Wait a second, I'll take pleasure in photographing anything, and have pretty much tried it all, is it fair that I'm calling myself a fine art photographer? I think so. Here's why...
When we all went digital and found multiple routes to express ourselves and show our work, lines blurred. When print media was the only option for presentation, a fine artist photographer was relatively easy to identify - they printed for gallery shows, as opposed to commercial photographers, or sports, reportage, nature and scientific.
But even then the line was never that easy to work out. Mount a picture taken in a warzone in a gallery and distinctions blurred. Use obscure images in advertising and the gap between an artist and a corporate shill could be confused.
The wider definition of Fine Art photography holds that is that it is photography that says something about the photographer as much as the subject, the available light, and the viewer. And certainly we're getting closer to a meaningful definition when we think that. But what if the choice of the photographer is to make themselves utterly invisible, what if they choose artlessness as their art? Is it so very easy to point at a photograph and say that it is art, and at another and say that isn't?
Short of any easily decipherable single line definition, let me point out some things that I think make me a fine art photographer, and if you are reading this you can decide if you are too.
1. I love photography. I have obsessed over it for 20 years. Collected monographs, read the biographies of all the major twentieth century photographers., rushed out to shows, identified my favourite photos in the great pantheon, decided who I love and who are my influences and actively sought to learn from them. It is a passion. I feel vested in the story of photography, a tiny player in it's latest chapter. Part of being a fine art photographer for me is seeing myself as a tiny link in the chain that reaches back through all the greats. It is entirely possible to be a talented photographer without a jot of interest in the lineage, but something would be lacking, something to do with the soul.
(in the 90s I would walk around Paris being an 'artist of the street', feeling the connection (even if a little ambitiously,to all the photographers who had walked those streets before me)
2. I'll take any kind of shot, but my deepest joy comes from those that push my expectations. There are times when the right shot is two people, caught neatly in the centre of an image and everything is appropriately focused and exposed. You cannot go through life saying: 'if it ain't art I ain't doing it!' In the end you'll descend into a vacuum of your own pretensions and your connection to others, the subjects, the viewers will be lost. Sometimes a bride will walk down an aisle and the exact right thing to do is capture her walking - not spend your time looking around for a mirror through a window through the iris of a toddler in the back row to reverse capture her like she's disappeared down a photographic rabbit hole to illustrate your genius. There is power in simplicity and if you are getting paid then the ferryman demands a clear, intelligible shot. But once you have that, that's when you can call yourself a fine art photographer. That's when all the elements of the world are at your disposal to subvert expectations. In the best definition of art I know, art is the act of re-showing to re-see. I am a Fine Artist Photographer, not because I only take pictures that represent my vision, but because my greatest pleasure is in those moments a photograph emerges that tickles me, that gives me personally a deep joy. I call myself a fine art photographer not because everything I do is art but because sometimes it is and the pleasure that moment gives me is a mainlined drug into my heart.
3. Cameras are just one more way to express myself. My love of photography certainly has a deeply anorak quality to it; I perhaps spend more time reading about new lenses (even for systems I'll never own, which is quite a weird thing to do) than anything else. But I perceive in some photographers that technical fascination is their route into photography- their photographs are expressions of their love of technical merit, and commensurate with a love of hi-definition TVs or Amplifiers. More power to them but that isn't for me. I am a fine art photographer because I consider photography to be a genuine art that sits alongside and enmeshes itself with all other art. Let photography inform creative writing, let drawing teach you something new about models. Maybe there's something architecture has to teach us about form. It doesn't matter what it is, photography seen as fine art has more in common with poetry than science.
4. The tiny in the grand and the grand in the tiny. There is a line in a Leonard Cohen song:
Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in
Enough said, Fine Art Photography is about hunting that crack, letting the human speak through in the littlest unexpected moments and being attentive enough to capture it.
(this is an old one, cameras weren't as sharp in the noughties, but I've always been challenged by the feeling in this one. Is it a documentary photo? I don't think so, it has a feeling that takes it in a different direction)
5. Photography affects how I see the world. Light, light,light. It is an obsession. The cloud breaks, the sun shows and the quality and timber of light becomes an added sense I now have. Sit with someone who doesn't do photography and talk through the light you can both see at a given time, how it falls, who is lit who isn't. I think part of being a fine art photographer is trying to have a deep love and deep affinity for the quality of light as much as it's quantity.
Ultimately, I call myself a fine art photographer because I enjoy it. It's a challenge to myself, it's a reminder to really care about photography, to strive for shots that surprise me, and to challenge me to get better and better.
(an oldie. Vienna. This pic took me in a whole new direction for photography. Maybe a bad one. I forwent all other considerations and became a man whose only interest for years was taking pictures of people transitioning through blazes of light)