A Mere Photograph

August 19, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Autumn at Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National ParkScene StealerThe sun's first warm rays light the trees along the Snake River shoreline, making the foliage pop. The effect is magnified with Mount Moran in partial shadow. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming) Sometimes intended praise falls a little bit flat.

Case in point: in a recent letter to the editor of a magazine to which I subscribe, the writer expressed admiration for a photograph which had been published in an earlier issue. He said the image reminded him of a great painting rather than a mere photo. 

A mere photo... 

I chuckled when I read that. While I'm sure it wasn't intended as such, that's what I'd call a backhanded compliment! 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Perhaps this fellow simply prefers paintings to photographs. Or when he thinks of photographs it's casual snapshots which come to mind. Maybe his definition of "art" is limited to paintings and sculpture.

Is photography art?

Are the only true artists people like the Rembrandts and Van Goghs of the world? What about Ansel Adams? Or Michael Kenna? Galen Rowell?

Consider the word photography, which comes from the Greek language and roughly translated means "drawing with light." 

Both the painter and the photographer create images. The painter begins with a blank canvas, adding one brushstroke at a time. Conversely, the photographer's process is subtractive (especially true of the nature/outdoor photographer): simplifying the lovely chaos which is inherent in the landscape, removing extraneous and/or distracting elements, distilling the scene to its essence.  

Both paintings and photographs can be either representational or abstract.

A painting takes time to create. Certainly in the case of nature photography, this is also true. It's not as simple as just tripping the shutter. It might take months - or years - to get the shot.

Becoming an accomplished painter requires hard work, skill, technical proficiency, a creative eye and an ability to visualize. The same is true of the photographer.

A good photograph, like a good painting, makes a connection with the viewer. It evokes a response.

So....is photography art? Of course! Renowned museums agree, by the way. You'll find permanent collections as well as exhibitions featuring photography at places the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Met, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

"You don't take a photograph. You make it."
~Ansel Adams

About the image: this is the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River in the northern end of Grand Teton National Park during what was the most beautiful autumn I've experienced thus far in the Tetons. The color that season arrived early, was intensely vibrant - and then disappeared in the blink of an eye. Though we're experiencing record heat here in Teton Country this week, autumn is waiting in the wings. You'll see signs of it in the park right now. It won't be long before the aspens and cottonwoods begin turning. 


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