The topic of this post was inspired by a brief encounter I had last week with the owner of a new Fine Art gallery in Altrincham. Not a particularly big space, but quite well stocked with some very nice pieces; everything from oil colours and water colours to some brilliant sculpture, all accompanied by price tags with several zeros on the end. But not a photograph in sight. So ensued a very brief conversation between myself and the owner, the gist of which went as follows: Me: "You've got some lovely work in here" Owner: "Thanks" Me: "No photography though. You have plans to take any?" Owner: "No. We're a fine art gallery." Me: "Some photographers believe their work to be fine art" Owner: "Dubiously....." (Sniggers) Exit me stage left.....there was clearly little point in continuing the conversation. Which brings me appropriately to the title of the post; Can photography be considered fine art?
Clearly in parts of the world that have less of a history with the brush and easel, photographers and their work are revered to a higher degree than their European, in particular British counterparts where the vast proportion of high street galleries still don't consider an image as "art" unless a brush was used as the primary method of it's construction. All bar one of the 10 most expensive photographs ever purchased were sold in the United States.
But so what if a digital sensor or film were used to create an image. It may only have taken 1/250 of a second to actually capture, but the work that went into constructing the frame and the countless years of experimentation and learning surely count for something?
I'm sure that Ansel Adams, with the countless hours he spent in the darkroom perfecting each print let alone the physical effort that went into lugging huge quantities of camera equipment up mountains to make the frames in the first place would beg to differ. I'm also sure that Sothebys in New York wouldn't have sold Edward Steichen's Pond-moonlight for nearly $3 million if the buyer hadn't considered it to be a) Art, and b) remarkably Fine!
So as the saying goes "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", and I think to a certain extent the concept of what can be construed as "fine art" is also down to individual opinion. It just appears that a degree of education is required on the high street, along with a little less snobbery.
I don't ever foresee the day when the London auction houses will ever achieve the price levels for photography that their counterparts over the pond in the U.S. do but you never know....