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How Can We, as Photographers, Call Ourselves “Fine Artists?”

How many times have you wondered if your photographic work is acceptable as fine art? Certainly there are skeptics out there, particularly amongst the painters and sculptors, who think the photographic process we use is just “too easy” to be taken seriously. Seriously…at any given time we can scoot to art galleries and world-renowned museums featuring vintage and contemporary photography exhibitions in our nearby art Mecca, NYC. It was Elton John who transformed his art collecting from paintings to photographs…and he never looked back. His private collection was recently on view at Tate Modern in London and included works by such seminal figures as Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, Andre Kertesz, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti and Aleksandr Rodchenko along with about 65 others.

…But are we also fine artists? On April 9, we brought that conundrum to our discussion at the Little Gallery meeting. It took almost 30 minutes just to nail down the definition of “fine art,” not a bad prerequisite for the ultimate question of whether our photographs are worthy of the label “fine art.”

LICP members pointed out a number of reference points. As some of us have worked in the advertising and design trades or in commercial photography, it was asserted that a commercial artist or photographer has an obligation, first and foremost, to the client. On a complex, high end level that may also involve satisfying the needs and demands of the account executive, creative director, etc., possibly in conjunction with a design team. One is applying his/her talent toward an end determined by outside parties. On the other hand, a “fine artist,” in the purest sense, is beholden only to one’s own need for expression, without intervention. Of course this is a hypothetical description. Even in the “business” of fine art, an artist is forced to take a gallery’s particular needs, based upon positioning and clientele profiles, into consideration. In that sense, he/she is obligated to supply a volume of work in a manner consistent with what has already been shown to be successful. Drastic departures as a result of experimental work would have to be done on the side in spare time.

References were made to heralded commercial photographers, such as Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz, all of whose commercial work could also be considered “fine art” due to its originality in approach.

So the lines of demarcation between fine art and commercial art can definitely become blurred when it involves exceptional individuals who have a fine art sensibility underlying their assigned jobs.

At the Long Island Center of Photography “Little Gallery” sessions, named after Alfred Stieglitz’s initiative to put photography on the art map, we take pride in the fact that we shoot for ourselves…and, although we share our responses to each other’s work, the ultimate creative decisions are completely for our own purposes.

This month, we take the discussion to the next step as we ask ourselves “how does an artist find his/her voice.”

Marc Josloff

This month’s discovery of interest”: via Joseph Neumayer… http://www.popphoto.com/rebirth-tintype-an-old-photographic-medium-is-revitalized