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The debates about whether or not photography is truly an art form have raged on ever since the first black and white photos began to appear in the late 19th Century. There was a strong backlash against photography when it first emerged and was popularized by companies such as Kodak and the early pioneers had to fight to gain the recognition they deserved.
When did Photography become an ‘Art Form’?
It took a long time for photography to be seen as a valid art form but one of the most influential photographers in helping to make this happen was Alfred Stieglitz. His tireless campaigning and incredible personal photography skills helped to pave the way to acceptance by the often highly critical and elitist world of the fine arts.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1948) was a pioneering American photographer who took photographs in a way that mirrored the compositional qualities and tonal details of fine art paintings. The undeniable artistic quality of his work eventually forced even his staunchest critics to concede that photography was a serious form of emerging art in the early 20th Century. Stieglitz’s vision and determination to bring photography into the field of fine arts paid off in the end and today it is almost unthinkable to consider that photography is not an art form.
Without the passionate work and advocacy of Stieglitz over the course of his prolific 50 year career, it may have been decades before photography was recognized as a form of fine art. It wasn’t only his photography though, which was excellent in its own right, but also his many connections in the art scene of New York where he ran several popular art galleries that helped to turn the tide and allow photography to be appreciated for the artwork that it is.
So what exactly is art?
Art is an incredibly difficult thing to define however, generally speaking, it is understood to be an expressive activity that makes use of human beings’ innate creativity and technical skills in a given craft. Traditionally, the main types of art, often known as the fine arts, included painting, sculpture, literature and music.
Although art can be quite strictly defined we can also make use of a more intuitive and natural definition that would include a broader range of pursuits. Somebody who likes to stack stones in a river to make standing sculptures is practicing art, somebody knitting a beautiful quilt or humming a tune they have invented are all forms of art and artistic expression. Photography, therefore, is definitely a form of art, and what’s more, a form of high art.
Art is one of the highest functions of the human brain and while it is wide spread it remains difficult to define. Art has the capacity to elicit emotions, reflection and deep contemplation on issues that are as wide ranging as the human imagination, which is infinite! Regardless though of the problems in defining art we all know it when we see it!
Artwork can be judged and evaluated on a broad range of criteria, some of the most important include:
- Compositional qualities.
- Concept and Imagination.
- Originality and Uniqueness.
- Expresses a creative theme, vision or thought.
- Overall Aesthetic qualities.
- Skill and Complexity Involved.
- Conscious Selection of Materials and Tools.
If we look at the criteria above for a piece of artwork it is easy to see that photography ticks every box! As the technology that was used for photography advanced so did the potentials of its use to create powerful, highly expressive art work. Despite the difficulties that the early pioneers had to contend with they were eventually able to gain the respect and acknowledgement of their contemporaries in all of the fields of art.
Great art will often tell a story by using narrative elements within the composition. Photography is one of the most powerful storytelling mediums that we have today and remains an important art-form that touches the lives of millions of people around the world everyday.
Why do some people think that photography is not art?
For many years members of the artistic community argued that photography was not a form of art because it made use of a mechanical device as its primary tool. They contrasted this with a painter or sculpture who used their own limbs to create their work. These critics argued that because photographers used a mechanical device there was no ‘spirit’ involved and that it lacked the creative essence that defined the arts. In the early days many people in the world of arts thought that photography had more in common with an industrial process such as textiles printing and perhaps, in the very beginning, they may have been right but they certainly lacked vision!
However, as the techniques for photography were improved and the possibilities of this new practise started to become clear to people it was only a matter of time before it was widely accepted as a new component of the prestigious fine arts.
Photographers rapidly became experts in manipulating their images to create the images that they envisioned. Using different lenses, dark room tricks and secrets of the trade, framing and variations in the shutter speed, photographers were able to create outstanding pieces that were undeniably works of high quality art.
In the modern world, photography has taken its rightful place as a fine art.
Photography is rightly seen as a valuable addition to the world of fine art, with a wide range of photographers making amazing use of their equipment, skills and creativity to produce stunning works of art.
Do you agree that photography is a form of art?