Are Photographers Artists?

Sure, they may very well be. A good photographer might even be a better artist than a skilled photo-realist painter. That may sound shocking but it’s absolutely true.

Let’s imagine the following experiment.

On location, present a landscape scene to a fine art photographer and a photo-realist painter and ask each of them to produce their best work of art.

The photo-realist, knowing that his method will take some time, will snap a few photos and head out to his studio to commence painting. He is a master at what he does and all he needs is a good photos that he will duplicate faithfully.

Now, for the photographer. This particular fine art photographer is exceptionally skilled at what he does, as well. He is an artist. He’s really intent on producing a work of art, a snapshot will simply not do.

He starts by assessing the view. He will view it from ground level. He’ll climb a tree and get a higher perspective. He’ll consider the best time of day and may even watch the seasons through an entire year before he decides the best time to shoot. Why? Because he’s an artist.
He also carefully selects the film he’ll use, the f-stop and filters. The shot will be very carefully cropped for the best composition. In the lab (or digital photo editor) he’ll painstakingly perfect the image, darkening some portions and altering others until he gets the exact image he’s after.

When finished, the two works are displayed side by side.

Your first thought is that there is no way the photographer can come close to measuring up against the artistic skill of a photo-realist. Maybe not. After all, he just snapped a picture, right? And the painter spent countless hours at the easel to complete his work. How could the photographer ever be considered the better “artist”?

But remember, the photo-realist, as I described him, is not much of an artist; just a highly skilled craftsman and there is indeed a difference.

As expected the photo-realist’s work is flawless. You may be awestruck at the amazing skill of the photo-realist painter, but all he did was to paint an exact copy of the photo. He may have done a bang-up job as a master craftsman, but he didn’t function as a true artist! Everything he did was mechanical, not much different than a photo printer.

The photographer, on the other hand, made every effort to use his tools and skills to produce a work of art. His goal was the creation of of art. He functioned as an artist.

If you don’t agree, imagine this: Show the two works to several people without telling them that one is actually a painting. They will see the photo-realist’s work, which will be a faithful copy of a snapshot, as much less impressive than the photographer’s well-orchestrated, beautifully-crafted photograph.

The fine art photographer, if he indeed is a true artist, will outshine the perfectly-skilled photo-realist every time. The only thing that can change that is if the photo-realist is also a good artist. If so, he too will very carefully orchestrate a convincing and effective work of art rather than to just paint what he sees.

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