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Reflections on Photography as an Art Form...or Not

Posted on Jul 25, 2014

Is photography an art? Until Andreas Gursky's photograph of a grey river Rhine, there was a clear distinction between the two. If you look at a list of the types of visual art, however, you'd clearly see that photography is part of it.

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Unfortunately, a lot of people remain unconvinced, for the following reasons:

Repeatability

Unlike the oil on board creations of Helen Bradley, or other drawings and paintings for that matter, pictures can be copied and reprinted many times over. Although some artworks have limited edition prints, most of them are only done once, especially those made by masters. And even if there are imitations, the original will also be valued as art.

Here's the thing, however, pictures capture a moment as it happens. It's not a rendering of what the artist wishes to draw on paper. If Helen Bradley paintings tell a story of a particular era or subject, photographs tell a tale in real time.

Shareability

There is good and bad with a digital camera and a camera on a mobile phone. Because they're affordable and easy to use, just about anyone can become a photographer. It also raised the standards in photography and how the camera and other products are manufactured. But because both devices enable quick and easy sharing of the pictures taken, the value of the image is diminished. Between a painting by Helen Bradley and an over-shared photo, the latter would be viewed as common or ordinary. There are also cases that photos are shared over an extensive network of people not because they're beautiful, but because they're associated with the person behind the lens.

Where the lines blur, however, are on the technical and artistic skills. An artist like Helen Bradley, for example, would not paint without putting much thought into the next piece. If the same level of effort is evident on a picture, then it deserves to be called an artwork. The most arresting portraits or pictures of a landscape would also show that they were clearly not taken just for the heck of it. This goes to show that for a picture to become an artwork, it should be captured by a creative and skilled photographer. Because even the most ordinary scene can become extraordinary.

So, is photography an art? The answer is subjective. One thing is clear, though, it has scientific aspects that even painters might not be able to master. This is because a photographer and her subject are separated by distance and the camera, yet the shots show an image where all the elements are one. It's also important to note that when a photographer only focuses on the technical aspect, the images produced are high quality, but could be lacking in emotion. So anyone who can combine technique and artistry in one picture is indeed an artist in her own right.

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