Is photography art?

So, is photography art? The simple answer for me at least, is unequivocally yes. But it is not necessarily true that all photography is art, I certainly wouldn’t claim my holiday snaps as worthy of being shown in a gallery setting.

Art, whether it be cave drawings, ceramics or photography, is man’s way of making sense in one form or another, of the world around them. Whether it is capturing a moment in time, a political thought or societal changes, art in its many forms has always been inventive and challenging to the perspectives of the past. That includes our perceptions of what is art.

In the early 19th century arts and crafts would not have been perceived as art, in the fine arts sense. However, like many things that happen throughout history it was a direct reaction to a period. In this case, the industrial revolution. It celebrated the simple form and beauty of domestic items. Now, any art gallery or museum around the world happily acknowledges arts and crafts in their collections and exhibitions.

All art producers need a specific set of skills, no matter what their medium. An eye for composition, technical mastery of their chosen medium, and the dedication to producing the work. A photographer, just as a painter or a sculptor, all have this in common. In many ways, a photographer’s ability to see and conceptualise an image to illicit a response from the viewer, is doubly important, as they capture the initial image.

Nearly two decades ago a talented photographer working for one of New Zealand’s finest public art galleries said to me that his work was purely to document the collection. While he saw photography as art, the establishment was not ready to do so. In the years since then exhibitions of Ansell Adams and Cecil Beaton have been toured and proudly displayed in public spaces.

The visual arts like all art is constantly evolving as humanity changes and what we perceive as art expands. Photography is now and in some corners, has always been, more than just a documentary tool. The challenge now is the acceptance of the use of digital programmes. Do they compromise the work? Or are they just an additional tool for artists to utilise as they would a paint brush?