Photography, these days is considered an art. It is also the art of creating long-lasting images using light. But it was well after practical photography first burst on to the scene in the 1830s, that it came to be thought of as an art form. It’s almost 200 years since the first crude images (or photograms) were developed. For the first 100 or so years, photography was seen as more of a craft and photographers were thought of as technicians rather than artists.
Photography’s Early Days
Before photography, any realistic depiction of a person or place required highly-skilled artists. Photography as an invention was revolutionary, and the first popular adoption of this new craft was for portraiture work.
New innovations improved equipment, reduced exposure time and improved image quality. Suddenly, not only the affluent could have their portrait taken. The new technology was much more affordable (and much less time consuming) than having your portrait painted – something reserved for the aristocracy of the time.
Besides portraiture, photography was also used to document events, heralding the birth of photo-journalism and was not seen as a form of artistic expression, but rather a record of current events.
The Birth of Photography as an Art Form.
Although there were many photographers who helped pave the way to the recognition of photography as a legitimate art form, there are three innovators who stand out from the crowd and whose work forever changed the perception of photography, bringing it firmly into the realms of fine art.
Pioneers of Photography as Art
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) was an American photographer, art promoter, gallery owner and husband of the painter, Georgia O-Keefe. He was one of the key players in getting photography accepted as an art form, exhibiting his photographs alongside paintings and sculptures in his New York galleries. His connection to many avant-garde European artists and similar movements there wanting to establish photography’s ability to stand on its own as art helped his cause tremendously.
Similarly, British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was well-known for her portraiture. She saw photography as both an art and a science and was known (and ridiculed) for her use of soft focus. Instead, she found more acceptance among pre-Raphaelite artists than among photographers of her era. However, she had a significant influence on later contemporary photographers being ahead of her time.
Ansel Adams was another main player in the development of fine art photography. He is well known for his stunning photos of the natural world and the vastness of the American West which broke new ground and set new standards for landscape photography. He also developed a new way of controlling exposure and contrast, so that his photos had depth and clarity that hadn’t been seen before.
These and other pioneers, brought photography into the world of art galleries and museums, revealing its unique form and true prospects.
By the early 1940s, it was official. Photography was an art form in the United States, followed closely by Europe and beyond. The public was more accepting of the concept of fine art photography, where the images are less representational and in accordance with the vision of the artist as, using photography as a medium to bring something to life that only lives in the artist’s mind. The lens is simply another tool, like the paintbrush, that captures the feelings and vision of the artist.
These days elements of fine art photography have made their way into photojournalism, commercial and fashion photography, where the images are representational but captured in such a way that they are considered to be art.
Fine Art Photography in the Digital Age
Further developments in technology and the rise of the digital age had an evolutionary effect on photography as an art and fine art photography. Digital manipulation of images allows the artists to fully express they see and feel.
Most likely, the new tools of the post-digital age, like AI, will empower artists with even more tools to create works of art that evoke, provoke and inspire!
Arts4Special collaborates with a number of talented photographers. Here are a few of their selected photographs.
His surreal mixed media work gives his photographs a certain depth making you curious to learn more.
Stunning seascapes, cityscapes and photos of the natural world seen through his eyes.
His stunning Smoke series evokes a certain calm.
📷Shepherd of Stanford by Herman van Bonn
You can find more of their work on our website.