she and I dipped our toe in that discussion without going very far).  I’d argue yes, but I don’t have much with which back myself up.  She’d say no.

Just because digital camera equipment is a “technology” and is available to millions does not reduce its ability to produce art.  Paintbrushes can be bought for a a dime a dozen (okay, fine…  good brushes cost a fair bit more, but you get my point)…  that hasn’t reduced their art-producing power.  Fine art painters still produce fine art, the same way fine art photographers still produce fine art.

I make plenty of photographs that aren’t art…  that aren’t even meant to be artistic.  But I do, however, make art on occasion, and fairly often when I do, I’ve done it with intent.

You’re free to discuss what constitutes fine art until we’re all blue in the face and whether a black and white photo of one of the most gorgeously colored subjects in the world is worthy of the label (or the 6.5-million clams someone paid for it).

Taste (good or bad) will always be subjective.

Read more →