So what is photographic art? Well it’s fluid. Much of what is shown in photography galleries in the last few years was never considered art when it was shot, in fact, not even close. Recent examples are; street photographers from NYC in the 60s and 70s, Larry Fink who is probably best known for photographing parties in the 70’s, rock photographers like Mick Rock who often toured with bands before they became famous, and architectural photographers like Julius Shulman. Beyond what the top established photography galleries are showing, there are new online and brick and mortar galleries with their own take on what’s important. One recent gallery exhibition included only images shot using an iPhone. In the world of art photography, having the best camera, perfect lighting and sharp focus doesn’t always create the most compelling images.
We all have our own definitions of art, but for those who are curious about what they are shooting, if its art, then maybe this will help. Most photographers who shoot commercially call their art shots their “personal work”. I recently read that the difference between design and art is that if something is used functionally, like a chair or a lighting fixture, then no matter how beautiful or esoteric it looks, it’s defined as design, but if something is created “for contemplation only”, then its art. Your art is most likely what you shoot for yourself, not commercially, not for income, but for contemplation. But many documentary photographers images are being exhibited and sold in galleries, so this will always be an open ended area of discussion without hard and fast rules.
~Ted VanCleave from his article series about Fine Art Photography