Tim Layton Fine Art | Essay 12 - What is Fine Art Photography?

Vintage Lilies - 8x10 Paper NegativeVintage Lilies - 8x10 Paper Negative Essay 12 - What is Fine Art Photography?

Fine art photography is a controversial subject that has no universally agreed upon meaning or definition that I am aware of, making it a phrase and term that can be misused or even abused.  I will make a humble attempt in this essay to share my thoughts about what it means to create fine art photography.

It is challenging and arguably meaningless to describe fine art photography without linking it to the photographer. I don't believe that fine art images stand alone.  I explore the relationship between the photographer and fine art in this essay.  

Without a doubt, some readers will not agree with my views, and I welcome the feedback and alternative perspectives.  These differing views and perspectives are the magic sauce that makes us all grow and continue to evolve.  

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The State of Hobbyist Photographers

Before diving into the meaning of fine art, I think it is relevant to explore the state of photography and the impact that hobbyists can have on professionals.  I believe it is an incredibly difficult time to be a professional photographer.  Between the mass proliferation of photography in general and the obsession of photos on social media, it seems that anyone today could be considered a photographer.  The impact of hobbyists is not a new concept.  Kodak's vision at the turn of the 20th century was to put a camera in everyone's hands, and they would take care of the rest.  I can hear the screams of professionals from that time still! 

Today, hobbyist are flooding the market with photos that they are willing to either give away or trade for recognition.  The evolution of technology has made it possible for the vast majority of people to have a camera in their pocket at all times and the Internet has provided a platform to publish and share their photos instantly.  

A substantial number of hobbyists have the option to go back to their jobs on Monday morning and buy more camera equipment the following weekend or rely on another source of income. It isn't uncommon for a hobbyist to own better equipment than working professionals.  I love that people are passionate about photography as a hobby, but unfortunately, there is a price to pay as it relates to new professionals trying to break into the market.  

When hobbyist's pose as professionals, they make it very difficult for working professionals by giving away their work or selling it at inappropriate pricing, both of which hurts the professional photographer.  While this may seem negative, I think it is an opportunity for professionals to stand out from the crowd and shine.  In the paragraph's below I describe what it means to be a fine art photographer and to create fine art photography.  I believe that a full-time fine art photographer has an excellent opportunity to earn a living today.   

The Fine Art Photographer

In the last ten years, there has been a significant increase in people calling themselves fine art photographers.  In this essay, I will try and describe the characteristics that define a fine art photographer and subsequently fine art photography.  I believe the two are linked together and ultimately help define fine art photography.   

As mentioned at the top of this essay, I think that a fine art photographer creates fine art.  While it is possible for a photographer of any skill level or background to create a single image that portrays fine art characteristics, it is the unique connection between the photographer and their work that brings fine art to life and to have meaning.  

Hobbyists can create images from time to time that portrays fine art characteristics, but a professional has a body of work that sets them apart.  This body of work is a reflection of what is in their soul, and it is evident to others that their purpose in life is to create and share this artwork.  

Fine Art Photography

For a photographer to create fine art, several criteria must be met.  The photographer must have a creative vision that serves as the foundation of who they are and the type of artwork they create.  Fine art is more than a beautiful photo, it is an idea, a story or emotion, or message that the photographer wants to convey in their work.  The concept of fine art photography infers that the photographer has mastered their trade, and they can create a body of high-quality work that is repeatable and consistent.  

A fine art photographer has consistency in their work, and viewers can see a common thread that identifies the photographer within their artwork.  When you view their body of work, even though it can be different subjects, there are similarities that act as a common thread through all of their artwork.  The body of work must include the invisible part of the photographer that people can experience while not able to see it directly.  

Fine art photographers must have an artist statement.  This statement is a short explanation about the photographer, what their work is about, and why and possibly how they create it.  It helps viewers understand the photographer's intentions and discover the emotional content that is just below the surface of the physical image.  

It has been my experience when buyers don't look for the elements mentioned above; they typically are not the type of customer that you want to attract.  Flashy over-saturated images may work on social media, but they don't have a chance against a professional that works on a daily basis to build a body of work that is founded on their passion and linked to a higher purpose.  

It has been said before the difference between a masterpiece and a flop is marketing.  I absolutely believe this to be true and working fine art photography professionals must push themselves to be highly effective marketers in order to be successful today.  There is too much white noise on the Internet today and people are easily distracted by flashing lights.  It is no longer sufficient to be a master of the art and craft of photography.  Now you have to be a master of marketing too. 

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-Tim Layton

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