“Photography is not art.” It’s a phrase I hear often. I’ll be walking down a long corridor of photographs in a museum or gallery and someone always eventually says, “How is this art? I could have taken that.” Sometimes I pipe up and ask, “How was that taken then?” They stare at me blankly then say something like “you just go up to someone and snap the picture. It’s not like you are spending a lot of time drawing or painting a painting.”
Oh, how this could be further from the truth. If art is all about a long process, then there are a lot of artists out there that could be easily tossed aside. Rarely a moment happens that you capture in a photograph and it’s amazing! The best picture you have ever taken. But these moments are few because it was by chance. Professional photographers make photographs with an idea and process.
Professional Photographer Make Photos
Professional photographers think about what they want to capture before they go out and shoot. Even if a photographer is out walking the street for street photography, they are looking for something in particular. It could be a place with good composition, a certain light, a person or a shape. They are not trying to capture something amazing by chance they are trying to make a photograph that they probably have thought about for days. Art is about the idea and making that idea a reality.
Once that photographer finds the place or light they are looking for, they often wait and this is all part of the process. They are waiting for the right person to walk into the scene or the light to change just a little. They could wait for hours before they capture the idea they envisioned.
For my small town series, my vision involved a few things. One, is the atmosphere of a small town. Two, I was looking for certain shapes and colors. Last, I wanted to find empty chairs in interesting areas. Even though this is what I wanted to capture I still had to find it.
I started with towns near me and eventually ventured out further. I would spend at least a half a day in each place wandering the streets, alleys, and shops. If I saw something close to what I was envisioning I’d move around it getting different angles or I’d sit and wait for the right moment or light to happen.
After I’d go home and download all the photos to edit. This could take 30 minutes to several days depending on the look I want. There is a process in photography sometimes it’s short or by chance, but most of the time it’s a long process. People who have had no training in the medium walk up and snap the photo. Even the photographer you hire to take family photos has a process and an extensive one at that.
Ansel Adams and National Geographic
A very famous photographer who had a long process was Ansel Adams, and he’s even famous even without the debate about process because people see his photographs as art. I’m sure lots of people know his name or have seen his work in some form or another. He’s very much considered an artist. People collect and buy his work all the time they even attend very expensive workshops to take photographs like him with his process.
Wouldn’t you say that National Geographic photographers are artists as well? I can tell you that in the art community they are. The photographs you see in National Geographic take lots of time, whether it’s a posed portrait or documenting an important event. A photographer for National Geographic focuses on quality and quality equals experience and time.
Amazing photographs, the ones that make you stop and look for over two seconds, stand out. Photographs that stand out are not only made because of the artistic vision of the photographer but also with the viewer in mind. There are composition rules in all art that make a photograph pleasing to the viewer, and these are things you learn with lots of practice.
How we See Photos Influences Our Opinions of Them
It’s also important for the viewer to understand that how you look at photos makes a difference too. We are so inundated with photographs now we often just mindlessly look at images. We don’t really register what it is we are scrolling through. I suggest slowing down a bit and looking at your Instagram feed. What do you see? What images make you stop and why?
As a photographer, I follow many other photographers. There are many instances where my feed looks the same. We are all influenced by each other and without knowing our styles start to look similar. So from the viewers’ perspective, I can see why someone would think photography is no longer an art form. Photography is so easy to access, but just because it is easy to access doesn’t mean it’s no longer a valid art form.
Art is about seeing. In photography, it's about how you compose and light a photo, then edit it. Editing is the finish touch. It’s literally the cherry on top of the ice cream. It’s what makes your vision of the photograph come together.
So do I consider my work art? Yes, I do. The small town series is the collection I am working on now, and I am getting prepared to show it at the Gallery at 48 Natoma in Folsom, California. This series isn’t complete yet, but it’s getting there. Again, photography is a long process, and my vision for the entire series could last years. I hope you’ll come join me on November 15th from 6pm - 8pm for the opening reception. All photos will be on sale, and I would appreciate any support. Til next time!