Photographs as Art

Twisted Trees Triptych No. 1

Twisted Trees Triptych No. 1

One of my favorite observations about photography goes something like this:

“A photograph shows you what you would have seen if you had been there, a work of art shows you what you would not have seen but for the artist showing it to you.”

This observation is not mine, though I don’t recall exactly where I came across it (maybe on Guy Tal’s excellent photography blog?).  Still, after writing my immediately prior post on the art of photography, this insight has been on my mind all week and I’ve remembered just how much I think it perfectly cuts to the core of why photography can be art.

Anyone can point a camera at a subject and make a photograph that, more or less, approximates what the subject looked like when the shutter was tripped.  Indeed, as mentioned last week, the technical aspects of camera operation are so user-friendly these days that it’s increasingly hard, if not impossible, to stand on technical prowess as the basis for artistic merit in a photograph.

However, even today not very many people can point a camera at a subject and produce an image that reveals something not readily apparent from otherwise having been there.  Those who think photography is all about cameras and software (or darkrooms) miss this point entirely, and probably betray an even more fundamental understanding about what constitutes art and what does not.  It’s the successful communication of the artistic idea from the artist to the audience that constitutes art, not the nature of the tools that effect the communication.

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