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Photography as Art

March 15th, 2011
Sunset at Redgate Beach, Margaret River Western Australia

The art of nature

What is Art?

Before we look at Photography specifically, I think it would be useful to define what actually is art

This definition will always be  very subjective and personal, something I consider art you may think is rubbish and vice versa… It’s usually like that, very black and white, you love or you hate it. And perhaps that’s the answer to the question anyway, art is something that provokes an emotional reaction within us…? But is that all it is? Is the guy next door filling his bin with last nights bottles next to your bedroom window at 6.30am on a Sunday art? That certainly evokes an emotional reaction. OK, so it must be more than that. Is it a skill or an ability that is beyond most of our abilities applied in some creative and innovative manner? Perhaps that’s closer, especially when you combine it with the first definition. A skill or ability beyond the normal applied in a creative and innovative manner that evokes an emotional reaction. Or does it simply come down to something that resonates with something in the viewer/listener/audience, something that captivates.

But can Photography be art?

So much for definitions, art, I think, defies a simple definition, it is elusive. So lets try to apply it to photography, can it be an art? This has been argued since the first days of photography, and is especially relevant today with the arrival of the digital age. But does owning a camera make you a photographer? Does owning a paint brush make you a painter? Am I just being pedantic? I don’t think so, this is the type of thing I have heard, “I know where that spot is, I’ll go and take it for myself… why should I buy one of yours?” So how do I respond to that? Well, OK, Good luck. I certainly didn’t make the scene I photographed, so I have no rights over the location.

So what exactly is it I am I selling when I sell a Photograph?   Certainly not the piece of paper the image is printed on, not even the hourly rate for my time to take the image in the first place, I’m selling the emotion and the feelings that image evokes in you when you look into it.

I think the art of photography, specifically landscape (though I think this can be generally applied), is to stand in a place, breath in the ambience, the feel, the beauty, the whole essence and distil that into one image that conveys the feeling of being there.

Because after all, the beauty of being in a forest is not just the colour of the leaves. It’s all around you, the height of the trees, their majesty and sheer grandeur, the earth under your feet, the wind in the leaves. The sounds the smells, the whole feeling. That can be applied to all types of landscape images, the feeling you get from being there is not just coming in through your eyes, it’s a whole body and soul experience.

Boranup forest in the South west of Western Australia

Feeling the wind in the leaves

Thats Not it at all…

Have you ever got your photos back from one of those amazing places you’ve been to, and thought… “Oh, that’s not it at all…” How many times have you heard… “It was much more amazing than the photos look…”

I often get asked, “what do you think I did wrong here?” Well the answer in a nutshell is, the camera was pointed the wrong way. The camera doesn’t feel what you feel, it cant, it’s an inanimate tool, a highly sophisticated hammer, you have to direct it to hammer in the nails.

When I am in one of these amazing places I will routinely stay for hours or even days, without even taking the camera out of the bag, not looking for angles, just getting to know the place, how it feels, its moods, how it makes me feel. What is it about this place that makes it special? Rarely is there a simple straight forward answer to that question, rarely is it right in front of me. Though you may get the feeling from where you are standing, that doesn’t mean the shot from that spot will transmit the feeling.

Sometimes it’s only a matter of a metre or two to one side or the other, or a little higher or lower. Sometimes it’s shooting in the opposite direction. It’s all about creating the window that allows you to see into the whole space and the feeling that space gave you. Even more important, it’s about transmitting that feeling to somebody who has never been there

So, I would consider that photography can be art, just like painting can be art. But, just like painting, it is not necessarily so. Owning a camera doesn’t make one an artist any more than owning a paintbrush does. Am I an artist, is what I do art? That’s up to you to decide…

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