Is Photography an Art?

5 mins read
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Photography can be an art form, but not all photographs are created to be artworks or as forms of artistic expression. It took time for photography to be truly recognized as a valid art form. However, in the present day, many art museums and art galleries now exhibit photographic artworks. 

Photographers like Ansel Adams, Herve Lewis, Dorothea Lang, Man Ray, Jonas Leriche, Irving Penn, and many others are renowned and recognized artists. 

unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it. No painting or drawing, however naturalist, belongs to its subject in the way that a photograph does


What is art?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines art as: “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” The dictionary also defines a work of art as something that is “produced as an artistic effort or for decorative purposes.”

Is There Artistic Value in Photography?

For myself, I certainly struggle to compare my work to that of a painter or sculptor. I can’t draw for toffee and I certainly don’t have the skills that they have.

It’s also hard for people to see an artistic value in photography when it’s possible to make nearly identical copies of the same image. A photograph can never be a one-off like a painting (unless of course you print one copy and then delete all traces of its existence!). And of course, since digital photography became the norm, there’s a certain belief that anyone can take a photograph. Entry-level DSLRs are remarkably cheap and the camera companies that push them are partially responsible for supporting this view. Owning an expensive camera can seem like more of a lifestyle choice than anything else these days!

And you don’t even need a camera to take a photograph these days. Most mobile phones come with a camera and a million and one ways to instantly upload and share your work with anyone you choose. The magic of a photograph is somewhat lost when it’s posted on Twitter or Facebook five seconds after it was taken.

It’s undoubtedly hard to justify this instant medium as ‘art’ in the true sense of the word.

Art Influencing Photography

But yet, despite all this, I do believe that some photography can be viewed as art. What a lot of people don’t realize is that many of us pros see art as a huge influence in our work.

If you take a close look at landscape and portrait images, you’ll often see the influence of paintings. I often mimic the setup of groups of people in paintings in my own portraiture, along with the interesting expressions and moods that said painters have captured. So, before many of us have even pressed the shutter, the influence of art is apparent in our work.

Technical & Artistic Skills

The sort of photography I view as art is the kind of work that has clearly had thought put into it, and in which both technical and artistic skills is evident. The most stunning portrait and landscape shots have clearly not just been ‘snapped’ with a camera phone.

Photographs where time has been taken to get the correct lighting, whereby possibly hours have been spent getting the set up right, a relationship with the subject has been established and is evident in the final result – these images are art.

There is a skill involved in taking images that speak to the viewer and provoke a reaction in them that’s no different to the reactions evoked by art.

So yes, I do believe that in the right circumstances’ photography is an art form. And it’s an art form that takes skill, artistic ability and an understanding of technology. It deserves its place on the artistic forum.

Enri Mato is an urban architect and photographer born in 1986 into a family of artists. His father was a sculptor and his mother was a restorer, who worked at the Louvre Museum in Paris. He grew up in Tirana, where he discovered his interest in photography and art at an early age.