Fine art photography

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by anthonymarsh, Feb 2, 2021.

  1. Here’s how William Jenkins, who curated the original New Topographics exhibition at the International Museum of Photography, introduced the idea:

    "The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion,." "[...] rigorous purity, deadpan humor and a casual disregard for the importance of the images."

    I won’t try to define “fine art” photography, though I will point out some contrasts between what I think of as “fine art” and what Jenkins is talking about. Fine art seems to incorporate the artist’s “opinion,” as Jenkins refers to it. A fine art photo seems to be a more overt expression of the photographer as opposed to the attempt at a more objective rendering or documentation. A fine art photo seems to embrace the “importance,” as Jenkins refers to it, of the image. And, troubling though defining the following words may be, I think beauty and craft are more associated with fine art photos than with New Topographics.
    I think both kinds of photos can and have ended up in museums, with the New Topographics photographers likely rolling their eyes at the stunning part which fine artists would generally be more comfortable with. :)
  2. AJG


    I've shot thousands of sheets of 4x5 Tri-X and made 16x20" prints from hundreds of them. Grain isn't an issue--whether or not they are "fine art" is a question I will leave up to the people who see them.
  3. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    Put a $1,500 price tag on it and it becomes fine art.
    haim_toeg likes this.
  4. Little did Edward Weston know his work would eventually come to be reduced to its price tag. At least I can retain a bit of what's likely just soothing naïveté and gullibility in thinking he probably got more out of his fine art than the money, and in fooling myself into believing that so do I.
  5. As much as I respect EW, his character and personality, he was a bit of an ego maniac who believed he was destined for greatness. And in this case I believe the quality of his contact prints help them to achieve the level of "fine art."
  6. If that's true about his beliefs, he turned out to be right.
    Yes. For me, in conjunction with his extraordinary photographic vision.
  7. There we are: the quality of the prints are what makes it fine art. See, Sam, what fine art is, or has become? Decorative art, showcasing craftmanship. Not art.
    I would not put Weston in the fine art category, by the way.
  8. I would, but I think of fine art differently from you and others here.

    That's ok, diversity of perspectives and all that ...
  10. I too put print quality at the bottom of the list. It is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for something being or not being art. Unless it is part of the statement.
    In short: Art invented itself as we know it today at some point in the 19th century, moving away from being a decorative or illustrative afterthought to being a form of expression in its own right. But, of course, the decorative style, the craft that aimed at making things beautiful, and nothing more, continued. It, and nothing else, is what we now call Fine Art: the only statement it makes is how well, i.e. how fine it is made. Though the name fine art continues to be used, for instance in the name of institutions, for things that are just "art", and despite there still being people who want to use the name to distinguish art as an expession from the decorative craft, that useage is obsolete, has been for what to all effect are ages. It is not art.

    And when you talk about the quality of printing as the decider for whether Weston's work is art or not, you definitely are talking about that crafts thing we call Fine Art, not about Art.
    However you may like Weston, the position he took against his earlier picturalism makes him an artist, and not a fine art artist.

    You want lists? Take out some paper and start compiling such yourself. I have no time for such nonsense.
  11. The use of the designation "fine art" tends to be context-driven.

    It often substitutes for "art" and is meant to distinguish "art" from "commercial art" or "applied art" or craft.

    On PN, it's a category of photographs that is otherwise hard to classify and generally used for photos not easily classifiable by subject matter.

    In San Francisco, all art museums come under the auspices of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

    Beauty is deeper than it's sometimes given credit for and may have some overlaps with decoration but has significant differences.

    No declarations to the contrary will change any of this. Words like "art" are rarely limited to dogmatic declarations and are more often meaningful because they are used certain ways particularly if, when used, there's general understanding of the usage.
  12. Yes, it is context driven. In most contexts, it is indeed a (relic) substitute for 'art', to distinguish it from what the distinct field of 'fine art' has made that name ('fine art') mean. General understanding of the usage is provided by that - the fine art we see - not by the appearance of the word 'fine' in the name of art institutions and such (if anything, that confuses things - as is evident here).
    It really isn't hard to classify those fine art works, as soon as you see that the diversity of subject and all that is not part of what it is. In the case of fine art, it isn't about a particular content. It has no subject. It's about form.

    What declarations, Sam?

    Beauty is part of a lot of things, amongst which are art and fine art alike. It is what else there is, and what those things (including beauty) are there for that makes the difference.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2021
  13. Lots of folks have made declarations* about what art is through the centuries, and they get quoted ad nauseam in lieu of engaging in discussion, which I often think is the better way to approach what art is ... through discussions like these and, much more so, through making it.

    *Warhol: Art is what you can get away with. - a favorite in PN forums.
    *Plato: Art is representation.
    *Langer: Art is Significant Form.
    *Dickie: Art is what the "Art World" determines.
  14. EW: It's only a BW picture of a green pepper. Or is it red?
  15. Weston would likely take this as high praise indeed.
    I guess if only it were 1950 again, we could hire a hand colorist to make it any color we wanted to, if that’s where our imaginations took us when we looked.
  16. Yes, but it's a great picture. And it's also a great idea.
  17. And it's something Stieglitz c.s. would never have done.
  18. I much prefer Steichen to Stieglitz. Yes, Stieglitz had a few great photos but those hands and the cloud pictures ("Equivalents") were not among them. Steichen, on the other hand, was an actual artist.
  19. q.g. - I would put many of EW photos on my list of fine art. Not interested in your who is list but I would genuinely enjoy to hear a good argument why you would disqualify Weston's work as fine art. even with the strictest definition of what is fine art.
    Certainly the exceptional craftsmanship would not be a reason any more than mediocre or poor quality.
    I tried to read the Steiglitz reference to understand your perspective but it wasn't clear to me. The rivalry, 'equivalents', fine art....?
    btw what is c.s. in your context?
    "It really isn't hard to classify those fine art works, as soon as you see that the diversity of subject and all that is not part of what it is. In the case of fine art, it isn't about a particular content. It has no subject. It's about form." the diversity of subject and all that is not part of what it is? I am not getting your meaning...
    "Beauty is part of a lot of things, amongst which are art and fine art alike. It is what else there is, and what those things (including beauty) are there for that makes the difference."q.g.
    what are those things? needed to qualify for the label 'fine art'.

    In the example of pepper no.30. from daybooks Aug. 8 1930 “It is classic, completely satisfying, a pepper — but more than a pepper: abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter. It has no psychological attributes, no human emotions are aroused: this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind. To be sure much of my work has this quality,—many of my last year s peppers, but this one, and in fact all the new ones, take one into an inner reality — the absolute with a clear understanding, a mystic revealment. This is the "significant presentation" that I mean, the presentation through ones intuitive self, seeing "through one's eyes, not with them"; the visionary.” EW

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