I was once asked at the end of one of my creative photography presentations a very controversial and difficult, yet deserving question – “What is the difference between an artist and a photographer?”. My answer at the time was that “artists work in series and photographers take photos”. There is obviously a lot more to it than that, but in the heat of the moment, and with the pressure to provide a succinct response, this was the answer that came to me.
Well! Boy oh boy, did I receive some flack for that one! The biggest criticism was from several audience members who proposed that “everyone who takes a photo is a photographer, and all photographers are artists in their own right”.
Now – don’t get me wrong – I am all for embracing photography as a legitimate art form and referring to significant photographers as artists, but I think that’s going a bit far, don’t you? I mean, is everyone who does a drawing an artist? Is everyone who takes a photo a photographer? Do they have the necessary understanding of aesthetics, composition, lighting, mood, camera settings and techniques – not to mention editing skills – to create masterpieces that are worthy of hanging on the walls of galleries?
I have often thought back to this question and the heated discussion that followed, and I still stand by my original answer. I acknowledge that there is also a lot of other factors that could be considered when making this argument, and there will obviously be some cases that don’t fit with my very narrow definition. However, every artist I’ve ever studied completes works in series’. Some will work in the same series their whole lives and others will change from one theme to another, but the thing that makes their work have impact in the Art world, is the intent behind it – which can only really be gleaned from a cohesive and coherent body of work.
It is not my intent to be condescending – in fact I dedicate so much volunteer time to camera clubs all across Victoria because I believe in empowering budding photographers through providing free and open knowledge – I certainly don’t want to insult those that I wish to inspire.
That being said, amateur photographers in general are what I like to refer to as “opportunistic photographers” – ones who see something interesting and use the opportunity to take a photo – hopefully a great one! There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s how I learnt photography and how many others did as well. We can’t all be exhibiting at the NGV at the age of 19, like Australian Photographic artist Bill Henson.
Most of us begin our journey in photography by taking opportunities to create amazing images. Then we will start to plan for and create our own photographic opportunities. Eventually, when we become so absorbed in a theme and so passionate about it that we just want to share it – well, that’s when we start working in a series.
Click on the three links below to see my full presentation and develop an appreciation for the power and impact that can be attained by creating a Photographic Series.
By the way, I get an inordinate amount of spam, so I’m blocking comments on my posts until such time as I can afford an assistant to deal with this stuff for me! Please feel free to make comments or ask questions on my Facebook page :)