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Defining Fine Art Photography

Waiting for a moment
Creative Commons License photo credit: ^riza^

In the previous poll, I asked “What is Fine Art Photography?” as an open-ended question. We had some really awesome responses, and those who offered up their thoughts definitely put some effort into it. Since we had so many great comments, I had a hard time picking out any that stood above the rest. So rather than feature a few comments, here are some excerpts from all the comments:

Neil Creek

… My rule of thumb definition would be “if I’d be happy to hang it on my wall” it’s fine art. But that’s probably too broad a definition for most. I think the key thing is that “fine art” is completely subjective. No one will agree what is fine art, but it might be easier to get consensus about what isn’t… read more

Niels Henriksen

… The adjective I think is Fine-art, one word and this has an understanding in the artistic and commercial world. This nomenclature is restricted to certain forms of works of art such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, theatre and architecture. Notice how photography is not fine-art just by itself, but shows up when we actually produce prints. It is the actual output or visual art that becomes the fine art… Fine art is also being used to describe a level of quality and sophistication about one’s work… I will also wholly control the output process… read more

Norbert

Fine art is a field in which the photographer makes the image. Those who just shoot to shoot really do not qualify to be called fine artist. As one who works extremely hard to create I can say that it is the insight and eye that creates the art. I may not come back with what I initially thought I was going to shoot but that is due to the change of the elements and this change also is the process of creating art… read more

Scott Ward

I believe fine art encompasses two things…
1. The photograph should be a “good” photograph. It should be well composed, sharp, evoke an emotional response, etc. This can also be very subjective and market-driven…
2. The media makes a difference. If I am looking to invest in a fine art photograph, I don’t want one that will begin to show noticeable fading in 25 years. I want a print that will last a lifetime and beyond if possible. I believe that fine art is an investment that will raise in value over the years, but it will not if the actual print will not give it time to accrue value…
A fine art photographer would be one, then, to create such works… read more

Dawn

I think that this is completely subjective. It can range from photojournalistic photography to completely Photoshopped photography that doesn’t even resemble photography anymore. However, it is going to be upscaled photography that definitely pays attention to the canons of photography: lighting, composition, focus, etc… If someone is willing to pay for the photography and they want it hanging on their walls, then they probably consider it fine art… read more

Chica

For me it’s simplicity with a punch. Something that when you look at it, you just know that it is something more. You cannot wrap my mind around it, your awed, and inspired at the same time. I rarely come across photos like these. There are many kinds of art photographs that I consider amazing, but rarely something I’d label “fine”. You inspired me to look through Wikipedia for the answer, and really there isn’t an answer… Who’s to say what fine art is? It can be generalized, but not defined… read more

John P Sercel

I tend to agree with Niels, in that Fine Art is the image (in this case) that the artist creates – art for beauty’s sake – and is completely separate from the media it is finally transferred to. It is a kind of dangerous definition, I suppose, to say that the artists designates his own work as fine art, but then I don’t know of any absolute metric that can be used… read more

Chris Lohman

It’s funny that this topic came up. Just the other day I posted a pic on a “Critique My Photo” blog for Fotki. The pic was my attempt at Fine Art Photography. The title of the post was simply “Fine Art?”. I received a wide variety of responses and not alot on my pic. Rather the debate was about what is “Fine Art” …??? One of the best post was the following… read more

Alessandro Rosa

When I thought about your question of what fine art photography is, the word crafted came to mind. The dictionary definition for crafted (v.) helps explain my viewpoint: “To make or construct (something) in a manner suggesting great care or ingenuity.” So I would say that to be considered a fine art photograph, the image needs to be crafted by the artist, or to restate it I would say that my definition of a fine art photograph is an image that is made in a manner suggesting great care, ingenuity and skill. So subject, lighting, composition and idea are well thought out, display a mastery of the craft of photography and are executed to produce an image of superior quality. Unfortunately, I don’t think that there is anything that can really quantify what the quality is, it is one of those “I’ll know it when I see it things.” Such is art… read more

Pixie

I believe that fine art photography is less about product, and more about the artist’s vision- a commentary of sorts. Yes, the photographer needs skill, in lighting, composition, exposure etc. but not as much for the purpose of creating a “good” photograph but because to be an artist one must have the skill to effectively communicate one’s vision… I have to completely disagree with those who say that it is about what sells — that may be essential in stock photography for example, but I believe that the artist that is solely producing work because it is what the consumer wants to see has lost sight of their own artistic vision… read more

Harley Pebley

I don’t have anything to add regarding the definition, but do have a recent conversation to relate that I thought was interesting. A friend and I were leaving an annual arts festival featuring local painters and sculptors; all sorts of styles and skill levels. One of these things where you pay a fee and you’re in. I commented on the lack of photographers and suggested it might be interesting for us to try to put something together for next year. I was told we wouldn’t be allowed since photography isn’t fine art… read more

One reader even took things a step further and posted his thoughts on his own blog.

Damien Franco

… Conceptualizing an image from the moment of capture to print should, perhaps, maintain an integrity consistent with evoking feeling… I believe, however, that you can label yourself as a Fine Art Photographer or produce work that is Fine Art Photography if you are placing yourself at the mercy of those who may be more qualified to validate your work… The funny thing is that after you have successfully been deemed, by those in the industry, as a tried and true “Fine Artist” every work you have done prior to the acclaimed label is now acceptable as “Fine Art”. If you’re lucky you won’t already be dead when this happens…. read more

I also posed the question to a few of the others at the Fine Art Photoblog. Neil (shown above as the first comment) answered the question here on the blog before I even had a chance to announce it to the whole group. So here are some additional thoughts from Andrew and Myself.

Andrew Gibson

For me, Fine Art Photography is something that is beautiful. Art is about creating objects of beauty, uplifting the spirit and celebrating the amazing world we live in. Sometimes, though, art is ugly or threatening and disturbing and brings things to our attention that we’d rather not know about or acknowledge. War photography is a great example of this. Take for example the photos of Zoriah, a photojournalist embedded in Iraq who Brian featured recently on this blog. Is it Fine Art? The intention of the photographer isn’t to make art, I’m sure, but to tell the story of the Iraq war from his perspective. But the photos have a strange beauty. It’s art, but it’s disturbing, in your face and deals with issues we’d rather not acknowledge or think about.

Brian Auer

I believe Fine Art Photography certainly falls within the bounds of the encompassing realm of Fine Art. To me, Fine Art Photography has to do more with mastery of the process than the actual photo. This process would include things like choosing the camera, capturing the image, processing, printing, etc. Since the process is typically a lengthy endeavor, the artist will usually form a strong emotional connection with the piece of art they have created. When others see that artwork, they might also connect with that photo in some way, but not necessarily in the same way as the artist. So can we label ourselves as Fine Art Photographers? Absolutely. Nobody knows your work and the process behind it better than you do. Whether or not your work is liked by others is an entirely different question.

What is Fine Art Photography?

The poll this week will be another open-ended question rather than a click-and-vote. The last time I ran one like this, we had some awesome answers and I highlighted them in a follow-up post the next week. So we’ll do the same here.

The question this week spawns from my own involvement with fine art photography. I find photography in general to be a highly subjective topic — what’s good, what sucks, what works, and what doesn’t is typically a matter of taste amongst other things. Fine Art Photography tends to be even more subjective since it’s a narrow slice of photography as an artistic medium.

So, What is Fine Art Photography?

How would you define it? What makes a photo Fine Art rather than something else? Can photographers really call themselves Fine Art Photographers? And what conditions would make it feasible for a photographer to include themselves in this category? Offer up your thoughts, take the discussion where you wish, and I’ll pick out some of the more insightful comments for an upcoming featured article.

And since we’re on the topic of insightful polls, be sure to check out the results and comments from last week asking the question “Do You Take Photos or Make Photos?” It looks like a majority “take photos” rather than “make photos”, and a good portion also says they “do both”. Several commentators also hit on the topic of what these terms really mean, so be sure to check that out.

Dreaming of Photography — Unleashed

Last week I asked the readers “What Would You Do… If You Could?” as part of our weekly poll. This one was an essay question though, and we had a lot of great answers come out of it. The question was based around the notion of having no worldly obligations and what you would do as a photographer.

18 photographers chimed in to share their dreams and aspirations with the camera. I love the diversity in the answers from each of the photographers, and it’s difficult to say that any of them sound more enticing than the others. But I did say I’d pick a few of the comments and feature them in an article. Here are five exceptionally inspiring responses — plus my own response to my question.

Niels Henriksen

If I had my way and obviously money was not an issue I would hire some of the great photographers and travel with them to understand how they see and their approach to capturing images. I would not limit it to one type of genre, but would take it all in. Can you just imagine the dialogue you could have with them. I would want to go with them on professional shoots or just to their favorite places. This would be my nirvana.

Chica

Wonderful question this week Brain. My answer is pretty simple. It stems from my background as a CNA. If I could get over my shyness (which would be huge) I would work with people who don’t have a voice. Not mutes, but people in a restricted situation. I would document people in prisons, senior homes, mental hospitals. So often they are thought of as there labels. You don’t get to know the person behind that label. I’ve seen a ton of the elderly in senior homes, with their only family being their caretakers. No family ever comes by to see them. Most often they can’t socialize, but with their eyes. With prisoners, it would be a whole different issue, I’m not sure that I would have the guts to do it, but I’d love to meet them, and document their stories, and try to understand the psychology behind why they committed their crimes. With Mental patients, it would be trying to understand the person behind the illness. They are their illness, but it’s out of their control. I believe there is someone under that illness, but they can’t communicate it. Breaks my heart to think of it. I’ve got a dad with a severe bipolar problem, and he went through many mental hospitals, saw all sorts of crazy things, and thankfully all these years later, he is stable, and living in a home alone, and now can function normally, with medication. I don’t want to photograph models, or people that are already in the public eye, I want to show who it is, that we aren’t looking at. Of course if I ever partake in all this, it will be in a few years if ever. It’s just a dream right now, and I’m comfortable with it.

Janne

Take any long, complex process and follow it from start to end. Planning, construction and deployment – or decommissioning and tear-down – of a ship, oil platform, sewer system, bridge, particle collider, industrial plant … Or start to finish of an industrial development process, from R&D to the marketing of the finished thingy. Follow something longitudinally. Then, since I’m an utter hack and the sky’s the limit here, I’d have some of my favourite photographers in a Rolodex (I’d have to actually _get_ a Rolodex first, of course) to call on for advice and impromptu ideas on how to approach any specific situation or phase of the project, as well as blunt advice on my own attempts.

Shawn

I would definitely do photojournalism. It has never been so easy for human beings to communicate and, yet, I think most of us (at least in the US) are more sheltered than ever. Sure, we have streaming video, podcasts, webcasts, but I still don’t think anything packs the same punch or tells the same story as the right photograph. Years from now, when we look at the conflicts and events that changed our lives and the world around us, we don’t remember videos. We remember single images… The young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack, the US flag being raised over Iwo Jima, the “Times Square Kiss” after World War II, a young Chinese student standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. The list goes on… That being said, I’d travel abroad to conflict zones and poverty-stricken areas of the world and do my best to tell the story of the voiceless. I want to put images in front of people that make them finally say “it doesn’t have to be this way”… I want to be able to make people leap out of their comfortable chairs and coddled lives to do something, anything, to make their world a better place. _That_ would be true success.

Luis Cruz

If I could, I would take portraits of street kids, beggars, and basically the people who roam the streets. Taking that a step further (and if I dare), I would follow them around for a week or so and document their daily lives. We pass these people almost everyday – on the way to work, school, or wherever else we go – but we barely realize they’re there. Worse (and I’m guilty of this too), we deliberately ignore them (especially when they tap on our windows and beg for loose change or food). I’m not sure how common this sight is in your area, but beggars seem to live on every major intersection here in my city. If I didn’t care about making a living (and wasn’t so worried about my safety), I’d be out there doing this now.

Brian Auer

At the moment my passion is for street photography and photowalking (which go hand-in-hand nicely). There’s something magical about a well executed street photo, and I need lots of practice before I can consider myself to be a street photographer. Over the last year, photowalking with local photographers has been a highlight of my life — so much inspiration and creativity can be captured just from being around other photographers in a relaxed setting. In addition to these two things, I love to travel — I’ve been all across the U.S., parts of Mexico and Europe, and I’m heading to Japan this fall. I want more. In my ultimate situation, I’d travel the world to meet up with local photographers and explore the places that they call home. Travel… make friends… take photos… have fun.

Thanks again to everyone who answered the poll question. We’ll have to do another essay question sometime in the future — this worked out better than I figured it would.

What Would You Do… If You Could?

Dubya thought
Creative Commons License photo credit: Platform 3

Every so often I let my mind wander. I daydream of a life where money was out of the picture, career obligations no matter, and all other limitations non-existent. Whatever my heart desires; it’s mine.

I ask myself: “What would I do… If I could?”

And so, as photographers, I ask you the same. What would you do… if you could? Where would your camera take you? Who would you photograph? What would you capture? And most importantly, would you even take your camera?

The poll this week is an essay quesion — no “easy buttons”. Share your thoughts in the comments on what you would do as a photographer if you had your way. I’ll select a handful of the most insightful and inspiring comments over the next week and post them along with my own thoughts.

UPDATE: Check out the results of this poll where I’ve highlighted some reader comments and offered up my own answer to the question.