From the So Mama Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away series of Abstract Photographs
Pigment Print, 22×30 inches, $350 framed
It happened again a couple of weeks ago. It’s been brewing since.
A woman who identified herself as a watercolorist approached me and told me that she doesn’t think that photography is art.
Ok. We photographers get that a lot. Some are. Some aren’t. Some watercolors aren’t art either.
But blanket statements that photography isn’t art are getting annoying. All the more so because why I happen to hear them.
She continued: But you work IS art. I can see the stroke of your hand in your work.
Really? That’s too bad. I want people to see the work, the intent, the interpretation, the vision. I don’t want them to see my hand. She was referring to the hand-altered Polaroids. They are alternate process photography but the sculpting of the emulsion elevates them above “mere photography” in some people’s minds.
When I tried to engage her premise (that was stupid — I should have just nodded and moved one), she pressed: But this is a compliment. She was implying that she was bringing me in the exclusive fold of artists. I could leave those icky photographers behind and be a real artist.
Uh-huh. It was more like you-move-pretty-fast-for-a-fat-lady like of compliment.
First, I’m not interested in getting praise at the expense of other artists. Second, there seems to be this lingering, elitist, self-important attitude that “anyone” can take a picture, so it’s not art. This women actually said that to me too. “Anyone can take a picture, but you do something with them.”
Ok. Let me get this straight. Cameras are common, lots of people have them. All you have to do to take a picture is point and shoot. No art there. If that’s the definition of art, can anyone be an watercolorist? I have watercolor brushes, tubes and cakes of paint. If I dip the brush in the water and then in the paint and pull it across the paper, did I make “real” art?
In that context, doesn’t it seem a little silly to say that “anyone can make a photograph”?
Art is NEVER about the tools. Photographers get trapped by the temptation of the new toys all the time. We think: if only I had THAT kind of camera, I could make THAT kind of picture. Let me say it again. Art is NEVER, EVER about the tools. A camera is a tool. Nothing more.
Give a good photographer an oatmeal can, a piece of film, a pin and a piece of electrical tape, and she will make a wonderful photograph. Give most people a $35,000 Hasselblad and you’ll still get a snapshot.
So, if it’s not about the tools, what it is about? Like every other art form, it’s about the vision and the statement. The best tools in the world won’t guide your vision. Only an artist can do that.