The course began with a few pages on how photography was created, I found it especially fascinating to hear the thoughts of critics and the debate as to whether photography is regarded in itself an art. Starting from the dawn of photography and throughout the decade’s people regarded photography as though it was purely something to benefit artists. Whilst others thought that as creating a photo involved a chemical process that it should be labeled as a science. I decided to launch my own brief investigation to find out more.
Is it an art?
“The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer.” James Mc Neil Whistler
To begin with, we must look at the dictionary definition of art ” the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” In the examples given of art forms, whilst painting and sculpture are used, photography is left out. Though the etymology of the word ‘photography’ means ‘light writing’ In the past, there was a great debate of the position of photography and one would think that in our current century with photography being so abundant it would have been resolved. Photography is such an essential part of our lives as an art form, a culture. From the moment we wake up we are subjected to photos from the newspaper, magazines, TV, social networking, catalogs, advertisement, outside we see billboards, posters, advertising campaigns, people document their meals with Instagram, the internet is dedicated to photography. This is a creation that hasn’t even celebrated it’s 200th birthday yet. It feels so inbuilt in our lives almost like it has been around for a much longer period of time. How could it not be an art form?
This website monitors every single photograph that is uploaded per second and it is really quite overwhelming. I wonder what William Henry Fox Talbot would think to see how photography has amassed such a following. The amount of numbers of photos uploaded would surely suggest that photography is an art but then perhaps this influx goes against it. Can it be truly considered an art if at least every other person creates photos?
James Mc Neil Whistlers quote above is a sore point and I would say, perhaps controversially, a biased view. This is the strongest argument though of whether photography is an art, the fact that a physical piece of art or painting is created from the artist’s imagination whereas a photographer purely ‘takes’ what is already in front of them. Then again this has its own argument. One just needs to think of a place that has been photographed from the same spot, by multiple people, over and over again, whilst there are images that are very similar, undoubtedly, the vast majority of them will all be different. And that comes from the photographer, not the camera.
Below I have gathered images from Google images of places that have been more photographed than a red carpet star. You can see how each photographer brings something unique to their portrayal of their subject.
Of course, the more I investigate this topic, the more paths open for investigation, for instance, the contrast of photography then and now. Was it more of an art form in the past where we didn’t rely on technologically advanced equipment, where the photographer was involved in everything with the camera from the actual shot to the processing afterwards in a dark room. Does nowadays the advancement in technology take away the process of being an artist? An artist has now more advanced equipment at their hand, though the process is still the same. And whilst photography has moved on the process is different but it’s not so different from the past that you couldn’t identify the two.
Is it a science?
In photography, the person is drawn towards a particular scene, composes and presses a button. Then depending on whether a digital or film camera is used the camera does all the work in less than a second (excluding post processing). Whereas an artist would spend many many hours to create something similar. However I think it is too easy to say that photography requires no skill and that the camera does all the work. Without someone behind it, without creativity and imagination the camera would just sit there, it couldn’t compose a photo, it certainly couldn’t take a photo (apart from perhaps a pin hole camera but even that requires a person) It essentialy uses science to create art.
Everything stems from science, paint is from science, cameras are created from science, singing is science, breathing is science, we are made up of science. Everything is made of bonded atoms. Science is everything. So yes photography wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for science but nor would art materials. We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for science. Art is how we see the world and so is photography.
So what is it?
So to conclude, yes there are people who perhaps have no photographic ability and the photos they churn out could not be said to be art but for those photographers who truly work to create something beautiful, emotional, touching, using the settings in the best way just as a painter selects the correct brushes, both work to create something that resonates with someone. So with that in mind I think the meaning of art should be, if you create something that makes someone feel something, an emotion, to inspire, or to affect anyone in anyway which photography does then that is an art. And if that isn’t art, I don’t know what is.
But in the end, does it really matter? In a world of unrest there is an earthly urge to catalogue and number everything and so it has always been since the dawn of time, why can’t photography just be allowed to have free reign and be what it is. Let it be an art, let it be something brilliant and new, something to inspire. Why must everything be filed into sections like some linnear thinking place like the businessmans world in the Little Prince. We cease to lose the wonder of things when everything must be catalogued. I will end this analysis with a quote by the innovative artist Georgia O’Keefe, that resonated with me.
“Filling a space in a beautiful way. That’s what art means to me.”