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Fine-art photography

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Alfred Stieglitz's photograph The Steerage (1907) was an early work of artistic modernism, and considered by many historians to be the most important photograph ever made.[1] Stieglitz was notable for introducing fine art photography into museum collections.

Fine-art photography is photography created in line with the vision of the photographer as artist, using photography as a medium for creative expression. The goal of fine-art photography is to express an idea, a message, or an emotion. This stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally representing objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services.


Depiction of nudity has been one of the dominating themes in fine-art photography. Nude composition 19 from 1988 by Jaan Künnap.

Invention through 1940s[edit]

One photography historian claimed that "the earliest exponent of 'Fine Art' or composition photography was John Edwin Mayall", who exhibited daguerreotypes illustrating the Lord's Prayer in 1851.[2] Successful attempts to make fine art photography can be traced to Victorian era practitioners such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and Oscar Gustave Rejlander and others. In the U.S. F. Holland Day, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen were instrumental in making photography a fine art, and Stieglitz was especially notable in introducing it into museum collections.

In the UK as recently as 1960, photography was not really recognised as a fine art. S. D. Jouhar said, when he formed the Photographic Fine Art Association at that time: "At the moment, photography is not generally recognized as anything more than a craft. In the USA photography has been openly accepted as Fine Art in certain official quarters. It is shown in galleries and exhibitions as an Art. There is not corresponding recognition in this country. The London Salon shows pictorial photography, but it is not generally understood as an art. Whether a work shows aesthetic qualities or not it is designated 'Pictorial Photography' which is a very ambiguous term. The photographer himself must have confidence in his work and in its dignity and aesthetic value, to force recognition as an Art rather than a Craft".[This quote needs a citation]

Until the late 1970s several genres predominated, such as nudes, portraits, and natural landscapes (exemplified by Ansel Adams). Breakthrough 'star' artists in the 1970s and 80s, such as Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Farber and Cindy Sherman, still relied heavily on such genres, although seeing them with fresh eyes. Others investigated a snapshot aesthetic approach.

Josef H. Neumann: Chemogram Gustav I 1976

In the mid-1970s Josef H. Neumann developed chemograms,[3] which are products of both photographic processing and painting on photographic paper. Before the spread of computers and the use of image processing software the process of creating chemograms can be considered an early form of analog post-production, in which the original image is altered after the enlarging process. Unlike works of digital post-production each chemogram is a unique piece.[4][5][6][7]

American organizations, such as the Aperture Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art(MoMA), have done much to keep photography at the forefront of the fine arts. MoMA's establishment of a department of photography in 1940 and appointment of Beaumont Newhall as its first curator are often cited as institutional confirmation of photography's status as an art.[8]

1950s to present day[edit]

Andreas Gursky, Shanghai, 2000, C-print mounted to plexiglass, 119 x 81 inches

There is now[as of?] a trend toward a careful staging and lighting of the picture, rather than hoping to "discover" it ready-made. Photographers such as Gregory Crewdson, and Jeff Wall are noted for the quality of their staged pictures. Additionally, new technological trends in digital photography have opened a new direction in full spectrum photography, where careful filtering choices across the ultraviolet, visible and infrared lead to new artistic visions.

Vasiliy Ryabchenko, Still life (1970s)

As printing technologies have improved since around 1980, a photographer's art prints reproduced in a finely-printed limited-edition book have now become an area of strong interest to collectors. This is because books usually have high production values, a short print run, and their limited market means they are almost never reprinted. The collector's market in photography books by individual photographers is developing rapidly.

According to Art Market Trends 2004 7,000 photographs were sold in auction rooms in 2004, and photographs averaged a 7.6 percent annual price rise from 1994 and 2004.[9][failed verification] Around 80 percent were sold in the United States, although auction sales only record a fraction of total private sales. There is now a thriving collectors' market for which the most sought-after art photographers will produce high quality archival prints in strictly limited editions. Attempts by online art retailers to sell fine photography to the general public alongside prints of paintings have had mixed results, with strong sales coming only from the traditional major photographers such as Ansel Adams.

In addition to the "digital movement" towards manipulation, filtering, or resolution changes, some fine artists deliberately seek a "naturalistic", including "natural lighting" as a value in itself. Sometimes the art work as in the case of Gerhard Richter consists of a photographic image that has been subsequently painted over with oil paints and/or contains some political or historical significance beyond the image itself. The existence of "photographically-projected painting" now blurs the line between painting and photography which traditionally was absolute.

Framing and print size[edit]

Until the mid-1950s it was widely considered vulgar and pretentious to frame a photograph for a gallery exhibition. Prints were usually simply pasted onto blockboard or plywood, or given a white border in the darkroom and then pinned at the corners onto display boards. Prints were thus shown without any glass reflections obscuring them. Steichen's famous The Family of Man exhibition was unframed, the pictures pasted to panels. Even as late as 1966 Bill Brandt's MoMA show was unframed, with simple prints pasted to thin plywood. From the mid-1950s to about 2000 most gallery exhibitions had prints behind glass. Since about 2000 there has been a noticeable move toward once again showing contemporary gallery prints on boards and without glass. In addition, throughout the twentieth century, there was a noticeable increase in the size of prints.


Ansel Adams' The Tetons and the Snake River (1942)

Fine art photography is created primarily as an expression of the artist's vision, but as a byproduct it has also been important in advancing certain causes. The work of Ansel Adams in Yosemite and Yellowstone provides an example. Adams is one of the most widely recognized fine art photographers of the 20th century, and was an avid promoter of conservation. While his primary focus was on photography as art, some of his work raised public awareness of the beauty of the Sierra Nevada and helped to build political support for their protection.

Such photography has also had effects in the area of censorship law and free expression, due to its concern with the nude body.

Overlap with other genres[edit]

Although fine art photography may overlap with many other genres of photography, the overlaps with fashion photography and photojournalism merit special attention.

In 1996 it was stated that there had been a "recent blurring of lines between commercial illustrative photography and fine art photography," especially in the area of fashion.[10] Evidence for the overlap of fine art photography and fashion photography includes lectures,[11] exhibitions,[12][13][14] trade fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach,[15] and books.[10][16]

Photojournalism and fine art photography overlapped beginning in the "late 1960s and 1970s, when... news photographers struck up liaisons with art photography and painting".[17] In 1974 the International Center of Photography opened, with emphases on both "humanitarian photojournalism" and "art photography".[17] By 1987, "pictures that were taken on assignments for magazines and newspapers now regularly reappear[ed] – in frames – on the walls of museums and galleries".[18]

Smartphone apps such as Snapchat sometimes are used for fine-art photography.[19]

Attitudes of artists in other fields[edit]

Martin Vorel, Birches (2021)

The reactions of artists and writers have contributed significantly to perceptions of photography as fine art. Prominent painters have asserted their interest in the medium:

I have always been very interested in photography. I have looked at far more photographs than I have paintings. Because their reality is stronger than reality itself.

— Francis Bacon[This quote needs a citation]

Noted authors, similarly, have responded to the artistic potential of photography:

...it does seem to me that Capa has proved beyond all doubt that the camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart...

List of definitions[edit]

Here is a list of definitions of the related terms "art photography", "artistic photography", and "fine art photography".

In reference books[edit]

Among the definitions that can be found in reference books are:

  • "Art photography": "Photography that is done as a fine art – that is, done to express the artist's perceptions and emotions and to share them with others".[20]
  • "Fine art photography": "A picture that is produced for sale or display rather than one that is produced in response to a commercial commission".[21]
  • "Fine art photography": "The production of images to fulfill the creative vision of a photographer. ... Synonymous with art photography".[22]
  • "Art photography": A definition "is elusive," but "when photographers refer to it, they have in mind the photographs seen in magazines such as American Photo, Popular Photography, and Print, and in salons and exhibitions. Art (or artful) photography is salable.".[23]
  • "Artistic photography": "A frequently used but somewhat vague term. The idea underlying it is that the producer of a given picture has aimed at something more than a merely realistic rendering of the subject, and has attempted to convey a personal impression".[24]
  • "Fine art photography": Also called "decor photography," or "photo decor," this "involves selling large photos... that can be used as wall art".[23]

In scholarly articles[edit]

Among the definitions that can be found in scholarly articles are:

  • In 1961, S. D. Jouhar founded the Photographic Fine Art Association, and he was its chairman. Their definition of Fine Art was "Creating images that evoke emotion by a photographic process in which one's mind and imagination are freely but competently exercised."[25]
  • Two studies by Christopherson in 1974 defined "fine art photographers" as "those persons who create and distribute photographs specifically as 'art.'"[26][27]
  • A 1986 ethnographic and historical study by Schwartz did not directly define "fine art photography" but did compare it with "camera club photography".[28] It found that fine art photography "is tied to other media" such as painting; "responds to its own history and traditions" (as opposed to "aspir[ing] to the same achievements made by their predecessors"); "has its own vocabulary"; "conveys ideas" (e.g., "concern with form supersedes concern with subject matter"); "is innovative"; "is personal"; "is a lifestyle"; and "participates in the world of commerce."[28]

On the World Wide Web[edit]

Among the definitions that can be found on the World Wide Web are:

  • The Library of Congress Subject Headings use "art photography" as "photography of art," and "artistic photography" (i.e., "Photography, artistic") as "photography as a fine art, including aesthetic theory".[29]
  • The Art & Architecture Thesaurus states that "fine art photography" (preferred term) or "art photography" or "artistic photography" is "the movement in England and the United States, from around 1890 into the early 20th century, which promoted various aesthetic approaches. Historically, has sometimes been applied to any photography whose intention is aesthetic, as distinguished from scientific, commercial, or journalistic; for this meaning, use 'photography'".[30]
  • Definitions of "fine art photography" on photographers' static Web pages vary from "the subset of fine art that is created with a camera"[31] to "limited-reproduction photography, using materials and techniques that will outlive the artist".[32]
  • On the concept of limited-reproduction, in the French legal system, there is a very precise legal definition regarding fine art photography being considered as an artwork. The tax code states they, "are considered as artworks the photographs taken by the artist, printed by him/herself or under his/her control, signed and numbered in maximum thirty copies, including all sizes and mountings."[33]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Winters, Dan (2014). Road to Seeing. New Riders. pp. 563–564. ISBN 978-0-13-315420-7.
  2. ^ Gernsheim, Helmut. Creative photography: aesthetic trends 1839–1960. New York: Dover, 1991, p. 73. ISBN 0-486-26750-4
  3. ^ Ramos Molina 2018, pp. 293–297.
  4. ^ Hannes Schmidt: "Bemerkungen zu den Chemogrammen von Josef Neumann. Ausstellung in der Fotografik Studio Galerie von Prof. Pan Walther". in: Photo-Presse, no. 22, 1976, p. 6.
  5. ^ Gabriele Richter: "Joseph H. Neumann. Chemogramme". in: Color Foto, no. 12, 1976, p. 24.
  6. ^ Harald Mante, Josef H. Neumann: Filme kreativ nutzen. Photographie Verlag, Schaffhausen 1987, pp. 94–95.
  7. ^ "Die Hochglanzwelt des Josef H. Neumann" on YouTube, Thema 3 (Stadtjournal) Westdeutscher Rundfunk (in German)
  8. ^ Phillips, Christopher (Autumn 1982). "The Judgment Seat of Photography". October. 22: 27–63. doi:10.2307/778362. JSTOR 778362.
  9. ^ Art Market Trends 2004
  10. ^ a b Bryant, Eric. Review of Fashion: Photography in the Nineties. Library Journal, February 15, 1997, p.131.
  11. ^ Catherine Atherton: The fine art of fashion photography. From a talk given at the Museum of Modern Art by the senior lecturer in art, publishing and music at Oxford Brookes University. The Independent, June 12, 2001. Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  12. ^ Fashioning fiction in photography since 1990. Museum of Modern Art, April 16 – June 28, 2004. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  13. ^ Naves, Mario (April 23, 2004). "Striking poses: is fashion photography art?". Slate. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  14. ^ Click chic: the fine art of fashion photography. Archived 2012-02-24 at the Wayback Machine School of Visual Arts, September 6, 2007 – October 6, 2007. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  15. ^ Trebay, Guy (December 6, 2007). "Work with me, baby". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  16. ^ The idealizing vision: the art of fashion photography. New York: Aperture Foundation. 1991. ISBN 0-89381-462-8.
  17. ^ a b Goldberg, Vicki. Picture this - magazine photography, in just a few decades, has changed the way life itself is regarded. Life magazine, April 15, 1999.
  18. ^ Grundberg, Andy (April 12, 1987). "Art; photojournalism lays claim to the realm of esthetics". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  19. ^ "While I Watch My Father Die: Photography Exhibition on Snapchat Explores Memory, Emotional Vanishing | Fine Art Photography, Commissions, NYC Teaching Tutorials Steve Giovinco". stevegiovinco.com. 28 October 2015. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  20. ^ McDarrah, Gloria S., et al. The photography encyclopedia. New York: Schirmer, 1999. ISBN 0-02-865025-5
  21. ^ Hope, Terry. Fine art photography: creating beautiful images for sale and display. Mies, Switzerland: RotoVision, 2003. ISBN 2-88046-724-1
  22. ^ Lynch-Johnt, Barbara, and Michelle Perkins. Illustrated dictionary of photography: the professional's guide to terms and techniques. Buffalo, NY: Amherst Media, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58428-222-8
  23. ^ a b Engh, Rohn. Sell & re-sell your photos, 5th ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 2003. ISBN 1-58297-176-5
  24. ^ Jones, Bernard E. Cassell's cyclopaedia of photography. New York: Arno, 1973. ISBN 0-405-04922-6
  25. ^ Jouhar, Sultan (October 1964). "The Work of Dr. Jouhar". The Royal Photographic Society Journal. 104 (10): 261.
  26. ^ Christopherson, Richard W. Making Art With Machines: Photography's Institutional Inadequacies. Urban Life and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 1974, pages 3–34.
  27. ^ Christopherson, Richard W. From Folk Art To Fine Art: A Transformation in the Meaning of Photographic Work. Urban Life and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2, July 1974, pages 123–157.
  28. ^ a b Schwartz, Dona. Camera clubs and fine art photography: the social construction of an elite code. Originally published in Urban Life, vol. 15, no. 2 (July 1986), pp.165–195.
  29. ^ Library of Congress. Authority headings search. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  30. ^ Getty Research Institute. Art photography. Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  31. ^ Beck, Stephen G. What Is Fine Art Photography? Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  32. ^ Steinman, Jan. Bytesmiths Editions Newsletter December 2000. Archived 2016-11-25 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  33. ^ "What is an artwork? – Art Photo Limited – Photography – Artwork". Art Photo Limited. Archived from the original on 2019-04-19. Retrieved 2019-04-19.


  • Ramos Molina, Antonio Luis (2018). La magia de la química fotográfica: El quimigrama. Conceptos, técnicas y procedimientos del quimigrama en la expresión artística (doctoral thesis) (in Spanish). University of Granada.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bright, Susan. Art photography now. New York: Aperture, 2005. ISBN 1-931788-91-X
  • Fodde, Marco. Fotografia Fine Art. 1st edition. Milano: Apogeo La Feltrinelli, 2012. ISBN 978-88-503-1397-6
  • Peres, Michael R. ed. The Focal encyclopedia of photography: digital imaging, theory and applications, history, and science. 4th edition. Amsterdam & Boston: Elsevier/Focal Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-240-80740-9
  • Rosenblum, Naomi. A world history of photography. 4th edition. New York: Abbeville Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7892-0937-5
  • Thompson, Jerry L. Truth and photography: notes on looking and photographing. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003. ISBN 1-56663-539-X

External links[edit]