This month we are featuring photographers who have Fine Art either as their primary focus or as an additional income stream for their photography business. These days, many people are looking for added income, so licensing images either as fine art or as stock can potentially bring you in some extra money. But what makes an image “fine art” – who’s to say?
Historically Fine Art photography began with Pictorialism where photographers attempted to imitate painting styles. In America however, photographers such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, reacted and rebelled against that notion and formed Group f/64 who advocated more “straight” photography that did not simply imitate something else. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that both fine art and documentary photography became accepted by the art and gallery worlds.
Interestingly, some years ago I took a photography course at FIT and part of the syllabus required that we write a paper on a particular photographer (which we selected from a hat.) I was assigned Robert Mapplethorpe and as I read, researched and I wrote, I found not only his story to be extremely engaging, but also the evolvement of photography into becoming a valued item. It was Robert Mapplethorpe who persuaded his lover and renowned art curator, Sam Wagstaff to start collecting photography, and as a very influential man amongst the rich and elite both he and Mapplethorpe began a revolutionary trend when previously photography had not exactly been considered “fine” let alone as “collectable” art.
Wikipedia tells us that “fine art photography” refers to photographs that are created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist. But then, in a way, aren’t all photographs? Apparently not, according to them, and I quote, “Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism and commercial photography. Photojournalism provides visual support for stories, mainly in the print media. Commercial photography’s main focus is to sell a product or service.” Well yes, photojournalists certainly do “document” events and record our history, but it is their creativity and sensitivity to their subject that allows only them to capture those particular and evocative moments.
And yes, commercial photography is generally used to “sell’ something but we have seen for a while now an increase in “photo documentary” images being used for “commercial advertising” purposes. I recall for example, after Hurricane Katrina there were several documentary photographers who were awarded commercial campaigns based on their gritty, photojournalistic work. And look how “documentary-style” wedding photography has completely revolutionized that whole sector of our industry!
So we see the lines have become more blurred than ever. It is perfectly possible for “commercial” photographers to cross over into the “fine art” world, by publishing books, selling prints and participating in gallery shows. You don’t have to be only one type of photographer – you can have your finger in more than one pie, providing your message is clear. One of my clients decided to detach his “fine art” work from his more commercial “stock photography” and created two separate entities with two different websites. Others of you may choose to have licensing and fine art print information available on your commercial sites. No matter what you photograph or where your images end up – in a magazine, a gallery, a book, a billboard, remember it is all “fine” based on your acquired technique and it is all “art” based on your inherent creativity.