Is Art Photography a Legitimate Art Form?
Since its invention in the early 1800s, photography has proven to be one of the most influential inventions out there. However, it was far away from the art photography of today. For a long time after its invention, people considered photography only as a skill and a tool for documentation. It was not the creative outlet we can think of today.
Two hundred years later, we are using photography as one of the backbones of information and idea-sharing. Nevertheless, we also regard it as an art form.
So, you might be wondering, when did this shift happen? Who were the first photography artists, and just what made photography into art? Here is a brief look at photography to hopefully answer some of your questions.
What is art photography?
The first important thing we need to do is to define art photography. You’d think this would be easy, but it all depends on your perspective of ‘art’.
We could describe art as any work that somebody has made to evoke meaning, context, and artistic expression. So, photographic art would be any creative photograph where the artist choreographs a scene to evoke a feeling from a viewer.
However, you may also find a deeply personal message in a photograph that was not originally intended to be artistic by the creator. So, does that stop it from being art? No, it doesn’t.
When does a photo become a piece of art?
Art photography follows the same principles as all art. If we look at the dictionary definition of art, we will find this. Art ‘is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’
When considering this standard definition, there’s no doubt that photographic art falls under the same bracket as more traditional art media.
However, as we’ll see, it took a long time for the photographer to become a legitimate artist in the eyes of the world.
When did people come to consider photography an art form?
One could always argue that photography has always been an art form. However, it took a long time to be recognised as such.
So, if there is one person we can credit with turning photography into a legitimate art, that person is Alfred Stieglitz.
Whilst not the first photographer to consider themselves as artists, Stieglitz was the first photo artist to showcase his work in a gallery. He founded the galleries himself. We’ve got the 1905 “The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession”, and then another one in 1908 called “291”.
This gallery showed photographs alongside sculptures and paintings. For the first time, photography rose to the same status as the other traditional forms of art.
From then on, photographs have become a mainstay of modern popular art movements. Nowadays, there are entire galleries, photography art books or auction houses that focus on art photography.
Is photography fine or applied art?
Fine art is all about imaginative, aesthetic or intellectual content. Historically this includes painting, sculpture, architecture, music and poetry. However, a photographic piece of art can meet all of these criteria.
Applied art relates to applying design and decoration to everyday objects to make them aesthetically pleasing. A photographer may not change the physical properties of an object. However, they can change its perception, making the viewer see, consider, and appreciate it in ways it never had before.
So, we could say that a photographer is applying design principles to the mundane. Therefore, one could argue that photography is also applied art.
Nevertheless, there is a fine line between pop-art photography and fine art landscape photography. Both involve the use of a camera. They also require the same composition skills, choice of subject and framing. Yet, the results are vastly different and evoke massively different emotions.
So, when we use photography solely for visual and aesthetic purposes, it becomes fine art. However, it could also be an applied art style. Photography could also be informative and transformative in its concepts.
Is photo manipulation a digital art form?
If we say that any expression of creativity and artistry is ‘art’ as long as it is appreciated as such, then there would be no reason to rule out modern digital art forms such as photo manipulation.
Much like a sculptor doesn’t create the clay but merely shapes it, the same can be said of photo manipulation. An artist takes existing material and manipulates it to create new meaning.
If you want to improve your own photographic art skills, read our fun and informative photography guides. If you have a hard time deciding on a medium, check out our film vs digital photography debate.