Art in photography has old roots

Is there art in photography? •  The debate has raged for as long as there has been cameras.

• Is there art in photography? •
The debate has raged for almost as long as there has been cameras.
[Image from the video below].

Today photography appears more realistic

Perhaps that is more true than at any time in the history of photography. Modern cameras give a very powerful reflection of the scene. Yet, today the artistic element in photography is as alive as the art in say, the history of painting. What is not so clear is just what we mean by “art in photography”.

Much of the modern wave of photography is about snapping the ‘picture’; just capturing what you see and moving on. However, the committed, artistic photographer, sees more in the frame than just the picture. The images we capture show form, shape, expression, balance – lots of intangible things that are not necessarily about just getting the picture and moving on. They saw the art in photography.

The art in photography debate

Early in the history of photography this very same debate raged. Some saw photography as being “realistic” and therefore not containing artistic elements. Anxious to establish photography as an art form in its own right the Pictorialists worked with the raw elements of the medium. That is particularly with lenses and negatives. They manipulated them to make the picture resemble the hand-made craftiness of paintings and drawings. They tried taking away the “realistic” look of the final picture. They were almost converting it to some sort of hand-drawn picture or a painting. They were turning the picture into an art form. They deliberately tried to create art in photography.

Perhaps this manipulation did make an art form out of some pictures. However, the basic point was missed by the Pictorialists. The underlying picture still needed an artful arrangement to carry off the translation into a ‘crafty’ final image. What the photog saw needed to be artfully seen in the frame.

Abstracts and the art in photography

This short video shows the arrival of an alternative school of photographers. The school of “Straight Photography” acknowledged the power of the camera to represent the world with a realism other art forms did not have. At the same time, Straight Photography revealed that through capturing reality you can see through the artists eyes. They went to great pains to retain the element of reality, clarity and sharpness in the pictures. Much of their work would today be recognised as abstract.

The Pictorialist emphasis was on shape, form and expression rather than the every-day and mundane view of the world we see with almost every blink of the eye. They went to great lengths to see things the ordinary picture did not show. They emphasised beauty in simplicity. The shape and form in the abstract was an important focus. It was about a new way of seeing detail by careful framing of every day objects. They created images that showed the ordinary reality by an extraordinary interpretation. True art in photography.

Pictorialist and Straight Photography


Debbi Richard

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
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2 responses to “Art in photography has old roots

  1. Pingback: Abstract photography – three abstract insights | PhotokonnexionPhotokonnexion

  2. I really enjoyed this article and video. It was a great introduction to these styles and movements in photography- plus it clarified some of my own approach to the art of photography.