Is photography art? This question has been debated since the creation of the first camera, and is still sometimes contested to this day. The answer may seem obvious to those working within the photographic medium, but there is some dissent, even within the artistic community. We will be playing devil’s advocate and taking a look at both sides of the is photography art debate.

Photography definition in art

Defining art

Before we can answer is photography art? We need to make sure we have a rock-solid definition of “art.” Art means different things to different people, so for the purposes of total clarity, we’ll be going by the dictionary definition.

For any other unclear terms, our ultimate guide to film terminology is a great resource for looking things up.

PHOTOGRAPHY DEFINITION IN ART

What is art?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines art as: “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” The dictionary also defines a work of art as something that is “produced as an artistic effort or for decorative purposes.”

So, is photography art? Based on this definition, it seems pretty clear that photography is considered a visual art. The umbrella of art is far reaching and can encompass any skillful creative endeavor. Despite the inherent artistic value in still photography, there are still plenty of individuals who would argue that photography is not an artistic pursuit. Let’s elucidate their point of view.

Does photography count as art?

Debunking why photography is not art

Those on the opposing side in the is photography art debate rely on a few different arguments to make their case. One common stance against photography as art is that photography captures reality rather than creating a subjective reality, which is what “real art” does.

Why photography is not art stance it merely captures reality

Why photography is not art stance: it merely captures reality

Taking this into consideration, does photography count as art? If so, what type of art is photography? It is easy to debunk the stance that derides photography as an art form.

The idea that photography cannot do any more than capture a moment of real life is quite reductive to the entirety of what makes photography art. 

You needn’t look far to find examples of aesthetic photographs that push the bounds of objective reality.

A clear-cut example of photography as an artform

A clear-cut example of photography as an artform

It is easy to view the photographer as artist when taking all of the creative photography choices they make into consideration: subject, lighting techniques, camera framing, lens choice, symbolism, technical settings, post-processing, and many more decisions are what makes photography art.

What type of art is photography In this case, surrealism

What type of art is photography? In this case, surrealism

This same argument that opposes the classification of the photographer as artist because they capture reality also suggests that there is no artistic merit in capturing a moment in time that shows real life plainly. Believing this argument suggests that the work of street photographers is non-artistic.

What is photography in art The answer may be subjective

What is photography in art? The answer may be subjective

In the debate over is photography a form of art, suggesting that capturing reality is not artistic devalues the important photographic work done by the likes of war journalists, which is not a favorable stance to hold when taking historical context into account.

What is fine art photography if not candid images showcasing the horrors of war

What is fine art photography if not candid images showcasing the horrors of war

The importance of war photographers, sports photographers, and other photojournalists can not be understated.

Is photography a fine art This powerful photo from the Vietnam war says yes

Is photography a fine art? This powerful photo from the Vietnam war says yes

Let’s dig deeper into what made photography an art form initially.

Photography as an Art Form

What made photography an art form?

Is photography art or science? When the first camera was invented, the question: is photography a fine art? was certainly more open to debate. The development of photography as an art form happened quickly. The practice of photography began rooted in science and experimentation but it wasn’t long for photography to be considered a visual art.

A case could be made for science in the question: is photography art or science? But, what made photography an art form in the first place was the application of science in the creation of art. What type of art is photography? The answers are as limitless as with any other medium. Just as a painter uses paint, a brush, and a canvas, the photography uses a camera and film as their tools.

What is photography in art?

Is photography art — arguments against

Is photography art? Another time-tested argument against an affirmative answer has to do with replication. This argument posits that since photographs can be replicated infinitely, their artistic value is inherently lower than a traditional work of art, such as a painting, that was made by hand and exists as a one-of-a-kind piece.

Copies and prints can be made of a painting, but the original painting remains a singular work of art elevated above all subsequent copies.

What is fine art photography

What is fine art photography

Some detractors answer the question is photography a form of art on a conditional basis. There are people who assert that a still photograph is never art, while there are others who assert that photography is considered art under the right circumstances, but that not every photograph taken is automatically considered a work of art.

Acclaimed visual artist Roger Ballen holds a complicated view on is photography art? He believes there is an important distinction between a photographer and an artist who uses photography as their medium.

What is photography in art? Roger Ballen answers

Now that we’ve heard from those who don’t believe photography is art, at least not in all instances, let’s hear from the other point of view.

Is photography art?

The case in favor of photography as art

It is plain to see that a carefully composed, exposed, focused, and captured image has inherent artistic value. Photography, as a medium, can shade reality with new context and meaning. Messages and symbolism can be conveyed through the presentation of a still image.

The juxtaposition of visual elements can take on new value when frozen in time as a photograph. All of the near-infinite photographic variables and possibilities make it clear that photography is artistic

This TED Talk examines photography as a form of creative self-expression.

TED Talk by Flore Zoe

The manipulation of different camera types as tools, and of the visual subject as a canvas make for endless photographic potential. The first cameras in history maybe have been used more for the purposes of documentation rather than art, but it was not long before the artistic potential of the camera was first explored. Drawing, painting, and sculpting existed as art forms for thousands of years before the invention of the camera.

Whenever a new art form comes into existence, there is a hesitancy from the industry’s gatekeepers to recognize the new with the same reverence as the old.

Over time, barriers to artistic acceptance have been eroded and the pretentious protection of “traditional art” has lessened. These days, the general consensus is that photography is, in fact, an art form. For tips on taking artistic photographs, check out the video below.

How to Take Artistic Photographs

More So than with photography, a debate continues as to whether or not filmmaking is artistic. Any passionate filmmaker or cinephile will tell you, “Yes! Of course filmmaking is art!” But there are individuals who do not share that point of view. If you believe that filmmaking and photography are art forms, then we have numerous articles that can help further your understanding and appreciation of these creative mediums.

UP NEXT

Cameras for Photography and Video

Is photography considered an art form? Absolutely. The most important piece of technology when working as a photographer or a videographer is the camera. There are many different types and models of cameras on the market these days. Telling them apart and, more importantly, knowing which one to choose for your own projects can be a challenge. Our camera guide can bring you up to speed on the different types of cameras available to you.

Up Next: Types of cameras →
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  • Sam Kench is an internationally-awarded screenwriter, independent filmmaker, and film critic. Lover of foreign films; hater of American remakes.

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