What Makes Photography Art?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other related affiliate programs. We may earn fees by linking to products on Amazon and other partner sites. This means that when you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from Amazon at no extra cost to you. We only share products and services that we use or believe in.

Art takes many forms, and photography is no exception. However, only some agree on whether photography can be considered a true art form. Some argue that it is simply the mechanical reproduction of reality, while others believe that photography encompasses a wide range of creative techniques that make it as worthy of being called art as any other medium.

In this blog post, we will explore the question of what makes photography art, examining the history of the medium, the ways in which it can be defined as an art form, and the unique perspectives and techniques that make artistic photography so compelling.

What’s Considered Art?

Before we can begin to answer the question of what makes photography art, it’s essential to define what we mean by “art” in the first place. There is no easy answer to this question, as art takes many different forms and has been defined in various ways throughout history.

At its most basic level, though, we can think of art as any creative expression made to evoke emotion or convey a message.

abstract art painting

When Were the Camera and Photography Invented?

The camera and photography as we know them today were invented in the early 19th century, but the idea of capturing images goes back much further.

For centuries, artists had been using various methods to project images onto surfaces to trace or copy them, and early attempts at photography were more sophisticated versions of these techniques. 

However, the invention of the camera and the photographic process marked a turning point in how we capture and reproduce images, making it possible to create highly detailed and accurate representations of reality.

What Makes Photography Art?

What makes photography art? Black and white image of tabby cat.

Defining Photography as an Art Form

So what sets photography apart from other forms of image-making and makes it worthy of being called “art”? One answer is that photography, like any other medium, can be used to create aesthetic, expressive, and meaningful works.

While some photographs are simply straightforward representations of reality, others are carefully composed and manipulated to convey a mood or message. Whether photography is art or not ultimately depends on how it is used and what effects it is intended to have on the viewer.

Why Context Matters When Discussing Photography as Art

One of the challenges of discussing photography as art is that the meaning and value of a photograph can vary depending on its context. For example, a photograph created for a commercial or editorial purpose may not be intended to function as “art,” even if it is beautifully composed or technically impressive.

On the other hand, a photograph displayed in a gallery or museum setting may be viewed as a work of art even if it was not created explicitly for that purpose. Understanding the context in which a photograph was created and displayed is essential for determining its status as art.

How Photography Captures Emotion and Expression

While some argue that photography is a less emotional or expressive medium than painting or sculpture, photography has the potential to be just as powerful in its ability to capture and convey emotion. Whether through color, composition, or subject matter, photographers can create images that inspire feelings of joy, sadness, anger, or awe.

The ability of photography to capture and preserve a moment in time also contributes to its expressive power, allowing us to reflect on the past and feel a sense of connection to those who came before us.

Exploring the Unique Perspectives in Artistic Photography

One of the strengths of photography as an art form is its ability to provide unique perspectives on the world around us. Through framing, composition, and other techniques, photographers can create images that reveal details or patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Photography can also explore unconventional subjects or narratives, encouraging viewers to think critically about the world and their place in it.

Examining Different Techniques Used in Creative Photography

Beyond its ability to capture and express emotion, photography is also a medium that offers endless possibilities for experimentation and creativity.

Photographers can use many different techniques to create unique and visually striking images, from long exposures and double exposures to alternative printing processes and digital manipulation.

These techniques can turn an otherwise ordinary photograph into a work of art, elevating it beyond mere documentation and transforming it into a statement or a meditation on the world.

Understanding the Relationship Between Technology and Art

As a medium constantly evolving and adapting to new technological advancements, photography has a complex relationship with the idea of “art.”

Some argue that the increasing availability of high-quality cameras and editing software has made photography less memorable or meaningful as an art form, while others see these developments as a way to push the boundaries of what is possible with the medium.

Whether technological advancements are seen as a threat to artistic integrity or an exciting new frontier, it is clear that they have changed how we create, view, and understand photography as an art form.

Final Thoughts

The question of what makes photography art is complex and nuanced, with no easy answer.

However, by examining the history of the medium, the ways in which it can be defined as an art form, and the unique perspectives and techniques that make artistic photography so compelling, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the power and potential of this versatile medium. 

Whether we view photography as a mechanical reproduction of reality or a means of creative expression, there is no denying that it can inspire, provoke, and move us in ways that few other art forms can.

Related: Is Photography Contemporary Art?