Is Photography Art?

A conversation with a friend about art brought up an interesting question: Is photography art?


When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a photographer.

My interest was in photography of all types, and I had several pictures published in newspapers. I also did weddings — all of this generated income for me. In those days, all photography required the use of film, which meant the film had to be developed and prints made on photographic paper. For me this was time consuming and expensive. Unable to buy professional grade darkroom equipment, I bought the basic low end components and built an enlarger from an old bellows-type camera I picked up at a swap meet. Over time, this was cheaper for me than having my film processed by someone else and I had more control over the final product.

As so often happens in life, my career choices took a different direction, but I still enjoyed photography as a hobby. My camera during high school, and until I was in my early 30’s, was a Yashica Twin-Lens Reflex camera. It was too heavy to take backpacking, and for the most part I found picture taking on backpacking trips to be distracting anyway. The benefit of this camera was the large film size (2.25″ X 2.25″), which was great for making enlargements. But the lack of changeable lenses made it less than desirable for taking pictures of subjects at a distance.

Vintage Cameras-1-2
To solve this problem, in the  early 1980’s I bought a Pentax K1000 single lens reflex camera that could use many types of lenses (i.e. zoom, wide angle, etc.). This solved the problem of matching a lens to the subject, but the film size was much smaller at 35mm, which limited the enlargement options. However there were many more options in film selection (light gathering and film speed) that could somewhat mitigate the small film size. But again, this camera was too heavy for backpacking. I still have both of these cameras.

Today I sometimes take a small “point and shoot” camera on backpacking trips, which is light and compact. It is digital of course, since film is just about obsolete.
Sony RX100 smallerMy current camera, a Sony RX100 actually rivals the more versatile and larger cameras on the market when it comes to picture quality, but it does not have interchangeable lenses. However the RX100 Carl Zeiss adjustable lens is of excellent quality.


Corpus Hypercubus, by (Salvador Dalí
Corpus Hypercubus, by Salvador Dalí

To me, art is the selective recreation of reality to communicate the artist’s life values. It reflects the artist’s philosophy. The primary arts are literature, music, and painting. Secondary arts are movies, plays, sculpture, and dance.

To me photography is not art; it is a craft. But I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not want to diminish the skill required to take great photographs.

Just to set the record straight, I don’t consider myself very good at photography.

The reason I don’t consider photography art is because the photographer does not re-create reality, but captures the subject as it really is, although selection and placement of subject matter, light, and other components make some photographs esthetically pleasing or elicit other emotions. I truly enjoy great photographs. I appreciate the skill, knowledge, and experience that separate the great photographers from the rest of us.

The artist creates a vision of reality and communicates his values. We do not need to be in agreement with the artist’s philosophy to appreciate the work.

Not Guilty, by José Manuel Capuletti
Not Guilty, by José Manuel Capuletti

Often times one must understand the historical time-frame, society, values, customs, and other information that will help understand the artist’s message. The painting below by Vermeer is an example.

Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid, by Johannes Vermeer
Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid, by Johannes Vermeer


Even though photography doesn’t fit my definition of art, I still enjoy viewing great pictures. The photographer is recording reality and with expertise in setting up and capturing the subject, paying attention to lighting, along with post-processing, some photographers are extremely skilled.

Albert Einstein, by Yousuf Karsh
Albert Einstein, by Yousuf Karsh
Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother
Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother
Afghan Girl, by Steve McCurry
Afghan Girl, by Steve McCurry
Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali

My favorite photo viewing is wilderness. And it all started with…


ansel adams 1 ansel adams 2 ansel adams 3

I would much rather read a blog post of a backpacking trip that is mostly photos, instead of the proliferation of gear reviews that are in vogue.



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