Is Photography Art?

In my first blog post I mentioned that I would be addressing the often asked question; “Is Photography art?”. The answer, like many answers, is well that depends! I know not what you were looking for right?

Let’s look at a few examples for some ideas of what I mean. We shall say you’re on vacation, in the Caribbean. There’s the white sands, blue waters, beautiful girls on the beach - oops eyes strayed there - anyway it’s beautiful wherever you look. You raise your phone and snap off a few frames for the relatives back home using the built in camera. Is it art? Probably not. If you had surveyed the scene in front of you, carefully selected a portion of the scene that pleased you, used some existing leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye, perhaps moving closer to frame the subject just perfectly to fit your vision, and then snapped the picture. You might be getting closer to art. 

Wikipedia defines art as: ”Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.”. 

Let’s look at few shots I’ve taken and see how they fit the definition from Wikipedia.

The image above consists of 3 frames shot from horseback and stitched together in Photoshop. First off I don’t see any imaginative, or conceptual ideas there. Definitely there were many technical skills at play in this image. Photographing from horseback requires excellent riding skills, and superb camera handling skills. Certainly to pull off a usable panoramic image under those condition technical skills were required. Next up - could this image be appreciated for it’s beauty. Doubtful. Could this image evoke an emotional response? Yes for some it could. The, often romanticized, ways of the west can evoke an emotional response in people. So is it art? In my opinion it’s a good documentary shot, but it’s not art.

The image above is one of my friend Henry Gamble. Henry’s a dedicated hard working cowboy who lives by the code of the west. This image was also shot from horseback and required some technical skills. I think this image could be beautiful to some who appreciate the western lifestyle. Definitely this image could evoke an emotional response from the viewer. So is it art? I think this image could be considered art. Why you ask? What’s the difference? When I took the image of Henry I had a vision in mind of what I thought the final image should be. I wanted a timeless, romantic, western shot that would appeal to many. I framed it carefully with the end result in mind. There could be nothing too modern in the frame, I wanted the open, lonely, feel of a cowboy on the range. 

The next image we’ll look at is of my Siberian Husky, Frodo, relaxing during a break while on a recent snowshoe trip. Let’s see how this one fits the criteria - definitely a beautiful scene. How could an image of a husky in the snow not evoke an emotional response? So that’s two down. Shooting this required some technical skill. I purposely blurred the mountain background a bit to make Frodo the subject, and kept the highlights on the peak from blowing out, while getting enough shadow detail in Frodo’s dark fur. So it fits the criteria - right? Well maybe! The image was created with and artistic vision in mind, and required some technical skill, so it could be considered art.

The long, and the short, of it is: an image created using technical, and artistic, skills can be an art form. Certainly I use photography as a way of expressing myself, and have spent many years perfecting my technical skills. So I consider some of my images to be art. Ultimately it’s up to the viewer to decide.