Is it Photography? Is it Art?

This is a postscript to my Leaf project that’s been ongoing for several weeks and will be familiar to regular readers.  I’ve been painting with mud. Really. I’m not joking!

My Leaf project led me to experiment with a number of ways of presenting the leaves of Autumn. One of those ways involved applying a background wash of mud to a white panel and layering leaves onto that panel. Below is perhaps my best attempt at this involving Oak leaves that had spent a few days marinating in a bucket of water. They glistened rather nicely.

As I started to clear things up, including the muddied white panel – which once upon a time was a shelf in a flat-pack wardrobe – I paused to look at the splatter of mud , and an idea formed. What would the panel look like thoroughly plastered with mud?

There was only one way to find out. So I layered the mud on thick and fast with bold strokes of a paintbrush. It only took a minute, and I liked the dynamic swirl of brush strokes.  I had just created a small item of abstract art with the most basic of materials.  So I then did what any photographer might do – I photographed it (see top). I promise you I was stone cold sober at the time.

So, what exactly have I created? Is it art? is it a photograph? Allow me to digress for a moment.

I, along with many of you reading this, will have photographed Grafitti, or Art installations, sculptures, stained glass windows etc. I do it because I enjoy the challenge of  recording something that someone has created, and which has given me pleasure. And having captured it digitally I may post it on this blog, attributing it (if I can) to the artist. In so doing I am bringing that art to the attention of others. Those photographs fall into the category of Record Photography: they are a record of someone else’s work.

Try entering one of those images  in a camera club competition and the judge will very likely make a comment along the lines of – who should take credit for this image, the creator of the Art or the photographer who has simply photographed it? Such images don’t often attract a good score.

I understand that thinking but it has the potential to be the thin end of a very long wedge. For example (and I’m playing the Devil’s advocate here), how might we judge photography of modern architecture? Who takes the lion’s share of credit there – the Architect who designed it or the Photographer? One way to answer that is to decide if the photographer has produced simply a record of that building or whether he has created an image that is pictorial. [‘Pictorial’ is almost impossible to define except that it describes the treatment of a subject rather than the subject matter itself].

So, to return to my experiment with mud. I wonder what a judge would make of it. It’s a record shot of monochromatic swirls. He probably won’t even know how, or with what, those swirls were created. But actually does that really matter? And would he judge it differently if he knew that the exhibitor was not only the photographer but also the creator? Would he think it a valid ‘image’? And to complicate our thinking further, the ‘art’ I created was transitory – it was wiped away within five minutes. Does that sound a little like the social media platform where images can be made to disappear after ten seconds?

It’s art of a sort. And a record was taken of that feat with a digital camera and that image has been processed – in two ways, see below for version 2 – and could now be printed (in fact it already has been). The acid test perhaps is to enter it into a future club competition and see what a judge makes of it. I intend doing that in 2018 and I will let you know what happens. Your comments as always will be welcome.



About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'.
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13 Responses to Is it Photography? Is it Art?

  1. Dina says:

    All the best for the contest, Andy! Following a new path is exciting, you don’t know what will appear. Is it art, is it photography? I don’t know. But it is fabulous. We know fine art photography. Now you come up with a new name for your work and you will be for ever immortal.
    Have a wonderful Sunday!


  2. seekraz says:

    I like your mind, Andy…nicely articulated…and as with the work, well presented.


  3. paula graham says:

    Beautifully created work…I like top one well this time.


  4. alan frost says:

    A thought provoking post Andy coupled with some fine creative images. I look forward to hearing the view of the judge when you submit one of these pictures in a camera club competition – should be very interesting. Marmite springs to mind! I have very much enjoyed this series of ‘leaf’ pictures – thank you. Alan

    Liked by 1 person

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks for your comment Alan. I am no stranger to ‘Marmite’, my interests (photographically speaking) spread wide and I like nothing better than finding something unusual, or using processing to introduce unexpected drama. I will certainly keep everyone posted on a judge’s opinion, when it’s delivered!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your first photograph reminded me of corn husks. Even before that, it took me back to the finger painting we did in elementary school a long, long time ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bluebrightly says:

    Questions like “Is it photography or is it art?” – or just “Is it art?” can be good ones to raise but only up to a point, I think. After a while it can devolve into a fruitless conversation that misses the bigger picture (sorry about the pun!). I’m glad you’re going to submit the photo, and I hope they are not too staid, or are open-minded enough, to accept it on its own terms. Experimentation is how we grow – what’s the use in doing the same thing that’s always been done? Anyway many conceptual artists back in the 60’s and even before documented their ephemeral works with photographs, which may or may not be seen and sold as art.
    (Maybe it’s not an acid test to see what that particular group thinks! Maybe the acid test is to come back to it yourself in a year and see what you think then, and what other people you respect think.I for one, like it, and I applaud the spirit that went into it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • LensScaper says:

      Personally I agree with what you say – we have to be true to ourselves and our beliefs. I’m reminded again of the phrase that ‘curiosity is the mother of invention’ – it’s fun to experiment and go against the grain. And your final sentence is always correct – when we look back on our work (and winter is a time when I do a lot of that), we sometimes grimace at what we thought was good, and are surprised by hidden gems previously overlooked.


  7. Wow! I love this! It is so great that you actually used dirt in your art! Check out my art for any suggestions you may have for me!

    Liked by 1 person

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