Photography As Art

There are questions I feel compelled to raise. Does the ability to make an infinite number of copies devalue a photograph’s worth? Why not look beyond the exclusivity of art and appreciate a photographer’s patience and dexterity to capture an interesting visual/expression/mood? Can’t the photographer’s effort-the astute and alert eye- behind the lens alone be applauded as art? Can art be defined? Just because a photograph is worth less than a painting, can it be denied the respectability it deserves? Before you think this article is a series of rhetorical questions ad nauseam, let me quickly state: photography in my opinion is art.  

Ever since I chanced upon a coffee table book –Henri Cartier Bressen in India- and saw my own country and its people in a new light, I realized that photographs capture an image in real time, as opposed to paintings that rely on an artist’s vision. Photography is real, natural, and perhaps cruel because it conveys the truth far more effectively than a painting. There before the viewer lies a stolen moment from the fluidity of time, a frozen image that would otherwise have remained a memory, perhaps a bit distorted as the human mind is prone to storing twisted versions of facts. So often we come across our own photograph from years ago and are astonished by our hairstyle/outfit/ environment as though the image is of someone else, someone we knew from long ago and not quite as well as we had assumed.

Ansel Adams’ photographs of the Yosemite and National parks (five major periods from 1916 to 1960 can be found in a single coffee table book called 400 Photographs) and Frank Grant who travelled through the United States from 1955 to 1956 to capture a candid and varied country of that time are two exemplary photographers among several others. Photographs such as- Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper-Charles C. Ebbets 1932 that captured a row of workers sitting nonchalantly on a crossbeam (on the 69th floor!) during the construction of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan and the photographs of family reunions at the end of World War II  are unforgettable.

The disturbing images of skeleton bodied concentration camp refugees, the photographs of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara with his famous beret, now emblazoned on several objects, and the much advertised statue of Christ The Redeemer which sold Rio De Janeiro’s allure to the world are just a few of the breathtaking photographs that demystify the world for people, making it more accessible every day. The primary reason behind art is to make a statement on the human condition and the photograph meets this criteria. I end with a quote by Andy Warhol: “The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” We need that today at a time when history is something that happened only five years ago.

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