(re)defining Fine Art photography

October 19, 2017

It is quite common these days to see terms being misused and photography genres suffering from "mutation" due to devious marketing. One specific genre that seems to meet these attributes is "'fine art photography" or as some fellow photographers call it "artistic photography". In order to define what is fine art photography, we first need to define what it isn't. Well, for starters, when you see classic landscape shots, portraiture, photojournalism or street photos under this tag, rest assured someone is being confused on photo terminology. Making a connection between e.g. classic landscape photography (either colored or b&w/monochrome) and fine art photography is a tricky thing to do. The same goes for plain street photography or the usually enticing portraits.

 

I've frequently argued on this matter and from time to time I've noted down the true aspect and structure of fine art photography. To me, it's a way to fully implement and visually express a need, a message, a thought or an emotion by altering the actual frame while or after taking a photo. So, such photos are created according to the personal vision of the photographer. It has nothing to do with representational photography or photos of themes recorded "as is". Fine Art photography turns objective reality to subjective aspects of reality. By entering this realm you've made the decision to work, see and communicate your photography under a very personalized prism of interpretation.

Truth be told, putting such a term next to your copyright text usually adds prestige and draws attention to your photo. However many photos out there have failed to make a successful connection to Fine Art photography. Not only the subject must sometimes be captured in a unconventional way but you also need to have consistency in the way you perceive and produce such photos. In a way, there isn't a need to capture the actual You in a photo but to capture an aberration of You in it. To make this possible, the photographer may need to have special lenses or follow unusual capturing procedures, to use specific editing tools and also adopt a personal vision in photography. All this makes clear that Fine Art photography has almost nothing to do with representative and unaltered photos. However, adding non existent elements in post processing still is a highly debated matter (and if you ask me, this is not what Fine Art photography is about).

One other important issue is the way some Fine Art photographs are perceived by other photographers. Under the general consensus that rules are made to be broken, I find that the negative comments on some Fine Art photos are completely wrong. Many photos are criticized by following (or not) common photography rules such as the rule of thirds, properly focused, leveled horizon, lack of noise (grain), front subject, correct exposure, the golden ratio etc. So what often happens is that many Fine Art photos are judged as visually bad or technically wrong when they don't meet such criteria. The fact is that in the realm of Fine Art photography, there are no good or bad photos and surely no so-so ones. There are only photos that we've managed to feel and understand and those that we didn't manage to do so. It's a love-hate situation...

Every photo that belongs to this genre represents a part of the photographer's soul and his approach to photography. It's his inner self in every such photo that we see, a personified aberration of the representative frame. On the contrary, a plain landscape shot for example, no matter how enhanced, will always be what all people see and can be judged in a more straightforward way. However, the same frame altered and manipulated as a Fine Art photo will only represent what was "seen" by the photographer alone. So, every time you see a photo that is blurred, underexposed, grainy, unfocused or with a sloped horizon, think again on it's meaning and quality. Fine art photographs are mostly about psychological and emotional characteristics, not always striving for technical excellence. Fine art photographs require to be felt rather than seen...

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