Is Photography art? and am I then an artist?

This is one of those subjective…erm…subjects, and a question that’s been asked for nigh on 180 years since photographies earliest days. Indeed in an early meeting of the Photographic society of London in 1853 a member said that photography was “too literal to compete with works of art” because it was “unable to elevate the imagination”

In His work, Ways of Seeing, the art critic John Berger comments that:

unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it. No painting or drawing, however naturalist, belongs to its subject in the way that a photograph does.

In that small statement we can see the difference between what is traditional art…Painting, Sculpture, Literature, Architecture, Theatre, and Music…and Photography. Take Painting and Drawing, however accurate or detailed the finished piece is, its a rendition of what the artist wants to leave in or leave out, Their own unique vision of a actual scene or of an idea that doesn’t physically exist. Or the Writer who can take a blank sheet of paper and conjure up whole worlds. The composer who can evoke emotion without words, to this end art is idealised its narrative imagination. A photograph captures a moment in time as it actually is, indeed a Photographer can only capture what physically exists.

To cloud the waters somewhat the visual artist Roger Ballen believes there is an important distinction between a photographer and an artist who uses photography as their medium.

But what about the photographers we think of as ‘masters’ of the medium – the likes of Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams for example. We might consider an image of Theirs to be art today, but at the time Cartier-Bresson, in his strict usage of the ‘decisive moment’, may not have seen his own work as anything but truthful documentary photography. A record of an instant. 

So is Photography Art? You’ll have to decide that for Yourself. Am I the artist of the title?…let’s just say I’m a photographer 😉

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