Is photography a true art form, or is it a technical act of recording – or can it be both at the same time?
How different people choose to define photography has always been somewhat contentious, and there have always been two very contrasting framings of whether it’s an art or a practical skill.
On the one hand there are many who do consider and recognise photography as a true art form, while on the flip side are those who merely view photography as a technical means of capturing and recording events and occasions.
There’s little doubt that nowadays the art component of photography has become somewhat re-interoperated by many, and it is no longer seen in the same way by the “masses” of “consumers,” or at least perhaps not quite as it was in the mysterious days of old when photographers twiddled dials and consulted light meters before taking their films into dark rooms and then emerging hours later with pictures.
The assumption is all too often now often that with the with the untold one touch wizardry of Photoshop that anyone can achieve the amazing results. This really is no wonder, as we are saturated and bombarded by photos in way unimaginable in the past, both the good, the bad, and the damn right ugly kind too.
It would seem that these imaginary and magical one stop filters and instantly attainable “art” have diluted the perception of value of quality artistic imagery – how many time have you heard the line “You can just “shop” it later!”.
This phenomenon is also not helped by the fact that everyone with a mobile phone and an Instagram account now considers themself a “photographer” – and indeed they are, just not often very good ones.
Being one of those people often termed as artistic with my photography is always a little confusing to me, as it’s more by nature than intent. Whether or not my own, or others work is art or not is not something I’ve really over-thought about. Yes, when I do consider things I do know that as a person I definitely veer sharply towards the artistic and crative end of life, which must logically reflect in my photographic life; both in my own approach and also in my appreciation of images, or not as the case may be.
Maybe it’s just something that comes from within, so to speak. Either you’re artistic and creative, or you’re not – by which I mean that you’re probably more practical if not, and I’m sure there are many scientific studies out there that will answer that (in a practical way, of course).
During the past 30 odd years of writing and taking (or making) pictures for a living I’ve spent a great deal of time with other working photographers, who (in my opinion) clearly fall into either the artistic or practical frame of thought.
There are those who shoot sports, events and action, who work fast and furiously and without too much regard to the finer detail. Their focus is on fast and clearly recorded images, which are often hardly edited or given a second glance before being sent out immediately.
On the flowery side are the (as I term them in editorial terms) feature photographers who rarely work under such time constraints. These are usually photographers who slow things down, wait for the best light, look for the details and colours, shoot, re-shoot, and then re-shoot again until the image is as they want it to be rather than how it actually is, in other words making a silk purse from a pigs ear. Unsightly road signs are cropped out, models are appropriately groomed and the images are edited in more detail after the shoot.
The thing is that the “feature” photographer can usually understand the “practical” photographer and their needs – and do often turn to that side to earn at times. However, the same is rarely true in return, such is the difference in their general persona, much like with anything else artistic in life. The wall “white-washer” and the “watercolour master” being an obvious comparison.
With shooting a lot of bike and trail races this means that I’m also often pre-empted under pressure to produce the practical images in great numbers and at warp speed, and although I could do that I always decline, preferring to put my own art into fewer images, something which some of my compatriots simply do not get.
Not so long ago I posted an image on social media, an image that those who know my work would term as my style. The image had already run double page in a couple of major cycling magazines, and came up as one of my most popular pictures on a couple of the photographic sites (YouPic/500px). Then came Instagram. Once again, lots of love (comparatively) – followed by one quite demeaning comment from a fellow event photographer and colleague, who never had quite grasped my style of work, the comment pointing at “too much art.”
Yes, of course I was a tad irked, but more bemused and amused than anything else, and took it with a pinch of salt – as we do tend to jest with each other. It just drove home even more the fact that there are 2 distinct types of photographers around. Neither is right nor wrong, and yet tolerance and acceptance is quite different between the two sides – such is life.
Strangely enough the Fuji X system seems very much to lend its self towards and to appeal more to the artistic pallet of photography, both in its tactile and de-sanitised feel. This does slow you down a little when compared to some bigger systems, and also adds more of a sense of connection to the subject or scene.
The Fuji film simulations also seem to inspire a little more creativity than some other brands offerings; although for me – the fact that the RAF files do take a little more care and work in post also slows down my approach. That’s not always for the best, but probably works for me in a more detailed creative sense, which is no bad thing overall.
Thankfully art is subjective, and down to personal choice and taste, and yet it never ceases to disappoint me as to how people react to those who are a little different in life – and in their photographic approach and interpretations.
Shoot and let shoot; photography means something very different to all of us, which in my mind is a good thing. If we were all painted in the same magnolia matte with essence of vanilla, as our only taste then life would be a pretty dull and boring place, especially for those of us wearing purple flares with a taste for Scotch bonnet chilli peppers that is.
It is most definitely not a photographic crime to inject a little creative flare into a simple and mundane image, or to break the perceived rules and do things differently.