From the moment Photography was invented in 1839 to the middle of the last century, raged a heated debate on whether it is a form of art, or simply a way of using an optical-mechanical contraption to document reality. The answer may seem obvious to those working within the photographic medium, but there is some dissent, even within the artistic community. To further understand this let us first understand the meaning of art. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, art is defined as the conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects.
So is photography art? Based on the above definition, it seems very clear that photography is considered a visual art. The umbrella of Art is far-reaching and can encompass any skillful creative endeavor. Photography is a language, which uses visual elements in lieu of words, therefore, just as any language, it can be used for artistic purposes. Just like English, which is perfectly appropriate for writing a rental contract with a landlord and equally good for creating the most beautiful poetry, photography serves its dual purpose without any contradiction. Is photography art? Another time-tested argument against an affirmative answer has to do with replication. This argument posits that since photographs can be replicated infinitely, their artistic value is inherently lower than a traditional work of art, such as a painting, that was made by hand and exists as a one-of-a-kind piece.
What distinguishes a true artist is his or her having something important to say and striving to deliver this message to the world. It is the human ability to interpret any piece of information in a variety of ways that gives an artist the freedom from being literal. Good photographers do it exceptionally well. Their work is always open for interpretation, it asks questions rather than gives answers.
As with any visual art form, photography exploits vulnerabilities of human visual perception and can make us experience emotions that move us and compel us to do things that we otherwise would not even think of.
How can photography influence people so profoundly?
Unlike a painting, photography requires a real physical object to be there to take a picture of it. This very fact is the reason we perceive any photo as something more real than any other type of visual representation of reality. This is something that is truly unique to photography, and it took some time for artists who chose photography as their means of creative expression to understand.
Pictorialists who were the first group of photographers positioning themselves as fine artists, for the most part, were trained painters. Those who were not still were greatly influenced by the traditions and techniques of painting. Hence they did not understand the photography's unique property and merely saw their work as photographic paintings. The pictorial movement emerged during the early years of photography and became especially active in the last quarter of the 19th Century when photographers were still confined to working with stationary objects and people. At a certain point, it was brought to the realization that most famous photographs of the past were more or less spontaneous. It is spontaneity that helps a photographer create an illusion of ease and effortlessness. It is the spontaneity that makes photography similar to Jazz music.
One can argue that photography represents reality and cannot exist without it, on the other, it can distort or misinterpret reality. It is one of the many reasons why surrealists embraced photography so eagerly. One of the most notable differences between painting and photography is the fact that the photographic technique is transparent. To explain this in simple terms, it means that the technical skills of a painter are considered an indispensable part of his/her talent, whereas photography is not considered so. At present, advancements in photography have made it possible for anyone to take a photo and even accidentally create a masterpiece. It is the transparency of photographic techniques that makes photographers look for things that define photography as an art. It is the very reason artists who use photography as their means of creative expression see the world differently, give us a fresh and unusual view of reality, and find ways to play with our emotions making us feel and sometimes even see things that are not even there.
In conclusion, we can understand that Photography is indeed an art form and is one that requires skill, artistic ability, and an understanding of technology. It is a beautiful form of art that deserves a place in the artistic forums.