What Defines Photography?


Definition of Photography

Dictionary.com defines photography thus;


1. The process or art of producing images of objects on sensitized surfaces by the chemical action of light or of otherforms of radiant energy, as x-rays, gamma rays, or cosmic rays.

So it annoys me when I see obviously contrived, Photoshoped style images being entered into photographic competitions.
Thats not to say that the image and process wasnt technically well done and that the image wasnt artful. To me however the art of photography following on from the definition above, is just that. An art form.
In our modern era you can substitute sensitized chemical surfaces and in its place put digital sensor. While the process may be different at a technical level the process of the art is still the same.
What then constitutes the “Art” part of this subject?

It could be argued that the capture of the image is only the start of the art process of photography and that the real art comes in the darkroom.

To this I disagree most strongly. The art comes from the persons ability to see a given circumstance in a particular way. It may be how the light falls across a subject, creating a particular mood. It may be the sheer grandeur created by a breath taking scenic location. What ever it may be this is the photographers realm and the art comes from knowing how to use the camera and how to create a truly original image. First though you have to recognize the scene presented to you. This is where truly great photographers excel. They have an uncanny ability to see something in a particular way and know how to go about recording it to film or digital media. The image should at this point contain all the elements that led the photographer to take a photo in the first place.

I recently featured a series of photos kindly supplied by Lyn Eve a New Zealand based amateur photographer.The thing that stood out in these photos seen here is the drama of a wilderness setting. Nothing contrived, just a good camera and an eye for detail. The first photo in the series shows a great deal of wildness and drama to the natural elements. This is an image I could easily see in A1 sized print hanging over the mantel in a log cabin.
The “artist” hasn’t had to add anything to convey the meaning of the image. This is what the art of photography is about. While there are techniques available to us to enhance our images, thats exactly what it should do. Enhance it.
When I see an image of a stack of colored pencils splayed out on a black background for a competition for example, when compared to others, this smacks of contrivance, or photo manipulation. I dont say that this isn’t creative or even artistic, but rather that it isn’t necessarily photography in its essence.To me this is creative media using a photographic process as part of the overall creation of an image.

The digital era has I think to some extent shifted the focus of image making from the art to the science side of the process. There is now a trend for more and more photographers to rely on the digital darkroom and the enhancement tools to get an acceptable image. The art of photography now seems to be a little less relevant as the digital era can make all sorts of imagery possibly. This to me at least is what I would classify as digital art & media. Thats a whole new area of image creation and in some cases exceedingly far removed from the definition of photography as an art.
Of course the truly great thing about this is that it allows us to be able to express artist creation in ever expanding ways. Is there room for both. Most definitely, however it still annoys me that some of the people running competitions dont truly understand the differences. But that’s life.
Time for another coffee…..


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