Why is Photography an Art Form? Part I

Hello everyone and welcome to my first post on Medium. I have been writing a blog for a few years on my own portfolio website on photography but I thought it could be great to also share some of my essays here. I would like to start with my understanding of photography as an art form, something I consider extremely important. Because, even though most people still today only consider art whatever made by painting or sculpting, I am here to say and argue that photography is an art form as valid as the classical artistic expressions depicted using the mentioned methods. Even more, I will defend that also digital photography is art. Why? Because it is time we move forward in the art world instead of being stuck in the XIX Century.

Homage to René Magritte. Photograph included in my photo series Homeland shot in Córdoba, Spain (2019)

Photography in the sense we know today was invented in 1822 when Frenchman Nicéphore Niépce produced a long exposure of a landscape on a lasting plate. Throughout the XIX Century, the technology involving photography continued to evolve and grow, used to replace portraits made on canvas, becoming more available for the public who could afford to hire an early photographer.

It was a revolution in the art world, a machine capable of depicting reality so accurately that could make classic artists irrelevant. But art is always on the move. Artists took this as a chance to free themselves from the constraints of reality, exploring their inner worlds and subjectivity, their spirits and experiences, moving unknowingly towards the deconstruction of figurative art in favor of abstraction. A move that would continue well into the XX Century.

While this deconstructive process was underway for the classical arts, photography continued its evolution from those big, heavy, uncomfortable, extremely long exposure machines towards smaller versions capable of producing images in a more efficient manner using the revolutionary invention of film at the end of the XIX Century, removing the need of carrying photographic plates. That revolution came hand in hand with the first lightweight camera produced by Kodak, which meant a new way of photographing emerged.

By the 1930s, with manufacturers such as Kodak and Leica, small 35mm easy-to-use cameras were more available for people, allowing for spontaneous photographs to be shoot, depicting reality in a quick click, like those images from the New York subway shot by Walker Evans or the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson. With this technology, photographers were able to compete against artists in the depiction of the real world, unadulterated and capable of reaching further to the general public, especially relevant during World War II and the advent of photojournalism.

So why is photography an art form? Maybe it’s better to start with another question, one that has been and will be debated for all eternity: what is art? If we don’t know or don’t have a clear opinion on that question, we can’t really answer the second. Maybe for you, art is only painting, something that requires a high level of skill and extreme detail, something that the average human being can’t do, like a Rembrandt painting for example. And that’s why you don’t think a Picasso, with its Cubist style, is art. How can it be art if it’s only non-sensical shapes?

I find this is generally the opinion held by many common people. People who have no training or deep knowledge in the arts. Because the recognition of an aesthetic experience derived from an artwork has to be taught. And that’s where I wanted to arrive. Aesthetics. The key to answering the most important question, coming next week in part II.

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