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Photographs Everywhere, But Is It Really Art?


I once heard a lady say to a photographer that she would have bought his work if it had been a painting. She liked the image, but for whatever reason didn't consider the medium suitable for her "it's just a photo".

I am sure that some share her thoughts, whilst others would be quite happy either way, but a growing number of people do recognise photography as an Art form. And collect it.

"There are three fundamental components of what we call art. First, is the artist; second, is the medium; and third is the artwork. All three, clearly are interrelated." Tad Beckman

Defining photographic art

It is true many people do regard photography as merely a reproductive medium, and the photographer as simply the technician. And if this were just about your holiday snaps then it would be a valid point.

So let's start with my definition of photographic art. I say my definition because there is no stock answer it means different things to different people.

For me it's about creating a beautiful image that is an interpretation of the scene that I saw in my mind captured on film, rather than just a recording of what is already there.

It's about the photographer being the choreographer of the various components; the composition is critical, as is the lighting, weather conditions and the colours at play.

It's not just about pressing the shutter release, although timing is everything. Patience comes into play too, as you wait for all the components to be perfect all at the same time.

Some things you can control, but the weather well that constantly throws out surprises that can add that hint of drama to a picture or send you home disappointed.

It's these uncertainties that add the challenge, and this results in creativity as you respond to the situation. Other photographers will have their own criteria, but we all are producing very personal pieces of work that we feel passionate about and that are a representation of our interpretation of the world.

A photograph - more than just a sheet of paper with an image on it?

Oh yes! Typically a photographer will capture an image that pleases their eye. They will create something that is close to their heart, and therefore give a little of themselves in the image.

Effectively they are allowing you to see how they perceive the world to be, one moment at a time. Add into the fact that many photographers print their own work (once they have an order!), and sign it then you could say you are buying a piece of history - or designer art!

In other words you are not buying a mass produced print, and naturally the price reflects this. You are buying into the reputation of that photographer and you will expect to pay more. When someone is starting out and building reputation then you are investing in the potential of that person.

You won't pay as much, but you'll be backing your own instinct and demonstrating your belief in that person's talent. Contemporary photography is affordable art.

Subject matter - does it matter?

Personally I don't believe it does, and I mean this in the sense that people will be drawn to your work because they have seen something of yours and liked your style, and typically that means they like your choice of subject matter too.

My preference is for landscapes and increasingly flowers, whilst other photographers prefer sport, people or a more abstract approach to name but a few.

I think the key to preserving artistic integrity is to shoot for your own personal satisfaction, although naturally as your reputation builds you will develop an understanding of what collectors want, but for me I always have to love the image myself to want to share it with the world. Anything less and it stays in the drawer!

I still experiment, and search for new subject matter, but my photographic style is what it is. It just keeps evolving.

A new language

Understanding the language of the image is something quite individual to the viewer, it does not explain itself in the same way to each person. It is subjective. And although some may view photography as easy, believing that there own point and shoot cameras can produce similar results to a master photographer are confusing the issue.

After all most of us have made paintings at some time in our lives, and may still own paint brushes, but wouldn't necessarily look at a painting by a master and not consider it to be art would we?

It is the heart and hand of the author behind the brush, camera or pen that executes the creative vision not the tools used.

About the author: Sue Kennedy, LRPS & LBIPP Sue Kennedy is an UK based photographer specialising in outdoor photography and works on commission for companies & individuals as well as shooting for picture libraries. To purchase from Sue's current print and card selection visit her website Blue Eye Photography

Copyright 2004 Sue Kennedy Blue Eyes Photography Ltd

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