One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “What exactly is fine art photography?”
On the surface, this seems like a very easy question to answer. The reality, however, is quite different. For starters, everybody seems to have their own definition of what it is and what it isn’t. To some, fine art photography just means shooting things in an “artistic way” (whatever that might happen to mean.) To me, this definition is a bit loose-although, to be fair, the entire question is a bit like asking what milk tastes like. Maybe the best way to define fine art photography is to talk about what it is not. I don’t know about that, but I do know I’m interested in it and I have always considered myself to be (at my core) a fine art photographer.
To me, what it means is that I treat my camera like a paintbrush. I basically paint with my camera. I realize that, to some, this might sound impossible but, trust me, it’s entirely do-able. I basically treat my camera’s viewfinder like a blank canvas and set out into the world looking to create some kind of art or, you know, my version of what I think “art” might happen to be. To me, it’s as simple as that really. I’m not now, nor have I ever been a type of photojournalist. I’m not interested in capturing “truth, justice, or the American way” (although I find nothing wrong with doing that-it’s just not my thing, if you will.) I’m also not really interested in selling anything, although I certainly do sell framed prints. The key here is that I don’t have sales in mind when I’m shooting-I don’t shoot something thinking “oh, that will really sell a lot of product!” rather I think “oh, that would make a great shot!” When I’m out in the field (or in the studio to be fair) shooting, I’m always thinking about how something might look printed, matted, framed and hanging on the wall of a gallery (or maybe my living room, as the case might be.) I keep the finished print in mind and seldom (if ever) shoot something I know will be problematic in printing. I tend to work in a series, although not always, thinking about images as groups of images or working on a “body of work,” which is basically photographer speak for a project. I do very project-centric work and often work on more than one project at a time.
To some the term “fine art photography” is synonymous with nudes (or artistic nudes perhaps) and, yes, I do some of that (it’s also called “figurative” photography and goes by a couple of other names too) but that’s not all that I do. For subject matter, my interests run the gamut-everything from people to landscapes, old cars, conceptual and studio setups-you name it. After being a photographer for about twenty years I think it’s safe to say I’ve shot a lot of stuff and, in turn, a lot of stuff has made its way to the front of my lens. It’s not just about subjects for me, although I do tend to shoot maybe more “artsy” subjects than most (maybe not? I don’t know about that really.) I do tend to shoot certain subjects more than others, sometimes by chance and sometimes by design. (For example, I have a dog so I tend to shoot more dog photos than cat photos-that’s certainly by chance although , I have to admit, my dog would really not approve of me shooting any cats. Well, not with a camera anyway.) If I had to narrow down a subject, pick one subject and stick with it, I would have to say it would be architecture, although I certainly don’t want to narrow the field and shoot only that anytime soon.
I love going out, exploring the world, and shooting what comes. I don’t always shoot people but, if I go to long without shooting people, I feel a need, sort of like an “itch” if you will, to do some portrait work. I used to do nothing but portraits and gave this up because it was time consuming and, while I was successful, I found it to be too draining on me. I was overworked at the time-booking myself far in advance and never shooting anything but for client work, so I gave that up and went back into shooting more fine art photography or things that I wanted to work on for myself. Now I really enjoy the freedom of being able to vary my subjects more, although I still do portraits (mostly “artistic portraits”) from time to time (mostly for special friends, old clients who have stuck with me for ages, and the like.)
To give you a short answer about fine art photography it’s really not any kind of photojournalism, it’s not commercial photography, it’s not documentary, not fashion, although certainly these types of photography can overlap. Fine art photography is not really about getting at “truth” although there is a certain “truth” in any kind of photography, it’s more about getting at the thoughts, feelings, emotions of the photographer. I like to think that fine art photography really has “the hand” of the photographer in it. By this I mean there is some degree of personalization the photographer has made, some choice the photographer has made over the course of crafting the image that has had an impact on the finished look of the image, be it a selection of paper or a setting on the camera. I realize all photography is a bit this way, all photographers leave their mark, so to speak, but, with fine art photography, it’s especially present. As a fine art photographer, I’m not interested in capturing “a scene” rather I’m interesting in presenting you my vision of that scene or that scene as I see it. It’s more person than other forms of photography, more about getting to showcase a personal vision, rather than rendering what was actually there.
Since I get asked about this a lot, I thought I would post here to clarify things.
Until next time…
interesting thoughts, photography helps me capture a beautiful image that I can later write about in an article or poem…
Well photography itself is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but I think the fine art photography folks are pretty centered around interpreting things as they see them, doing projects, and showing work in the gallery setting. At least it seems a common theme among the working photographers that I know.