Is Photography Art?
February 27, 2012
“Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone: it has to be itself.” — Berenice Abbott”
Images and Their Meaning
Photography as a form of art, a form of visual communication is often described as a way of documenting reality – an objective record. Often cited in the art world, Clive Bell’s essay, Art, states that only one thing distinguishes art from what is not art: “significant form.” He poses the question: What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? His answer: “significant form.” He believes each work considered to be a work of art shares the same visual design qualities of lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms that stir our aesthetic emotions. Some writers have questioned whether there is any such thing as the “aesthetic emotion.” Even if there is such an emotion, it seems obvious that the power and value of many works are tied into their communication of meaning, and that their formal properties are only part of the vocabulary they use to communicate this meaning. Bell’s theory seems to leave symbolism out of the account, and no view that does that can be an adequate aesthetic theory.
Like other forms of art exhibited in an art gallery, my photographs are no less personal, no less invention, no less inspirational than are the painting of the Cubist, the Impressionist or the Surrealist. My images are more than objective facts. Fine art photos are taken primarily to represent a more abstract quality or characteristic of the subject – beauty, symmetry, form, tone – rather than to present only the subject itself. Photographers, like other artists must contribute their personal spirit to their creations. Two excellent illustrations of this are the creative art of Andre Gallant and Freeman Patterson. Gallant is well-known for his images of expressionism, expressive photography, while Patterson is recognized for his photos of impressionism. I have made a couple of attempts at this with my images of Drifting Daisy and Weeping Cherry. Their works of art are more about feeling images rather than seeing them. So a work of art is a way to share human responses to our natural world with others. Artwork affects the observer as catalysts affect a chemical reactions – they act as a stimulus in bringing about or causing a reaction.
The Camera and the Soul
The camera is an instrument that sees and captures exactly what is in front of its lens. But photographers have always known that on either side of the frame, or behind it, the setting could be totally different. As experienced image-seekers photographers see a final print in the mind. We control what the viewer sees just as painters do. However, the camera as a tool is unable to impart an artistic aspect to the image. The soul part of photography, the ability to impart emotions in our images, is not within the domain of abilities of the soul-less inanimate camera. Rather, it is our domain. Soul-less we are not. As artists – and artists is what I take it we are, or are working toward becoming – soul is what we are all about. Soul is what we want to express.