Is photography art? Wave a fine art photograph of Brooklyn Bridge created by photographer Daniel Heller

Is photography art?

This question is being asked quite frequently in various photography forums and social media posts. And it has been asked for a very long time by photographers, photography aficionados, and collectors. The short answer to the question is YES, photography could be one of many arts.

But there is a lot of room to maneuver. An example where photography becomes the expression of art can be seen in “Flower Leaf 2“. The photograph depicts a colorful subject separated from the background. This photographic enhancement creates a dramatic artistic expression. It was achieved by using the so-called “Negative Space” effect. This effect brings the flower into focus by creating an image that is more about graphics than it is about photography. It is perhaps what some would consider an example of “Fine Art” photography, while others may think of as just decoration.

Is photography art – Explanation

The longer answer to the question whether photography is art is also, YES, photography could be art. Many times it is, but this is not always the case.

Originally, photographs were captured for the sole purpose of memorializing or creating a visual record of something, a person, an object or an event. That type of photographic imaging is more about documentation than about art. In the majority of cases, it is a mere representation of the reality as seen by the camera without the photographer’s input. A “snapshot” in the modern day era lingo. And I know that many would jump at my throat, asserting that these type of images are also “art”.

Is photography art – In the film era

When photographers started applying developing techniques in the lab, such as dodging and burning, they began the quest towards representing their captured images in a different way than the reality seen by the camera. It was the way they saw the reality, the way they interpreted it. Then, some photographers who wanted to impart a feeling of nostalgia started printing sepia color prints in lieu of black and white. These were the humble beginnings of applying “artistic intent” to their final product, the print. Famed photographer Ansel Adams developed his “Zone System” for optimal exposure, to work in tandem with the developing process. It was a technique for determining the proper exposure to capture images in the best way that would preserve the most detail in both light and shadow areas of the picture. These were the seeds of artistry in photography.

Is photography art – In the digital era

The world of photography has changed a lot since Ansel Adams was active. It is certain that the “Digital” versus “Film” debate is over and that “Digital” has won the battle. This statement is not meant to detract anything from the skill and artistry of those who practiced in the film era. Technological breakthroughs in the era of digital photography have reached a new plateau. The arrival of the digital process in photography was followed by the introduction of several image editing computer software programs. Modern era photographers have an unlimited arsenal of tools permitting them to reach new highs of artistic expression.

These programs have simplified the workflow of commercial photography. These image editing software programs have also allowed “Fine art” photographers to develop unique and distinct narratives. Personally, I believe that fine art photographers are creating art. By capturing an image with a camera and manipulating the images in the software they create their own art form of expression or a unique genre.

Is photography art – Capture the moment art

Some photographs have entered the “art” domain, simply because they captured extremely well, a unique moment that will never happen again. What makes such photographs artistically unique, is the way these images were captured. Being in the right place at the right time is pure luck. But knowing when to press the shutter is a skill that borders with artistic expression. Some examples of this form of artistry are:

Afghan Girl” – Steve McCurry (1984)
Migrant mother” – Dorothea Lange (1936)
The burning monk” – Malcolm Browne (1963)
Lunch atop a skyscraper” – Anonymous (1932)

Is photography art – Conclusion

In his essay “Ways of seeing” art critic John Berger stated 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…”.

If we agree with Berger’s statement, then the longer answer to the original question might be: photography is an art form when the photographer (artist) employs creative means to derive a unique rendering of his vision. Or put it in a different way, when the picture matches the creative vision of the artist to successfully tell a story then photography is art.

For those who consider art to be only “one of a kind” pieces that can’t be replicated, such as oil paintings or original drawings for example, perhaps photography cannot be considered art since an unlimited amount of prints can be printed from the photograph.

Recommended reading

“Is Photography an Art Form?” Contrastly
“The line between art and photography” Ming Thein, Huffington Post
“Art and Prints” artgreeT Blog
“Photography” artgreeT Blog
“Art definition” artgreeT Blog
“Digital Painting” artgreeT Blog

Featured Fine Art photographs

Is photography art?
Art print Santorini Windmill