What is Photography?

Tutor no longer registered
Photography By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: Art » Photography
Last updated: 11/10/2011
Tags: art photography, conceptual photgraphy, google, photographic history, photography

The answer to this question may, on first reflection, seem obvious. It is a medium we have all grown up with; photography feels familiar and with this comes a sense of knowing. However, if we pause and reflect for a while, how much do we really know about the subject? For example, is it an art form, alternatively does it produce documents, or is it purely a recreation? The interesting fact is that it seems to fall into the 'all of the above' category. In the process of tackling this single question, complex and wide-ranging debates still ensue: it is one of the reasons that photography is such a fascinating and challenging subject.

From it’s very inception it seduced and captured our imaginations with its ability to record reality, another issue commonly challenged. It shook the art world and, in some quarters, its acceptance is still being resisted.

Technically and philosophically photography has always been in a state of flux. If we just inspect the technology, in less than 200 years (yes, the medium is that young) we have seen heavy and cumbersome equipment morphed into the mobile phone. Operators have changed from being skilled practitioners, in some cases handling specially coated and wet glass plates, to everyone being able to not only take a ‘snap’ in an instant but also having the ability to upload the results just as quickly and efficiently. This is categorically publishing and to a potentially global audience. But does the average user fully cosider that fact and the issues that arise? Once on-line ownership and control are completely lost. A very contrasting difference between that dynamic and that of delicate glass negatives stored carefully under the stewardship of a single owner.

In another contemporary twist a number of photographers have carried out photographic expeditions across continents without leaving the environment of their own desktop. I’m referring to projects such as Michael Wolf’s Street view: a series of unfortunate events, for example. We have a situation here where a huge company, Google, instigates a vast logistical project that results with a machine capturing images automatically, without any artistic merit, the human interaction relegated to that of a slavish, unskilled mobile host. The end result, an incredible set of images that archive a good proportion of our city streets and highways. Displayed to a world wide audience a particular individual appropriates and re-represents them as their own. I’ll leave that particular debate with you.

The purpose of this short article is twofold. Firstly to encourage us to think about the medium, its journey, ever changing nature, where it has been and which further directions it might take? Secondly, as a tutor, I feel it is important to illustrate in some small way why I am passionate about the subject, how it continually surprises me and why I enjoy helping others with the technicalities so that they might begin and enjoy their own rewarding photographic exploration.

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