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The Significance of Photography as an Art

The advent of photography in the 19th century created a remarkable achievement in transforming the works of imagination and visualization of figures and objects into an astounding work of art. The images of the moon, the stars and the environment on this planet would not have been captured and formed into a precise photographic imagery without the use of photography. Remnants of history including significant events, historic buildings and structures and world-famous personalities are kept in archives with the use of photography and even when they deteriorate and rot, their photographic memories will account for their incontestable existence.

Nonetheless, photography has been criticized in terms of its adherence to the standards of art. Gratacap believes that photography is too limited to be considered as an art since the expression is confined with the lenses and the photographer has no control in most part (Sternberger, 2001). Sternbereger quoted John Moran ‘who insisted that there is an affinity between painting and photography wherein they share the same formal language of art’. This language is the form of expression that can be seen in an art (Adler and Weismann, 2000).

Moran (as quoted from Sternberger) argued that both painting and photography has ‘common ends and address the same sentiments’ which placed photography as a visual art itself. Much has been done to legitimize photography as a fine art. John Edwin Mayall’s Lord’s Prayer in 1851 is considered as the ‘earliest exponent of ‘Fine Art’ or otherwise known as ‘composition photography’ (Gernsheim, 2001). Indeed, photography can be considered as an art because it portrays the vision of the eyes focused on the beauty of its graphical rendition.

According to Smith (1851), for something to be considered as a work of art, there are basically two distinct points that should be considered. First is the idea; second is the execution. In photography the idea is found in the conception of the picture while the execution is expressed through design and color (Smith, 1851). Michael Heron assert that in the world of fine art ‘a photograph needs to embody an authentic expression of the artist’s unique vision (2007)’. Even as early as 1887, photography has already been recognized as an art although it lacked legitimacy (Peres, 2007).

Eadweard James Muybridge, under the supervision of Thomas Eakins, found ways to put the vision of the mind into still photographs in the exhibit of Animal Locomotion (Hannavy, 2008 ). It demonstrated the image coming from a naked eye compared to the image brought about by perception of the mind. Photography is the vision of the eyes with workings of the mind as secondary used only in the selection of targeted objects. Without photography, it would be difficult to describe the settings of environment in far away places.

It is an instrument to see far distant places and people who have lived in the past. It is a way to prove the existence of objects and human beings on this planet and a way to express feelings and behaviors. For example, it is difficult to prove that life exists under the water if we cannot produce solid evidence that it really exists, and this is done by photos. The first astronauts who landed in the moon presented pictures to the world to prove that they were the first ones who conquered the moon.

Mere narration of the past would be insufficient if we cannot present photographs. Smith (1851) further elaborated that ‘art attains the expression by the reproduction of the form…photography offers to the artist an exact, minute and poetic copy’. Adler and Weismann (2000) contend that there are three characteristics or qualities that are common to all fine arts (sculpture, paintings, drawings, music) ‘individuality, originality and expression’. By individuality it refers to having a distinct proper name.

Originality portrays ‘not being an exact duplication of something else’. Lastly expression is about evoking meanings to the viewer or listener’. With these qualities in mind a distinction between fine art photography and mere photography or other types of photography can be settled. Indeed, photography as an art enhances the visual capability of an individual and brings unquestionable proof of existence. Photography can be considered as an art when it is inclined to produce or evoke aesthetic expression, when it has its own individuality and it portrays an original concept.

However, not all photographs should be accounted for as an art especially in today’s digital era, since the photographer him/herself might not have a unique purpose or expression. References: Adler, M. J. and Weismann, M. (2000). How to Think about the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization. Open Court Publishing. Gernsheim, H. (1991). Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960. Courier Dover Publications. Hannavy, J. (2008). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography.

CRC Press. Heron, M. (2007). Creative Careers in Photography: Making a Living with Or Without a Camera. Allworth Communications, Inc. Smith, W. B. (1851). The Photographic Art-journal. New York Public Library. Sternberger, P. S. , (2001). The Legitimization of Photography as Art in America, 1880 – 1900. University of Mexico Press Peres, M. R. (2007). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science. Focal Press.

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