It is very common to come across the terms “Photographic Art” and “Fine Art Photography” in reference to the work of renowned photographers who have created an individual style of photography that is popular and attractive. But what really turns a simple photograph into a piece of art? There have been many debates on this topic and the terms “Photographic Art” and “Fine Art Photography” have had many definitions but they remain poorly defined and difficult to categorise.
Photographers often like to describe their work as “art” and without doubt some of the work of photographers such as Tim Flach is truly beautiful, creative and entertaining. But to be considered art a piece must also engage the viewers mind as well as their eye – a piece must be thought provoking and continue to generate discussions and opinions over time. Many beautiful images hanging on walls now will, unfortunately, not hold the viewer’s interest for more than a couple of years. Whereas true art continues to be a talking point for years to come.
It could be argued that a photographer could take a detailed picture of a flower, for example, and a traditional artist could paint that same flower in detail. But what a photographer cannot do that an artist can do with paint and other media is add depth, feeling and texture to the image. Compare the work of artist Jo Bunce with the photographer Mary Gaines. It is the sense of unreality that makes the painted images so much more appealing than the photographs.
As with all art there are works that blur the boundaries between categories and perhaps the most important lesson to remember when considering what can and cannot be classified as “art” is to be open-minded. Being open-minded and ready to change your opinions can lead to unexpected discoveries such as the BeckerHarrison collaboration where original photographic prints are overpainted with acrylic, gouache and even spray-paint to create compelling and sometimes disturbing images that photography alone could never do.
Of course, photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop can be used to create a myriad of effects that could never be achieved with a camera alone but in the case of the BeckerHarrison work the physical texture and sheen of the paint cannot be replicated with even the most advanced photo-editing software and it is these features that make their work stand out from other work created on a computer.
So photographic images can be classed as art and a definition of “Photographic Art” might be an artwork that began its life as a simple photograph but has been enhanced in some way (either on a computer or by hand) to create something more than just a captured moment that is pleasing to the eye however beautiful or, indeed, disturbing that moment might be. It is a work that entertains, delights or disturbs but most of all provokes thought or discussion and imparts to the viewer a message from the artist.