Even with the recent development of digital photography, scientists, professional photographers and instructors still answer the question, what is photography, as “drawing with light,” or “painting with light.” “Photography” is actually the combination of two ancient Greeks words: “photo,” which is light, and “graph,” which is drawing.
Despite this age-old definition, photography was not initially considered an art form, especially during its modern development of the 19th century. Painters and illustrators thought of photography as purely a mechanical operation. To them, the manual skills required were simplistic compared to the years it took to learn how to manipulate a brush and other painting tools. Plus, any hand/eye coordination was minimal, while paintings were essentially created because of the working relationship between the eye and hand of the artist. Because photographers were recording an existing subject or scene as a passive observer, it wasn’t necessary to manipulate the scene or direct the subject to “create” a completely new version, or interpretation, of reality.
No doubt, 19th century painters and illustrators felt threatened by photography, even though they didn’t admit it. Despite their artistic credentials, they were closed-minded to what is photography and what it could become. As the historical record shows, they had nothing to fear, as the media of painting and drawing still retain important positions in the modern art movement and for commercial purposes.
Initially, these painters and illustrators didn’t understand that a camera was no different than a brush or pencil: a tool or equipment that had no creative function until it was in the hands of a person with the right skills. The photographer’s eye and mind were similar to a painter’s, except the tools and medium were different. There is a primary difference, however, that further defines what is photography. Both the painter and photographer create with the process of selection. A painter, however, has the option of excluding elements that may be present in reality, while a photographer must include all elements within the framing of the camera. Of course, editing of digital photographs has made it possible to exclude elements, but not yet within the camera.
Although the painter and photographer both have the latitude to select the distance from the scene or subject and the angle of view, the painter doesn’t necessarily have to remain in a specific place or position to create a painting. He or she can return to the studio and paint, according to his or her vision of the scene/subject and light, or be completely interpretative and only use the reality he or she saw as a catalyst for creativity. In contrast, the photographer must work within the limits of time. The right image may not become apparent for hours or is only available for a moment. The photographer trips the shutter now, this very instant, or will never have the opportunity to capture his or her vision again.
If “art” is the answer to the question, what is photography, then it’s because the photographer has an array of creative tools, in addition to the camera, that are similar to the various size brushes of the painter or pencils of the illustrator. He or she uses these tools and their skills to manipulate perspective, freeze or show motion, select lighting effects and angles and alter tonal values in colors. The photographer has the same control over these elements with the use of lenses of different focal lengths (creating with perspective and depth of field); faster or slower shutter speeds to freeze action or to blur it to imply motion; flashes and other lighting equipment to select the direction and intensity of light; and filters to modify color and contrast. Add the tools of post-production and the best photographers make it quite clear that photography is an art form the equal of any others.
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Photo By: Val De Visser's