Fine art photography differs from other photographic subsets. Its main distinction lies in its purpose. While fine art photography and other forms of the craft such as photojournalism or fashion photography may overlap, its sole intent is to express the creative vision of the artist and elicit an emotional or contemplative response from its viewer.
The field of fine art photography has changed radically over the past century as ideas surrounding the usefulness of photography have evolved. Before the twentieth century, photography was seen as a method to capture an image, no more, no less. It wasn’t until groups such as the Linked Ring from Britain formed and began to advocate the photographer as artist that perception began to change. The American counterpart, Photo-Secession, was a movement led by Alfred Stieglitz and F. Holland Day which proposed that what was important about a photo was not what was in front of the camera, but the intent of the artist behind the camera and his or her own subjective vision. A shift in how photos are perceived began to take shape.
For the first half of the twentieth century, landscapes, nudes, and portraits dominated the field of fine art photography. Artists would take many photos, hoping to discover the right angle or lighting that conveyed the intended sentiment. They would hang around for hours or days attempting to capture the perfect moment on film. Artist and environmentalist, Ansel Adams, is one such photographer. Known for his crisp and stark landscape photography, Adams became a proponent of pure or straight photography, which aimed to make the craft as realistic and objective as possible, renouncing manipulation.
It wasn’t until the 60’s and 70’s that snapshot aesthetic, a term used in fine art photography to describe the trend of capturing every day, seemingly banal moments on film, began to emerge. Artists like Garry Winogrand and Nan Goldin became famous for their use of this technique, producing casual, snap-shot type photos of strikingly ordinary circumstances. This trend continued to become championed by the fashion industry as well, blurring the boundaries between art and function.
Current trends in fine art photography, no surprise, have been influenced widely be the use of digital technology, in pre and post processing. Digital stacking and multiple exposures are two common digital alterations, as well as color and grain manipulation. Lighting remains one of the most integral facets of fine art photography. In recent years there has been a movement to construct the perfect photo, with careful staging and lighting, rather than hoping to discover it. Artist Jeff Wall continuously experiments with lighting, contrasting bright and dim, popping his subjects with glow or hiding them in the haze. Experiments in full spectrum photography are popular as well, using light across the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared spectrum.
The line between fine art photography and other genres is often blurred. Award-winning photojournalists and fashion photographers are producing amazing works of art while reporting the story or selling the brand. What differentiates fine arts photography from the other forms is the intent of the artist to fulfill his own creative vision and share that with the world.
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