Anne Darling Photography

Masters of Fine Art Photography

Who are the masters of fine art photography? What is fine art photography? Is there such a thing? Can we really think of photography as an art form?

Photography is a medium, therefore, like painting which is also a medium, works of art can be produced. That doesn't mean that all works produced through the medium of photography are works of art any more than everyone who paints produces art. Having a pen in my pocket doesn't make me a writer. But as the great landscape photographer Fay Godwin said in response to this same question: "I don't know if it is art or not but I do know it is creative". Godwin decided that it was best to leave the question of whether photography was art or not up to the academics, curators and art buyers to worry over - she had better things to do like making great pictures.

Photography is creative, there's really no doubt about that, but is it art? Let's see if we can pin down a definition of photography as fine art.

A Definition of Fine Art Photography

The terms art photography and fine art photography are often used as euphemisms for nude photography when in fact these terms refer to a kind of photography that expresses the artist's inner vision or emotions, his personal concepts and perceptions. The aim of the fine art photographer is to express his ideas in a way that can be shared with other people. He or she is not looking for realism in their art, unlike the photojournalist or the social documentarian, rather the conveyance of something very personal to the creative vision of the photographer. Fine art photography takes internal states as the bedrock for exploring the external world. These internal states are expressed through the medium and inform the final image. There is no scientific, objective detachment in fine art photography, as you would encounter in documentary photography; subjective expression is paramount.

Masters of Fine Art Photography: Man Ray

photograph of man ray
Man Ray, 1934: Photo by Carl Van Vechten

Perhaps Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) can be considered the first modern fine art photographer. Man Ray photographs are considered surreal but in spite of his fame as a photographer, he always considered himself a painter, first and foremost, his work belonging to the Dada movement. Amongst his photographic achievements, Man Ray is credited with re-inventing, along with Lee Miller another famous surreal photographer, the technique of solarization.

He also invented 'Rayographs' or photograms where objects are placed on a piece of light-sensitive paper which is then exposed to light. The result is a negative image - areas that have been blocked by the objects appear in varying degrees of black, areas that have not been blocked appear white, and areas that have only partially blocked the light appear grey.

Masters of Fine Art Photography: Gregory Crewdson

photograph of man ray
Gregory Crewdson setting up a shot with his 8x10 camera on location in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at the corner of Seymour Street and Madison Avenue, 2007: Photo by Christopher Peterson

Another contemporary master of fine art photography is Gregory Crewdson, an American photographer born in 1962 who creates theatrical scenes of typical American homes and neighbourhoods, with a dream-like, surreal quality to them. In Crewdson's work, the light is a powerful element, giving the scene an otherworldly dimension albeit off stage.

Masters of Fine Art Photography: Sandy Skoglund

On the contemporary scene, Sandy Skoglund is an American photographer and installation artist born in 1946 whose work involves the complex construction of theatrical scenes where one element predominates. Her work involves carefully considered colour schemes, often monochrome in the background elements with one single-coloured object repeated throughout. Skoglund's elaborately staged scenes take months to construct. She then positions her actors carefully and photographs the final work. Images by Skoglund which use the idea of a repeating motif include Radioactive Cats and The Revenge of the Goldfish which was used for the album cover of Inspiral Carpets.

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