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Fine Art Photography and the Art of Photography

Related Subjects with Opinions Aplenty!

Photo of peeling paint — Is it art? photo by author © Sue Moran Thole

Do you have a hankering to create photographs that can be called art?

I have taken thousands of photographs over many years, but I have applied myself to photography only in spurts over my lifetime.

Most of my photos fall within the travel, landscape, and nature categories. Within these genres, I take a documentary approach, but I do have a hankering to create photographs that can be called art.

I have a dozen framed photographs hanging in my home that continue to please me. In addition, I have been thrilled to have had images selected for juried art exhibitions.

For the last several years, I have been on a hiatus from photography, but I recently began reviewing my digital archive to select images I could call art.

I am still determining whether others would concur with my judgments. So, this raises the question, What is photographic art?

There are many approaches to answering, and here is mine.

I distinguish between art and fine art, and I define fine art as museum-worthy.

Fine art photography meets several criteria: First, the artist has created a body of work that is consistently technically superior, independent of its subject matter. Second, the artist’s images engage viewers, causing them to think and feel deeply for having viewed the art. Third, recognized art critics agree the work is of museum quality.

Three facts are implicit in my understanding: first, an art designation is subjective, second, art creation entails work, and third, the art world is immense, and the subject of fine art photography is vast, conceptions are sometimes nuanced, and ideas often controversial. Let opinions roar!

On the other hand, the art of photography resists definition. It cannot be pinned down. There are probably as many beliefs as there are photography practitioners. Many have published their views on the subject.

Bruce Barnbaun has written a book about The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression. I love his focus on communication through photography. Enthusiasm is mandatory. He hopes that his photographs “provide interest, meaning, and insight to others.” (p. 12)

Barnbaum calls art “an exploration or inquiry into our world, our emotions, and our fantasies… the creation of forms that express human feelings. Beauty is not central to these definitions, nor is it required.” (p. 290)

Guy Tal has written an engaging book, More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life. He lives in the hinterland of central Utah, and he believes “The power of art is the power of the present: the power of life encountering and seeking to understand something about the world and about itself.” (p. 17)

Tal believes the value of an image or an essay “can be measured not only by the effect it has on its viewers but also by the way it affects its maker.” (p. 157)

Brooks Jensen is a fine art photographer and publisher who generously mentors photographers who want to deepen their art practice. He believes the purpose of art is connection, and he walks the walk.

Jensen reminds us, “A good photograph, when first seen, hits you like a ton of bricks. A better photograph is often almost unseen at first but comes back to mind over and over again long after you’ve stopped looking at it. This often happens unexpectedly.”*

These photographers’ ideas increase our understanding of the art of photography. They help us realize that photographic art can rise to the level of fine art if the artist is passionate and committed to producing work of the highest quality.

As for myself, I wish to return to photography with an emphasis on making artful images while I continue to appreciate fine art photography produced by outstanding photographic artists worldwide.

p. 4, Things I’ve Learned About Photography, https://www.brooksjensenarts.com/articles/Things%20I've%20Learned%20About%20Photography.pdf

I have no affiliation with the website I shared on this post.



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: Friend, reader, and photographer with eclectic interests. Loves living on California's central coast. Born and raised in West Virginia.