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A Photo is for Life
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Before We Begin Guide to Great Landcsape Photography
The Before We Begin Wedding Guide
The Before We Begin Guide To Street Photography
All Change

WHAT THE .....FINE ART?.


“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.” John Ruskin.

The phrase Fine Art Photography is one that is used extensively, particularly by photographers themselves whilst trying to sell their work via a website. I have never really seen myself as a Fine Art Photographer but always just as a Photographer. So maybe it’s about time that I checked to see if I am or am not one or even if I want to be one once I know what it is.

As always these days the first stop is at Wikipedia.

“Fine art or the fine arts describes an art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than practical application.”

So in other words, Fine Art has no use other than being pretty. Wikipedia goes on to say – “Fine art photography refers to photographs that are created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist. Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism and commercial photography. Photojournalism provides visual support for stories, mainly in the print media. Fine art photography is created primarily as an expression of the artist’s vision…”

It also states that the term Fine Art does not refer to the quality of the work but the purity of the discipline.



So already I’m a little confused. The above states that Photojournalism can not be seen as Fine Art and yet I have seen the work of Frank Cappa, including his Normandy beach landings, being sold as just that and Wikipedia use Alfred Stieglitz’s 1907 photograph "The Steerage" to illustrate the term Fine Art Photography when to the untrained eye it would appear to be somewhat journalistic in it’s subject and style.

If we stick to the terms of the phrase as defined by wikipedia, then a snapshot of Tower Bridge taken by an amatuer photographer but executed so as to be intended to be displayed on the wall as ‘art’ is more worthy of being called Fine Art than Cappa’s haunting images of men disembarking on the beaches of France.

”Fine art, that exists for itself alone, is art in a final state of impotence. If nobody, including the artist, acknowledges art as a means of knowing the world, then art is relegated to a kind of rumpus room of the mind and the irresponsibility of the artist and the irrelevance of art to actual living becomes part and parcel of the practice of art.” Angela Carter – English Novelist

There are also numerous examples of ‘Commercial Photography’ which display the fullfilment of the photographer’s creative vision. However it is the very fact they are intended to sell a product or service that discounts it from being Fine Art.

So there must be other definitions that tie Fine Art down as being something more solid than Wikipedia’s.

Another often used definition is that the subject of the photograph has no commercial value. The only value is the photograph itself. Therefore a portrait photograph can be Fine Art, unless the subject has a commercial value then it cannot. As an example, a photo of your Mum, could be termed as Fine Art, but a photograph of David Beckham cannot because David Beckham –even his image – has a commercial value. Of course simply defining it in these terms means than any photograph that has a value is Fine Art, whether that value be £3 or £3000.

So I haven’t really reached a definition that I’m happy with yet.

If I take this photo, for instance -


- I could argue that it is Fine Art. Framed and displayed it has no use other than it's value as a piece of photographic art. However, it has also been used as a magazine cover. In essence it was used to sell a product and therefore on that occasion could not be defined in the same way. Does that preclude it from being described as Fine Art in other forms.

Of course the way in which it is printed and framed may, in some eyes, disqualify it. The Fine Art Trade Guild have very specific ideas on the subject of Fine Art Printing and Framing. To you a Giclee Print is nothing more than an inkjet print but they would only truely recognise a few inkjet printers as being true Giclee Printers. If you have just forked out over £1000 on a wide format printer to produce your own Fine Art Prints and it uses four colours - then think again. Google 'The Blue Wool Scale' and you start to get an idea.

There are even people in the business of selling art, who would not describe photography as art in the first place, let alone fine art. The fact that it uses primarily mechanical and chemical means to produce it, make it, in their eyes, a craft rather than an art form. Many early photographers and the aforementioned Stieglitz was at the forefront, argued relentlessly to have photography considered a form of art. His Photo-Secession movement and magazine ‘Camera Work’ did more than anybody to change opinion and yet it still persists in some rarefied areas of the art world even today.

Then there is another older definition of Fine Art, not just photography, which goes along the lines of it being the pinnacle of its particular form. Therefore Fine Art should be the very best in terms of both execution and print. Fine Art photography would be not just visually stunning or grab you emotionally or that you can immediately grasp the inner feelings of the photographer but that it should also be flawless in its presentation.

The trouble is that these days it’s a phrase that is banded around on numerous websites by photographers who describe their work as Fine Art, using the words as a sales pitch above any real meaning. There are the collections of landscapes and black and white nudes in plentiful supply indeed black and white or Monochrome’s in general seem to qualify as Fine Art as a matter of course. There are those who see the use of film as being a very important part of their work falling under the Fine Art mantle and they talk of the purity and untouched nature of their work, in much the same way as Stieglitz did a hundred years before them.



In 1986 Professor Dona Schwartz undertook a comparitive study between Fine Art Photography and what she described as ‘Camera Club Photography. The study did not attempt to define Fine Art so much as to say how it differed from Camera Club or General Photography. She found that instead of aspiring to the work and achievements of predeccesors, Fine Art Photographers responded to the history of the art and tried to innovate and challenge, that they tried to convey ideas and concepts, often being very personal to the artist. It was often not so much the subject as the form that mattered.

So I’ll have to leave the final words to the USA Customs and Excise Dept. For a work to qualify as ‘Fine Art’ it must be able to be described as a work of art that is ‘completely useless.’ So don’t forget that if you use your Bronze Sculpture as a door step it ceases to be Fine Art.

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