What do we mean by fine art pho­tog­ra­phy?

Practical Photography (UK) - - Introduction -

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY’S re­la­tion­ship with the world of fine art has been long, com­plex and of­ten di­vi­sive. Once the medium es­tab­lished it­self as a prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion for cap­tur­ing im­ages of the world, many com­men­ta­tors de­clared that art was now ‘dead’. Where was the need, it was ar­gued, for an artist to spend days, weeks and months paint­ing a por­trait that at best would be an ap­prox­i­mate in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the sub­ject when a pho­tog­ra­pher could make a per­fect, life-like im­age in a mat­ter of mo­ments?

The strug­gle for recog­ni­tion

But far from killing off fine art, pho­tog­ra­phy’s great gift to the art world was free­dom. Now that art and artists were no longer con­strained by hav­ing to rep­re­sent the ‘real’, they could in­dulge in the many flights of fancy that led to the ex­plo­sion in mod­ern art at the end of the 19th cen­tury. But while pho­tog­ra­phy was help­ing to shape the fu­ture of fine art, it was si­mul­ta­ne­ously fail­ing to make any in­roads into the art world it­self.

Tak­ing its place

Pho­tog­ra­phy was lauded for its abil­ity to cre­ate quick and ac­cu­rate im­ages of al­most any sub­ject, but the view of the art es­tab­lish­ment was that it was re­ally lit­tle more than a sci­en­tific process – no more artis­tic than a steam en­gine.

Pho­tog­ra­phers can be a bel­liger­ent bunch, as we de­tail be­low, so once they got a into a stride, some of them were able to force their way into gal­leries and es­tab­lish a firm po­si­tion among the art cognoscenti.

Defin­ing the term

With the ad­vent of digital pho­tog­ra­phy, more peo­ple than ever are call­ing them­selves pho­tog­ra­phers, and many of them are defin­ing their work as fine art pho­tog­ra­phy. But there’s much more to pro­duc­ing fine art than sim­ply do­ing some­thing crazy to an im­age in Pho­to­shop.

It’s cer­tainly true to say that there’s not one sin­gle clear def­i­ni­tion of fine art pho­tog­ra­phy, but there are some el­e­ments that sep­a­rate the medium from other forms of pho­tog­ra­phy.

For a start there should be some sort of vi­sion be­hind the work. Tak­ing one pic­ture, do­ing an in­ter­est­ing edit on it and then print­ing it out to dis­play doesn’t make it art (but there’s noth­ing wrong with that ei­ther!). There needs to be an idea, a mes­sage or an emo­tion in­volved in its creation. The artist should aim to con­vey some­thing through their work – it could be a big idea or a small one – like hav­ing a hy­poth­e­sis.

When con­sid­er­ing a fine art un­der­tak­ing de­cide what you feel pas­sion­ate about, the mes­sage you want to send and what state­ment you would make about you work.

Cre­at­ing a co­he­sive body of work, per­haps on a theme, which could be vis­ual or in­tel­lec­tual, will raise your im­ages be­yond a port­fo­lio and into the realm of a true artis­tic state­ment.

FAR FROM KILLING OFF FINE ART, PHO­TOG­RA­PHY’S GREAT GIFT TO THE ART WORLD WAS FREE­DOM...

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