Photography as a Fine Art


I have discussed this topic before, but after a conversation I had about an upcoming photography exhibition in Kamloops with one of the judges and, of course, the heated debate now raging about that $6.5M photo of a canyon, I thought I would revisit it.

Wikipedia’s on-line encyclopedia says, “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally re-presenting objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services”.

Photography as art has changed since its beginnings in the mid 1800s, and, in my opinion, with the increased interest in photography because of the ease of making photographs since digital technology became the mainstay, photography as an art interests more and more people.

That art may be nothing more than a screensaver on one’s computer display. Some photographers go further and it is not unusual to see a personal photograph, or one of a friend, framed and hanging on the walls in someone’s home.

I have been interested in photography as an artistic medium for a very long time and have attended many exhibitions of artistic world-renowned photographers. And I think Wikipedia’s definition is worth noting because it separates what it declares as fine art photography from photojournalism and commercial photography, classifications that could divide those photographers in new ways for me.

By the middle of the nineteenth century photographers felt their art should be held in the same exalted status that painters claimed for theirs. Their contention was that it’s the photographer, not the camera that makes the picture. The goal was, and still may be, to convince not only the art community, but also those interested in creative arts that photography is art. Then, as now, the discussion was about whether the different aspects of photography, commercial, photojournalistic, or those created only as personal creative vision should be considered art.

The question photographers can ask is, whether the photograph’s goal is as “visual support”, to “sell a product”, as a “documentary”, or as a creative vision?

I have come to think that definitions like those of Wikipedia’s have changed. Maybe it is the way modern viewers see and use photography. That quickly-snapped portrait of a favorite pet displayed in the owner’s home probably needs an explanation to go along with it, but is cherished enough to be included with the rest of the owner’s art even though art scholars would disagree.

Remember, photographers are still contending with those critics that hold that only painting and sculpture are art and that photography is but a technology. For me the lines have become blurred, and I see photography as an artistic medium equal to others, although I am not altogether secure in categorizing any photographer’s work.

Debates like those in The Guardian newspaper, are fun, but in the end forget that the camera is just a tool, absolutely a high technology tool for sure, but a tool just the same, that helps any person to be creative and photographers only need to decide on their own particular style, and what, as Wikipedia states, is “created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist”. What that vision is should be entirely up to the photographer and the audience for whom the image is produced.


I always look forward to readers comments. Thanks, John

My website is at





4 responses to “Photography as a Fine Art

  1. Some very interesting thoughts in this post, John. The four goals made me think. I am continually inspired and perplexed by reactions to images (I am not talking about my own..) found in the online world. What gains traction, what people think is amazing and finally what sells. The sheer magnitude of pixels out there is astounding – accessible to many and blurring the lines of artistry.


  2. The problem with those definitions is that they assume multiple things aren’t happening at once. We’re working on a series about the Art of Street Photography, and the history laid out thus far shows that at the start, artists attempted both to document the world and apply artistic principles. Photography was art even before they figured out how to make images from camera obscuras permanent.


  3. Society has a problem with art in general. They value it and trivialize at the same time. Part of the issue is how people confuse skill, effort, and speed . There is also an issue of quantity – how many copies and what is the original. Anything that can be considered mass produced, such as prints is considered less valuable as art. If it appears that the work can be done quickly then it is assumed it requires less skill or effort.

    A skillful artist quickly does a portrait in pen & ink or charcoal it is much admired. A skillful photographer does a portrait and it is less valued. People tend to equate a snapshot with a photograph . Same technology/medium but a difference in intent , skill and execution.


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