Photography has gained increased momentum in recent years and has been passed as a viable art form. But is it really? Too much attention is given too fast, too indiscriminately to too many camera-wielders. The advent of the digital camera doubtless has promoted the proliferation of current photography. Images are churned out endlessly by an ever-growing assortment of amateur photographers, declaring themselves as fine artists. Where studios and labs once served for the processing of photo images, technical mastery is now manifested by way of computer software and editing programs, then printed as finished products. Computerized refined photos are easily framed, categorized and carted off as original works of art, uploaded to a host of web-sites. The camera has become, well, an easy and convenient instrument in the capturing a ready-made visual image, and just as easily reaches an immediate body of lookers, both casual and serious. Software technical virtuosity can modify a representation of, but never recreates, the natural world, and the hobbyist is easily satisfied. The convenience of the camera has cultivated a new wave of visual “artists,” those who are capable enough to manipulate the camera, but lack the fortitude to create a real beginning of image-making. With camera in place, the real world sits and waits to be uplifted by the camera lens, and a flick of a switch grabs a finished world. Presto! Instamatic imagery is captured and instant credibility is assumed.
Here is where the camera has diluted and even poisoned the pool of visual artistic talent. Too many would-be or “wannabe” artists retreat into the safety of the camera, relying on the sophistication of the instrument to carry and construct compositions that these lesser minds cannot create on their own. Lacking the creative ability to construct something from nothing—which is the essence behind a painting as it evolves from raw blank canvas to a finished painted statement—the artist-photographer rests confidence in nature without the need to recreate nature in the first place. By contrast, even the realistic landscape painter, adhering to the natural world, develops a painted composition first from a blank void, the empty canvas, that which is then constructed into a new visual passage. The natural world is a reference point, reconstructed branch by branch, but is never an uplifted given. The artist-photographer, on the other hand, secures his comfort zone from the instrument, catching an already frozen reality; to embellish on this given reality may come later, but the camera has already captured the foundation for perspective, detail, color (assuming non-black and white images), and composition. The camera, as It has been accused, does too much of the work. Is it not easier, for example, to bake an apple pie with a recipe in hand than to create the recipe itself? The finished pie made from recipe is the result of an already accepted formula, but is not equal to the creation of that very formula.
Why do these yearning artists select the camera before the blank paper, paint brush, pencil, or the hammer and chisel? The process of “creating,” it seems, is neither the goal nor the capability of less adventurous minds. The photographer assumes no risks in establishing an immediate reference point; nature has already designed the stage. The painter, the sculptor, the draftsmen, may establish a new world from the influence of the natural world, but the world is re-interpreted from the get-go. Remember what the artist Maurice Denis proclaimed, “Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." By “picture” Denis was referring to paintings. The photograph, by contrast, is already an extraction from the natural world, delivered from a blueprint that is arranged by nature itself. The photographer-craftsman later copies and absorbs what nature has already imprinted, a degree of technical modification notwithstanding.
The photographer is a craftsman, best suited to remain a proponent for traditional documentary imagery, as was his original function. Skills in manipulating the complexities of the camera doubtless allow the photographer to formulate an acceptable image. Too often the result is a mere dabbling in delightful and unassuming visual recordings of the natural world. Are we not belly-filled with the countless, ceaseless clever photos of tulips, dancing pets, babbling brooks, and serene mountain views, all of which are devoid of challenge and controversy, scarcely eliciting a thought-process beyond the immediate surface? Maybe this is the limited expectation that middle-ground photographers really covet. Maybe their comfort zone, shallow by comparison, has earned its keep. The painter, however, makes his own world, impelled by personal vision, emotion, and intellect, a controlling of the elements that is governed only by the natural properties of the paints, brushes and canvas. This is the fine artist. Both artist and photographer have valid roles. They are separate, but not equal. In the end, the fine artist’s inventive domain cannot be cheapened by an accepted intrusion of photography into his mix.