Some art collectors like to denigrate photography.
“Anybody can take a picture,” I’m told.
You cannot image how many times I’ve heard this. It’s said to my face because the patron thinks I’m being paid a compliment! It’s said as he or she is looking at my Polaroid Paintings, where I use the emulsion as a painting medium. Because I’ve altered the image by hand, the work has been elevated to the realm of “art.” I’m no longer “just” a photographer, but an artist.
“You’ve almost made art here!” one woman gushed in appreciation. I took a breath. Yeah, I thought. I came THIS close!
Can anyone take a picture? Sure. Can anyone pick up a brush and paint? Sure. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be art.
It’s such a narrow definition — art. And made more complicated in the field of photography because of the easy availability of cameras. Everyone has one — or three. Pull out a phone, and pull out a camera. People have stood in my booth at art fairs and scrolled through dozens of “great” pictures they took. They’re saying to me: See? I can take good pictures too! We’re part of the same club.
Maybe we are. It’s a pretty big club and they’re lots of room for everyone, but that doesn’t mean all the work is the same.
I will agree with the idea that “anyone can make a picture.” But that’s not the same thing as creating a work of art in the medium of photography.
“Is photography art?” is an argument as old as the medium itself. Every generation takes it up again and makes new rules. In the digital age, there are some who call themselves “purists” who insist that if the image is not captured on film and developed in the darkroom, then it’s not “real” fine art photography.
Oh, feh! I’ve seen plenty of crappy work come out of the darkroom. Honestly, if you want to be a “purist,” then coat your own glass plates and make images on those. If not, then shut up with the arrogance.
It’s not the tool or the substrate that makes the art (though please don’t take iPhone pictures and call them art. I know — that’s my arrogance — but please!!!!) Then what is it?
It’s the ability to take a great photograph… and then do it again.
It’s the courage to try something new, and learn from it.
It’s the thoughtfulness to create an image in your imagination, then transfer that image to film or paper or sensor.
It’s the knowledge of how to transfer your ideas to paper or film, without guessing or hoping for the best, but knowing.
It’s the deliberate and purposeful communication of an idea or a feeling or a mood with an image … without adding anything words or explanations.
It’s the commitment to create a body of work, in your vision, that is recognizable as yours.
It’s the confidence to let your work speak for itself, and allow the viewer to add his or her own interpretation.
Art takes time. Art takes thought. Art takes labor.
There’s a reason it’s call a work of art.
Arcadian Dreams #12, Infrared photograph ©2010 Jeane Vogel. All rights reserved.
>Seriously, I don't know how you deal with these idiotic art show browsers. I'd probably be in jail for assault or murder if I were in your shoes.
>Maria, most of the art fair patrons are terrific! There are a handful who want a crash course in photography or want to duplicate what the artist does. We don't mind that much. Let them try. A copy is ALWAYS a copy.But I do wish we'd invest more in art education. We humans as desperate for art, but sometimes we don't know how much we value it.
>Fantastic post. Well said!
>I love this post. Agreed, very well said.
>Very well said. Your blog is perfect. I love the color and the layout of it. The most wonderful part in your blog is your post. They are very amazing.
>Thank you Jeane! You said so well many things I have thought. One time I had someone come into my booth and ask me "Is this photography or art?" The look on my face answered her question I believe. I often hear people mutter under their breath that my hand-coloring was probably done in Photoshop……Anyway, thanks for posting this.
>Great post. You inspired me to write something myself.http://chaoticblacksheep.blogspot.com/2010/07/anyone-can-do-that.html
>Jeane: I just want to say that I've been coming up against a good deal of "photography as afterthought" in these first few weeks of my job as Photo Editor and I'm considering just printing this post out and sticking it on my desk. We're not just pressing buttons here, all of us photographers, we're doing quite a bit more. Thank you for writing this.-Noah