Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fine Art Photography and the Outdoor Art Exhibit

As the art show outdoor season gears up, I am deciding whether or not I want to sit it out. I've done local shows for the past two years and honestly have not had much success with them. Photography is a funny kind of art. Many people think that they can just pick up a camera and take their own "fine art" pictures because with a click of the camera anyone can have an image of some sort. They wonder why they should pay for someone else's images. "Why should I pay Melissa for a picture of a pansy when I can just go out and photograph the one in my garden?" In other words, many people see painting as a fine art, but don't see photography as such.

The favored "fine art" photographs in my area are images of the country lifestyle - wagons on a hill, barns, fences running through lupine meadows, ducks in a pond. If the location of the spot is identifiable, It makes the image all the more marketable. But do people consider these fine art? (Probably some and not all are deemed fine art by the purchaser. Other people I suspect buy these images because they give them prideful feelings about New England or evoke memories a a specific time in their lives unrelated to the artistic merit of the image itself.) These are not my kind of photos. I don't feel the warm fuzzies looking at rolling hills that lead to a horse in a pasture. I don't feel some sense of nostalgia looking at a picture of the statue of a mill girl with the local Manchester mill yard in the background. I feel as if I've seen them all before. But this is my bias, I suppose. With the risk of offending a few of my fellow photographers, these are the kinds of images that I picture on a postcard, not hanging on the wall of my home. Or, maybe I feel this way just because I know landscape photography is not one of my forte's?

What should a fine art photograph be? Most of the photos that grab me are not the ones I would hang on the walls of my home. I like provocative newsworthy photos. Dorothea Lange is a personal favorite. Her Depression era photographs of people with intense blank stares and hard lined faces capture me. The many textures captured in black and white are nothing short of beautiful fine art. The work of Alfred Stieglitz also captivates me. His great use of line and his ability to make an every day subject something to think about is poetic. Imogen Cunningham is my other favorite historical photographer. I relate best to her probably because she spent so many years in the domestic sphere, fighting to keep her art alive by taking photos of her surroundings. (She also has the fine distinction of producing art that I would hang on my walls.) No one can capture a flower or figure more sensually than she did, yet her news work was just as thought provoking as the rest of her colleagues when she was able to get out there and do it.

In my mind, a fine art photograph should have outstanding composition and should be thought provoking. If you look at my florals and have nothing to say about them, they are not for you. If you look at them and begin to discuss their vibrant color and composition then I've done my job. Better yet if you look at them and say, "I've never known that flower could be so beautiful," or "I've never noticed the detail on those tiny petals," I have made you think about nature. I have chosen the subject of florals because I have a lot to say about it. I just happen to be lucky that it looks good as a decorative object on a wall too.

An artist doesn't want you to take the world around you for granted. She wants you to see things you might not notice if she hasn't communicated it to you through a picture. The camera is just a tool to present a vision, just as a paintbrush is a tool. If you have something to say with a camera, go ahead and do it. There are a lot of talent artists out there with vision and I hope that you are one of them. But, if I do decide to do an art show this year, please don't tell me you could take a picture like mine if you haven't even tried.

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