More on What is a Photographer ?

One of the fundamental points of De Zayas’ essay is that photography differs from the rest of Art in that he sees two aspects to photography – pure objectivity and artistic expression – whereas Art in general is limited to just artistic expression. This idea links with what Walter Benjamin wrote in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Bate,2016:14), where he made the point that rather than regarding photography as art in the same way as painting, it is more pertinent to regard photography as having transformed art. Pure objectivity is something that no other art form provides. Having said that, it is reasonable to point out that photography at the time of De Zayas’s essay, photography may not be regarded as ever truly objective since colour reproduction was not part of the available toolset.

This is mainly to do with the mechanical interface; the photographer uses their eyes to compose a scene but only from what is already there. Apart from that the rest is just mechanical adjustments to the camera in order to capture the image. Because of this lack of human involvement in the creation of the photograph, the result is far more objective than any other method of capturing the same scene. Sketching or painting the same scene would require intermediate involvement of the artist’s own skills and interpretation.

It is quite possible that the distinctions that De Zayas makes between Pure and Artistic Photography are not either/or categories. It is quite possible for a photograph to belong in both camps. If a photographer captures a particular scene they may not immediately assign an artistic interpretation. It may well be that they just want to record what they see. However the results may later get repurposed as an artistic interpretation of a concept or emotion. Alternately the representation of emotion may come about just by photographing what is before the photographer’s eyes. Malcolm Andrews (Andrews,1999: 14) quotes Ansel Adams about his photograph of Tenaya Creek “Unless I had reacted to the mood of this place with some intensity of feeling, I would have found it a difficult and shallow undertaking to attempt a photograph”.

The wider availability of photography and photographic equipment to the general public since De Zayas wrote means much more photography has been done without any particular artistic intentions. In a lot of cases people take photographs just because what they are looking at is there at all; since no particular meaning is intended, these could be regarded as purely objective. It seems then that De Zayas categorisation still is valid but the boundaries are not as distinct as he makes regards them to be. It seems quite possible to me that his hectoring and didactic tone is just masking the fact that the boundaries never were that clear at the time anyway.

David Bate(2016): Photography: London: Bloomsbury Academic
Malcolm Andrews (1999): Landscape and Western Art: Hong Kong: Oxford University Press

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