…but is it fine art?

I’ve got an acquaintance who claims to be a “fine art photographer”.  He’s no better photographer than I am so I say (quietly) to myself:  “There is no way that I would advertise myself as the producer of fine art photography.  Who does he think he is?”

Fine art has always meant to me “…art that is better than normal” or “…better than good”.  It is FINE, after all.   It is a word that implies excellence or superiority.

So, if you say that you produce fine art photography people might think you are bragging. For example if you say “I write fine books”, you would being saying that you’re a very good author.  Braggart.

Greek Orthodox church on the Isle of Naxos, Greece.

Greek Orthodox church on the Isle of Naxos, Greece.

One would look at a very good painting and say that it is fine art.  But one would look at a very good photograph and say that it is…well…a very good photograph.

OK, so I did a little research.

Turns out that “fine art” is a left over from the days (seventeenth century) when the five fine arts were painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry.  The visual portion — painting — has evolved to include photography.  And here is where it gets interesting:  Photography can be either objective (photojournalism), commercial (to sell something), or subjective.  It is the subjective branch that fits into the “fine art” category.  

Now pay attention here.  A photograph becomes subjective (thus fine art) when something of the photographer is put into it.  Emotion, for example.  This would apply even to modifications made after the shutter is released.  Yes, Photoshop.

I modified the image of the little church.  The sky wasn’t really black but I felt (as I was setting up the photograph) that the startling shapes against the sky spoke to me.  When I processed the image I converted to black and white and darkened the sky to put my feelings into it.  Bottom line:  If I produce an image that has some of me in it, it is fine art.  If I modify an image in post production, I have shaded the image toward fine art.

Do you agree?

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Juliet - You’re right that the term “fine art” is a bit enigmatic. I do speak of myself as a “fine art photographer,” but not with any intention of boasting. Rather, I’m trying to make excuses for not leaving a photograph alone. For example, for the past couple of years most of my photography has been street photography, and very often I fine-articize the photographs, so that they aren’t what any self-respecting journalist would call street photography. In one project I concentrated on people alone–alone at an outdoor restaurant, alone walking along the street, or even alone in a crowd. Then I converted to b&w and cropped the photographs to be horizontally long and narrow, with the individual (usually just the upper half or less) at one end, and the image gradually fading to black at the other end. The intention was to emphasize the aloneness, in a way. So there. That’s “fine art” as I think of it–changing the image to try to express something below the surface.

Juliet - Post-script: Several of these images are on fotovisura.com

skeeter - That’s interesting, Juliet. Where can we see what you’ve done.

Steph - If all your research points that way, then I agree. My job as a photographer is to create something that appeals to my senses and share it with others with the hopes that they will be inspired/changed/moved.

The following quote by Tamara Lackey, a fine artist in her own right, speaks to me about this subject: “”So much of photography is what we choose to focus on – and what we work to keep out of the picture. We get to shape our lives the same way.”

skeeter - Deep, Steph. Methinks the work to “…shape our lives the same way” is often the more difficult.

John Ashdown - Hi Skeeter,

I believe thatwe are all surrounded by potential ‘fine art’ photographs all the time. The photographer with the ability to see these potential photos and to introduce his own subjectivity does so by framing the image, adjusting the lighting, epth of field or exposure etc. You seem to do this all the time so for my money you qualify as a ‘fine art’ photographer but if you prefer it an individual and gifted one.

Keep the photos flowing. Hope we see you both again some time.


skeeter - Thank you for the kind words, John. I agree that “fine art” is everywhere and I really like the idea that it takes human input to bring it out.

Bob Patrick - Hmmm. Objective Photography ……snapshot printed as shot.
Subjective Photography …..print worked for taste and control of visual elements. Art.

I would say there are a lot of artists among us. Whether the taste is appreciated by others is another matter. I like the definition although it probably needs refining.


skeeter - Yes, Bob, it begs the question of whose opinion matters. I’ve seen a lot of visual art hanging in museums — mostly of the “modern art” variety — that doesn’t do much for me. Maybe it is art if I (the capital i) think it is. Thanks for your insight.

Robyn - Fine art as opposed to photography. There are still many photographers who use photography as a record to what they see, which is where photography started. These are the purists who scoff at programs such as Photoshop, or HDR (Which by the way was being used in teh dark room back in the 1940s).

However, techniques have changed and so Photography is evolving more to visual design, where it is more what the ‘artist’ sees, rather than what the ‘camera’ sees.

In my opinion – this is fine art photography.

There’s nothing wrong with either way, but I think respect is what is needed so it doesn’t become a us vs them debate.

skeeter - It hasn’t reached (in my observation) the level of debate — but that may not be all bad since it would get people thinking. Anyhow, I like your statement “…visual design, where it is more what the ‘artist’ sees, rather than what the ‘camera’ sees.”

By-the-way, I checked out your blog at robyncarterphotos.blogspot.com You definitely fit into the ‘artist’ category.

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