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DPChallenge Forums >> Photography Discussion >> Photograhy vs. other visual arts - the distinction
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09/26/2006 11:19:14 PM · #1
I was reading an article by A.V. Pashis (it's written in Russian) the other night. It touches on the aspects of authorship of a photograph (the non-legal aspects ;) ), as well as on technical and compositional perfection. I am not sure whether an English translation of the article exists, but one paragraph from it resonated with the discussion in another forum thread, regarding the valid limits of processing of a photograph for it to still be called a photograph. I have translated the relevant paragraph from the article; please keep in mind that this is amature translation. I think that it sums up pretty well the distinction between photography as a fine art, snap-shots, and paintings (be it digital or on canvas). Here it is.

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5. A photographer-craftsman works only with real objects, in real domain, in real time. A poet, a composer, or a painter works, mostly, in semantic, symbolic domain and imaginary, made-up time. The distinctive area of a photographer-artist's expression is the thin line, where the space-time continua of the semantic and the real meet. If an author works only in the plane of the reality and the real time, he is just a fixator, not an artist. However, if he expresses himself only in the domain of semantic and symbolic - he is not a photographer. The task of a photographer-artist is to use a frozen photographic composition to make the viewer perceive an image symbolically, figuratively, when everything in the image cries out of the opposite: that the depicted subject is real.
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09/27/2006 12:23:15 AM · #2
hmm.. Interesting view. The "definition" of photography as an artistic medium has been rolling around in my head lately. On one hand, I can certainly see the important role that realism has... but on the other hand, I think of the realism part of photography as a style and that the artistic medium itself just refers to the technical process- e.g. the tools used.

I dunno, I liked the lat part, "task of a photographer-artist is to use a frozen photographic composition to make the viewer perceive an image symbolically, figuratively, when everything in the image cries out of the opposite: that the depicted subject is real."

but then contrast that with mediums like 3D art- while still working in imaginary made-up time, some of those artists really manage to accomplish a photo-realistic task.

I especially admire some of the work on this site:
Digital Blasphemy (particularly fun to look at the user gallery)

This image reminds me a lot of some of the beautiful landscape photographic work that users here do, like Structor for example.

Anyway, I certainly have more questions than answers. Not sure yet where I was going with this post, but wanted to comment and add something to this thread because although I haven't really come to my own conclusions yet, I think it's an interesting topic.

Thanks agenkin for sharing what you read:)
09/27/2006 12:43:36 PM · #3
very interesting. As someone who has painted and written poems, I would say that all artists try to create the paradox that he is describing for photographers. That is why artists restrict themselves in so many ways, and all artists have this connection to real time (to varying degrees). I painted better after learning to dance, not just because I understood my body better, but also because I became more aware of the moment of painting, and that as a painter you are not just conveying that image, but the moment as well. Thus the nineteenth century breakthrough in Europe: they wanted people to be able to see the brushstrokes, to be aware of the brush AND the stroke. In collage, the viewer does not "feel" the pressing of paper to glue, but he still feels the creative moment, the decisions to put this image next to that image. I would suggest that almost all art conveys a creative moment. Sometimes falsely! Sometimes a painter works for days to make a painting seem like it was splashed down in an instant... just as Bresson might stage a photograph. The moment is still conveyed.

The restriction to "pure" photography is a valid one, and extremely fruitful, and it is (sometimes) fruitful to the viewer to know the restriction exists(though it should never be necessary, just like you shouldn't have to know a poem is a sonnet before you enjoy it). And that is precisely where I think the distinction of "photography" is important: it should be available to the artist as a self-imposed restriction and it should be available to him as a way of self-labelling to inform/manipulate the viewer's experience. Or, as artists love to do, he can play with the label (have a show called "impure photography," for example).
09/27/2006 01:04:49 PM · #4
Originally posted by posthumous:

very interesting. As someone who has painted and written poems, I would say that all artists try to create the paradox that he is describing for photographers.

True, but this is never possible. No matter how hard you try, you are still writing/painting an imaginary subject in imaginary time. This is why photography is unique - it has well defined connections on the both sides of the edge.

This is why it is so important to *preserve* this unique feature of photography as a genre of art, or else it may be lost forever in the hands of diletants with capable cameras and software.

Message edited by author 2006-09-27 13:05:15.
09/27/2006 01:53:02 PM · #5
Originally posted by agenkin:

This is why photography is unique - it has well defined connections on the both sides of the edge.

This is why it is so important to *preserve* this unique feature of photography as a genre of art, or else it may be lost forever in the hands of diletants with capable cameras and software.


While it may be important to preserve this distinction, that doesn't mean it has to be exclusive.

R.
09/28/2006 10:18:42 AM · #6
Arcady,

I've been thinking about this issue quite a lot since you brought it up. For one thing, the irony is rich since at one time photography itself was a terrible crisis for the fine arts. Imagine, someone merely pressing a button could create a picture more accurate than the most skilled painter! To survive, visual art had to re-evaluate itself and its value. It's no accident that Impressionism began at the advent of photography. Eventually, painters realized that they were doing something more than capturing reality, something entirely different.

And now photography is threatened by fine arts! Ingres is laughing in his grave. Every art has something distinctive about it. The paragraph you posted does a good job of discussing what is distinctive about photography, although it seems to be at the expense of other visual arts.

I think the importance of maintaining a useful definition of photography lies not in telling artists what they should do, but rather in providing a mode of appreciation. In other words, the viewer understands that he is viewing something called "photography" and understands the limits of that medium. Now, it's not a matter of restricting the artist to photography, but allowing for photography to be one of his modes. The removal of the distinction does not free the artist, but removes one of his options.

This might not seem important if you are under the illusion that art is "pure," that it does not require any context, that a viewer can have a purely visual experience with a picture. But this is simply not true. The viewer has a set of expectations that are limited by his culture, his zeitgeist. The most obvious example is with literature. No matter how brilliant War and Peace is, it means nothing to you unless you understand Russian. Shakespeare is slowly being lost even to people who speak English, because the language has changed so much. Many films from the 20s are almost unbearable to watch because viewers have different expectations, different internal clocks, than they did back then.

Yes, Art strives for the Universal. Always! But it achieves the Universal by playing with the cultural expectations and mores of here and now. And, more relevant, playing with its own rules and methodology. Part of the experience of seeing the Pieta is knowing that it was chipped from stone. Similarly, part of the experience of seeing a Diane Arbus print is knowing that she stood with those girls, faced them, interacted with them in some way, found something essential about them... and knowing that those girls really did exist, the moment really did exist, and the photographer transformed it.
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