5 February 2015

Has Photography Become Victim of Its Own Success?

We live in a rich culture of photographic amateurism. Technology has made everyone photographers with the increasing quality of cameras in iPhones, affordable DSLRs and even the hipster-wannabe reinvention of polaroids. Restaurants are swarming with individuals routinely snapping pictures of their food to upload to instagram, keeping their followers updated while leaving their meal to go cold, while parties are formed of crowds of image-obsessed beings taking “selfies” and proceeding to spend copious amounts of time finding the right filter. The ease of the photographic process means that it’s accessible to everyone and the sheer popularisation of it has arguably eliminated the creative ideology behind it. This has had many a fine art enthusiast questioning whether photography can actually be considered art, or has it become a victim of its own success?


Pictorialists who argue with great passion that photography is by no means a form of art can be considered bound by convention. Changes in time bring around changes in society and the way art is perceived, so convention is there to be challenged. What may be considered to be the most psychologically encapsulating, aesthetically engaging and technically perfected piece by one, may evoke no emotion in another. People perceive art in different ways, which makes it incredibly difficult to factualise how good a photo is or whether it’s good enough to be contextualised as art.

In the present day, a lot of photographers are simply redoing things that have already been done. Take Rankin’s reinvention of the “Seven Photographs That Changed Fashion”, for example. His work for Dazed and Hunger shows that he’s more than capable of capturing stunning imagery - which is most importantly original, yet choses to simply limit his creative liberty by lazily copying, (or “recreating” as these photographers prefer to label it) the work of others. Although the results are beautiful, the concepts and ideas aren’t his own so the credit is not his to take.

The fact that technically anyone can take a photo, doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone can take a good photo. Composition, lighting, setting, tone, depth of field… the list of techniques goes on; techniques which professional photographers not only consider, but meticulously study to try and accurately bring their visions to life. Some recognise straight away that photographs are artificially assembled portrayals: they too are mindfully composed, lit and produced. Photos are by no means exact replicas of paintings, but they revive a string of associations and sense of familiarity that give photography a historical hinterland.

Early photography was said to be too literal to compete with works of art as it was unable to elevate the imagination in the same was that art does. Some argue that photos are often simply capturing what was already there so there wasn’t the same level of creation as say, painting. The camera is like a mirror with a memory and sometimes the most beautiful photography is completely natural and simply captured in the moment with no intention whatsoever. This reinforces the fact that photography doesn’t always require any particular skills to be embedded in the mind of the beholder; it can simply be a streak of luck or a complete fluke.

The World's most expensive photograph. Gursky's Rhine ||, worth £2.3m. 

The act of photography can differ greatly to art in that drawings and paintings are the result of strenuous hard work over prolonged periods of time. Unimaginably intricate detailing and the most precise of brush strokes can be mentally and physically straining in medium where mistakes are hard to hide. The realistic nature of so many paintings isn’t easily achieved and arguably demands a much deeper level of artistic ability and talent. Not to mention the unrealistic pieces that still manage to be classed as revolutionary creations. If you take a nice photo on your iPad, does that make you an artist or does it simply means that Apple has done a bang-up job with the device? Photographic technology is readily available to the masses and as a result, is creating a generation of faux creatives. However, many who take photos do it to to document memories and capture a moment, not proclaim it as a work of art and demand that it's hung on the walls of the Met.

It’s rather ridiculous that art and photography are pitted against each other, battling it out to be taken seriously by pretentious traditionalists who don't think there's enough light for both to shine. While some don’t understand that it’s the narratives and concepts of photography that gives it its character and personality, others don't understand the technical requirements and esoteric talent withheld by painters. Not all art necessarily triggers challenging thought or deep emotion in every single person who comes across it. If you create something, then it’s there; it’s present in the world and can be interpreted by whomever it may concern. Fashion, music, literature, photography: I think that art is anything you want it to be so long as it’s appreciated by someone.