There’s long been a debate about whether or not photography is art. This debate has been around for about as long as there has been cameras. While the average person who does not fancy themselves as an artist might tend to agree that photographers can be artists, there are still many in the artist community who do not agree.
Many art fairs, open exhibitions, and non-government organizations that provide grants to artists often make a point of not including photographers. While many don’t say why, others do, and in every case their intent is obvious. They do not believe photography is art.
When I first got into photography I didn’t quite understand this debate. I mean, what difference does it make? A photographer does not need to be an artist, I reasoned, especially if they have a market for their photography. Some people like photos, and some others like paintings, and drawings, and other forms of artistic expression. What’s the big deal?
But then I started to get requests from painters to use my photography as the “inspiration” for their works. At first I considered this flattering. Then I began licensing my photos to them for their painting. And then I began asking myself, “Are they competing against my fine art print sales?”
They say photographers make photos because they can’t draw. And in my own particular case I know this to be true. I can’t draw to save my life. But I do understand and constantly study things like composition, perspective, color, themes, and the ability to tell a story visually…all of which are as integral to more analog ways of creating art as they are to photography. And while I do not draw with a pencil, charcoal, or a brush, I do use Photoshop and other software to enhance my photos.
Some protest the fact I use Photoshop. They tell me using computer software is cheating. I remind them of two things: (1) What difference does it make as long as you like the image? And, (2) Do you know that many of the techniques we use in Photoshop to manipulate a digital negative were also used in an analog sense to manipulate his photos? In fact, as I understand it, Ansel Adams didn’t even process his own negatives. He had an associate do it for him.
Now, there is one exception to the Photoshop rule: Photojournalism. If a photograph is a going to be published in a newspaper or as an official record of an event then Photoshop and other software is a big no-no. But in the creation of art I guess I don’t understand the difference between a digital brush on a computer screen and an analog brush on canvas. That’s why I make no apologies for what I do.
To better emphasize my point about the difference between a painting and a photograph I give you this exhibit…a painting by Bill Butler, who used my photograph of a cowboy chasing after a calf on the Mitchell Ranch near Cleveland, Montana as his inspiration. He is a superb painter and he made this painting with my permission. But take a good look. The photo is nearly identical to my photograph. He did add a sky. And I suppose I could have added a sky in Photoshop too, but that’s not what I saw when I made my photo. But as far as the action is concerned, he painted it exactly as I saw it and exactly how I captured it with my camera. The difference? I actually got to experience the scene. Bill did not. And that reason alone is a fair reason why photography should also be considered art. Would you rather have something hanging on your wall that accurately represents a slice of time that was created by someone who actually experienced the scene and who can provide “provenance” as they call it in the antiquity community. Or would you rather have something painted by a person who was a thousand miles away in the middle of a bustling city?
For me the choice is obvious.