Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Artist Photographer

Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
Why are some photographs art and others are not? Pretty much everyone has a camera and pictures are being snapped everywhere all of the time. If you do a quick Google search of "Grand Canyon" and look under images, literally millions upon millions upon millions of photographs of the Grand Canyon are right at your fingertips. Which ones are art? Are they all art? Are none of them art?

There was a time that the art world rejected photography as a legitimate art form. Ansel Adams and others from his era did a fine job of changing that. But even to this day some within the art community do not believe photography is art. What accounts for this? I think, simply, most photographs are not art, and many photographers are not artists.

There is a difference between the photographer and the artist photographer. It comes down to documenting vs. interpreting. The photographer is interested in documenting (freezing a moment in time) with their camera while the artist photographer is interested in interpreting (non-verbally speaking) with their camera. But it is actually deeper than that.
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
There is a misconception that a photograph is truthful. Certainly you have heard of "photographic evidence" and that "pictures never lie." But every picture lies, or at least isn't completely truthful. The photographer is biased, choosing how to compose the image (what to include and exclude) and what settings the camera should have. The camera and lens (and film, if applicable) are biased, too, with regard to color, contrast, hue, dynamic range, sharpness, etc., etc.

A photograph is a tiny moment in time that is taken out of context. As soon as it is captured, it is history--yet it is viewed in the present. Even documentary-style images are not true reality.

I think the reason for the misconception is that photographs look real. There is so much detail contained in an image, it looks like reality. And if it looks like reality, it must be reality, right? But it isn't.
Alien - Mojave, California
The knowledge that photographs are not reality, but glimpses of obscured reality, is enlightening. Since you cannot capture reality, you have the freedom to make an image whatever you want it to be. You can create your own reality. The key word is create. That is when you go from being a photographer to being an artist photographer.

The artist photographer must have photographic vision in order to be successful. Since there are no boundaries, the artist photographer is free to be creative. Whatever his or her imagination can dream up can be made into a photograph.

The photographer is limited by his or her camera and whatever is by chance in front of it. The artist photographer has the freedom to create, and the limitations are eliminated.

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