Photography as Art

Is photography art? At Original Art Photography we certainly think so.

Some might say that photography is more about recording what was actually there, especially when it comes to documentary or reporting and photographs of the natural world. There are endless debates at photographic clubs and societies about what constitutes a “proper” photograph. Many landscape photographers will refuse to use modern methods such as HDR (High Dynamic Range processing), claiming that it distorts reality. Yet, at the same time, such “purists” will often be found using various filters to enable their cameras to “see” differently. So, apparently, there is a sliding scale along which an arbitrary point has been drawn and going beyond that counts as cheating… Hmmm….

Personally, I see every photograph as a mixture between being objective and subjective. By that I mean that we often intend to convey something of what was there (objectivity) but at the same time we do so to try and share our own feelings about and interpretation of what we see (subjectivity). Whether we are deliberately setting out to produce abstract art or a supposedly merely record shot of an event, when we press the shutter button we have involved ourselves in the image-making process. We have chosen a particular point of view, lighting, depth of field, etc. Our lens choice makes a difference to the final result. So, who is “more objective” – the photographer with the 50mm lens or the one with the 200mm lens??

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all photography is “art” or “fine art”. All photography involves the photographer and is subjective – it presents one person’s way of seeing that they wanted to convey. This puts us on the road towards art, but what else is needed for it to be considered fully art? Perhaps it is the intention to create something artistic. Perhaps it is how the final image is received – the art may be in the eye of the beholder, perhaps. Perhaps “art” needs to connect with an audience, provoking an emotional response – but is that really necessary for art or just for art to be “successful”? I wonder what you think….

When I take pictures with my camera and then process them, I am consciously aware that I am creating an interpretation. I am often trying to produce an enhanced, idealised form of reality – reality plus, you might call it. I realise that I cannot pretend to ever be merely recording things as they are. I am always presenting an opinion or an interpretation. So, if I am going to do that, I may as well make it as obviously mine as I want to. So, if I feel that it conveys my message better if I use modern digital techniques such as HDR, then I will use them. Ultimately, my “rule” in photography is simple – do I like the image? You can try and justify an answer one way or another as much as you like, but ultimately, the impact of the image on the person seeing it (including myself) is what matters to me. I consciously aim to produce artistic images – ones that do something to the viewer and hopefully convey something from me to them.

Painters and other artists have long known that it is ok to remove or exclude elements when producing art. A landscape painter wouldn’t carefully paint in a discarded crisp packet or even some power lines just to be faithful to what was there at the time. They make conscious decisions about what contributes to what they are trying to do. Photographers can and do make the same kinds of decisions. We might remove items in editing to move the scene closer to what we want to show people. We may be more or less extreme in doing so, depending on what we are trying to say and the reaction we are after. Neither is inherently right or wrong – they are simply interpretations or artistic expressions, if you will.

So, just because we carry cameras and not paint brushes doesn’t mean photographers aren’t artists. Just because we alter colours or remove things from our images doesn’t mean we are bonkers or liars. We are indeed artists, trying to express to others the way we see things and hoping that you’ll share in the experience.

© Joe Lenton, September 2014

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