Is Photography science or is it art? Are we taking pictures or creating them? Truth of Fiction? Actually it is both but early photography communities were struggling as they were trying to have an overall identity for photography. Naturally there is no right answer just our own opinion and your view on photography or your approach to creating images. This has been a debate in photographic circles since the birth of photography but photography has developed so much in the past few decades that I have chosen to explore this from the exploration stage in scientific laboratories to mainstream photography.
Straight or Natural Photography
If you look at the reason why photography was developed and who pioneered this very important discovery, that is now part of everyday life, we will have to agree that it started as a science. Scientist and inventors explored the possibilities of capturing light through lenses using chemicals to be able to create a true representation of a person in a shorter amount of time than it took for a painter. Portraiture was one of the main reasons and the first commercial field. An honest real representation was required of what a person looks like and this was the birth of straight photography, where there was no manipulation to a photograph. Natural or straight photography persisted throughout for most of the 19th century, where the argument was to capture a moment as it is, with no interference.
As photography developed and techniques advanced, the medium became more ‘open to interpretation’ or should I say manipulation. Henry Peach Robinson introduced pictorialism in the late 19th century where the aim was to communicate an emotional result through an image. He argued that manipulation of the image to get to that end result was part of the artistic process. Artist intervention was essential for Pictorialism, if an image was a result of purely scientific process, how can it be art? He used multiple images to create one, a process that we still use in various fields of photography like advertising.
Is Photography Art?
The Modernists of the mid 20th Century including Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham’s main focus was on pre-visualization and recording the scene as accurately as possible. In a sense this was true straight photography and after that you can see how photography was also influenced by the major art movements through the centuries. Although by this time photography was developing alongside art and maturing into a new means of artistic expression, the art community still struggled to recognize it as art.
Photography for the masses
With Kodak releasing the Brownie camera and photography becoming mainstream, the argument became even harder as there were images being created in split seconds, images that were bad quality with poor composition. And we see this throughout the history of photography. Technological advances in photography allows photography to fall into the hands of the general public. There will always be a resistance from the art community and also within the photographic communities. As there was such an increase of mediocre photographs, professional photographers were and are still challenged to differentiate their work from casual shooters and again the solution is the two poles: technical excellence or artistic merit.
I’m an artist with the mind of a scientist. A creator looking to capture truth. Light is the medium we are given to paint with. As Scientist, we appreciate it’s stability but as Artist we see its playfulness and beauty. As I am a portrait photographer I am not merely a bystander that captures the light and energy reflected towards me. I am in the conversation. I am part of the connection and in that I create, with the help of my subject, the photograph that is the result of our interaction. No manipulation needed afterwards. That was it. A moment and a person, captured in all its raw beauty.