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Residents Association Magazine arrow Summer 2004 - 19

PHOTOGRAPHY - IS IT AN ART FORM?

The answer is yes and no. It all depends on the use to which the camera is put, whether it is a conventional film camera or the relatively new digital camera. The uses can include:

Record — a basic photo lacking any attempt at composition with the simple objective, as the name implies, of making a record of an object or scene. This is definitely not an art form.

Reportage — the term applied to the type of photo we see on a regular basis in our newspaper. No, this is not an art form as the photographer has set out to capture a ‘moment in time’ for others to see, be it war, accident, sport etc.

Family — the vast majority of the photos taken by the amateur photographer will fall into this category. Many of the photos will be in the simple ‘record’ category of a holiday, a wedding, a birthday or many other family events. However, this category could easily result in an art form worthy of framing and display to family and friends. It is when we get into the realms of portraiture, landscapes, nature, wildlife, etc that we get into the same territory as the artist with his or her easel. The artist will spend a considerable time achieving the desired image, whereas the serious photographer will set up a tripod, adjust the camera speed and aperture to ensure a correct exposure, compose his picture, press the shutter and walk away after just a few minutes. The only real difference is that the artist will use his time and his brush and palette to record his interpretation of the scene, in many cases this includes the familiar use of artistic licence. The camera will simply and faithfully capture the image as it is. However, that image is very much dependant on a number of factors, some of which are within the photographers control, some are not. Those within the control of the photographer include the choice of time of day, the camera angle and, most important of all, his creativity, which includes the composition of that image. Factors outside of the photographers control are the direction, colour and intensity of the light, the best times are before 10am and after 4pm — at midday the light is too harsh and lacks interesting shadows. Analysing the elements which make up a photograph, observing the way they play their part in any given scene, and by composing them in order to show that element you wish to emphasise will impart a marked degree of individuality in the image. The individuality in the final printed image may further be achieved by enhancement or even manipulation in the darkroom, or as is more likely these days, in the computer, thus introducing the artistic licence element to the finished photographic image.

So what is the real answer to the question - ’is photography an art form?’. In general terms it has to be yes but with reservations. When the photographer has set out with deliberate intention of recording an image worthy of display or, for example, to submit in a camera club competition or even as part of a portfolio for an amateur or professional qualification, we have the makings of an art form. If, however, the photographer is simply recording an event, then the answer is probably, but not always, no.

Brian Woolgar, Poole U3A

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Last Updated: 1st September 2004