(Modified photograph used with Creative Commons License, see original and license)
A few days ago I read in The Guardian that the landscape photographer Peter Lik sold one of his photographs for $6.5 million. And the article declared that photography was not art and will never be art and used the recently sold photograph by Peter Lik as an example. I wrote a comment and said:
Good for Lik, but not so for photography as art. I heard from friends who visited the canyon that the guide throws a shovel of dust to make the light “visible”. Other than the added dust, I, like the author, do not see anything that was “added” by the photographer. I would much rather have a print by Minor White, Paul Caponigro, Aaron Siskind, André Kertesz, … For substantially less investment.
The point was, and still is for me that what makes creating and looking at art are mental processes, not the end result. The photographer needs to provide the mental depth in the work and it should engage the viewer with a level of intensity that was missing from Lik’s cliché photograph taken in the Antelope Canyon in Arizona. It is the photograph of a shovel of dust competently captured, that is it. However, if he found a buyer for this work for the price reported, good for him. But for unleashing an unfair assessment of photography is not so good.
Jonathan Jones in The Guardian article went on to declare that “Photography is not an art. It is a technology.” I respectfully disagree with the author. If photography as a medium is not art, painting or sculpture are not either. Photography uses technology, as do painting and sculpture. Technology is the application of knowledge to produce desired results, in industry or in art. Cave paintings did not use fancy brushes or acrylic paint but modern painters have the benefit of this application of knowledge to produce “better” paintings. All art benefits from science and technology. Look at Leonardo Da Vinci who found new ways of making better pigments, better brushes so that he could apply these “technologies” to his art to produce the works like The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa. However, neither “painting” nor “better pigments” created the art, Leonardo did with the intention of conveying his ideas at a level that engaged the viewers for centuries. One can even argue that his methods of producing better pigments were also “art” indeed which he liberally mixed with his centuries-ahead scientific mind.
Likewise, photographic technology does not produce art but the photographer does. I am sure nobody told Hemingway “oh, Mr. Hemingway, you write so well you must have a good typewriter.” But when it comes to photography many take liberties to say the equivalent of that statement for a good photograph, they may even add a compliment “it looks just like a painting!” No, photographs do not look like paintings, painting is not what photography aspires to, photography is not a lesser art form. (See earlier post 1, post 2, and post 3) They are all the same “medium that offers opportunities to create art.”
Mr. Jones, you may be right about the photograph that triggered the article; but you are decidedly wrong about photography as a form of art. That was settled a while back before the high prices were paid for a few pieces of photographic work.
Like all art, photography requires learning to appreciate it.