What is art? Is it objective– the thing is called art, therefore it is art? Or, subjective: art is in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps it’s intent– putting in the work and engaging in the madness as many artists seem to think.
When it comes to photography, it seems, the “what is art,” as well as the photographer-as-artist and photography-as-art debate is particularly fierce. In fact, as recently as 2014, art critique Jonathan Jones made the argument that photographs don’t belong in galleries and and are “flat and soulless” compared to paintings.
These claims, that a photograph on its own isn’t art, date back as far as the technology itself.
Alfred Stieglitz, who first began taking pictures in 1892, was one of the first photographers to treat his photographs like art. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t touch up his original work to create artistic effects. He relied on composition– light and location- to create the photograph he wanted.
Those on the side of “photography is not art” point out that, at its core, the sole purpose of photography is to capture an image– of a thing, a moment, an interaction- that already exists.
Which it is, but it’s not accidental nor is it, for many photographers, simply an exercise in documentation. There’s a tremendous difference between cameras set up by the National Park Service to monitor wildlife and the work of photographers like Paul Nicklen whose images have appeared in National Geographic.
Yet, one of the most respected artists, certainly the one with some of the highest price tags on his work, Andreas Gursky, does manipulate and collage. Which seems to me to be the modern day version of touch ups.
Is that what it takes for a photographer to be called an artist, for a photograph to “become” art?
I don’t think so. I think that a photograph announces itself as art when it it is art.
When you see a picture of Yosemite by Ansel Adams, or the ghostly images of cypress trees at Point Lobos, captured by Edward Weston, or the streetscapes of Berenice Abbott, there is no denying what it is that you’re viewing: Art.
A philanthropist and photographer, Marko Dimitrijevic is an accomplished nature photographer who has captured subjects all over the world including in the Arctic, Asia, Africa, Europe and even underwater.
As a pioneering investor in emerging markets, Marko Dimitrijevic has invested in over 150 countries, including dozens of frontier markets. Marko Dimitrijevic’s photographs have been published in Alert Diver and American Photo, among other publications. Follow Marko on Instagram and Twitter.