What is Photography?
Photography Summed Up:
Depending on the individual, the definition associated to “Photography” may be summed up in as few as one word: “memories”, or become a complex definition – really it depends on the individual’s own outlook on the subject, and their own experience in different fields of art/design/business. We know photos are used in magazines, websites, books, etc, and are in our daily life – so what is the definition?! We, at RoTP, asked ourselves this question: “what is photography?”, and here are our own personal responses. Hold on tight, as this is a long, complex, yet important question to ask ourselves!
Designer By Day – Photographer By Night: Brandon
Welcome! I’m Brandon Bolin, designer by day, photographer by night! Photography has been a personal hobby of mine for a few years now, and I have been fortunate enough to land myself a few paid gigs throughout the years to make my hobby play a more important role in my life. Currently I am majoring in Digital Media and use photos as important elements in daily design projects – ranging from single one-time marked assignments, to projects being viewed by the thousands of viewers on websites such as RoTP. To me, the role of photography in our daily life is vastly different then those with different backgrounds. For example, I might quickly define the surface layer of Photography as a design with a purpose. A good friend of mine however just defined it as Art and Freedom of Creativity. So which is it?
Perhaps both? Or neither! Once again it differs based on the individual. As a designer – every photo has a purpose to it. The composition, the subject, the lighting, the angles all have a substantial impact to the message I wish to communicate. By this definition, I may sum it up as a simple element in a larger world of communication of that is design. I need to choose an image for our featured home page article… do I choose the one with a horizontal fence, or do I choose the image with the fence at a 60 degree angle clockwise? I would choose option two, because it has a direct line leading the viewer straight to the website logo. Or, more specifically, from the logo, down through the image, and then onto my featured article of most importance. This image was chosen by simple design principles, not pure creativity.
I am however, quick to admit that photography, especially to a non-professional, may be defined more as an artwork where you pick a photo just because you “like” it. It gets printed and hung on a wall with an initial purpose that was undefined. In this instance, it is a symbol of personal expression. It is a piece of you – you shot it – you like it for a reason – it is a part of you! So is this art? Well… that’s another long question, because art and design are two conflicting ideas stemming from the generation of creativity. I personally consider it art, unless it has a greater meaning beyond yourself (such as the example below).
I could have easily begun this extensive answer by simply laying down the technical aspects of photography: Photography is shooting an image (capturing memory), editing it, printing it, selling it, buying new dSLR, shooting more, editing more… etc. However, due to my educational background I feel it important to figure out exactly what is photography in a more conceptual meaning. To me, it revolves around design and purpose – perhaps not initially, but instead the purpose is found and then exaggerated! For example, my father took an image of an elephant trunk on the RoTP home page (detailing the technical side on the rule of thirds). For me, the image makes me consider the implications of the endangered animals in Africa. It has a greater purpose in meaning, however no purposeful structure or composition chosen before taking the image to place it in a greater environment. So it has a greater meaning, yet compositionally it was not intended to be placed into something larger than it’s purpose of hanging on a wall. I suppose then it is up to a designer to find exactly how the resulting composition will benefit a given design project… and I suppose that is leading even further than the idea of photography…
The image does have an incredible amount of design within – which we may parallel with the idea of simple composition. Your composition is chosen with a purpose: to engage the viewer within your photo. Your composition has meaning, thus design. That is why most photographers learn about practical composition (or basic design principles) before any technical aspects such as aperture or shutter speed.
At this point my answer to “What is photography” is: Photography is design. It is meant to hold a purpose, either it be holding a memory, cleverly displaying a product, or engaging an individual into taking some sort of action towards a given cause. I also feel its important to remember the difference between “what is photography” and “what is a photographer”, as one focusses on the process, the taking of an image, and the idea of a form of communication, while “photographer” is a career or refinement of an art (lol, or design) and processing the most effective possible photography.
Furthermore, photography may have been a form of communication for years, upon years, upon even more years. In fact, if we are currently running with the idea that photography is a purposeful form of communication, or holding of a particular memory, then we might consider the early cave paintings as a form of photography? Is this a stretch? Possibly… but it was their medium to hold information, used to remember particular dangerous animals or good scavenging locations. The only difference is we now instantly capture the image on a digital memory card. So, do we draw the line and say that a further definition of photography is that it must be taken by a machine and does not contain human interaction to process a final result? Initially I considered that to be a clear line in the sand, however film photography required chemical processing and hands-on work in dark rooms, while even earlier photographers had to apply the chemicals directly onto a sheet of paper of which will be exposed. There! That might be the key difference! Exposure. Photography across every age has involved exposure to a medium to produce the result. Cave paintings on the other hand were applied by hand, and not exposed (even though early methods of revealing these exposures may have needed further human interaction). While both forms of communication (cave paintings and photography) have a similar purpose, photography is really one form of communication (which may involve music, poem, writing, drawing, painting, photography, dance, and possibly more).
On a historic note, photography has had a very powerful impact. It has been a determining factor for ancient celebrities to keep their face in the public’s eye – even today! We have seen the image of Hitler so many times that we immediately recognize a moustache such as his! Without photographs of such men, generations after may not ever be able to visualize history in the truest sense possible!
That is my rant for the night, and I highly look foreword to my dads response since he lives and breathes photography specifically much more than I do!
The Emotional Connection: Kelly
What is photography? I have a quote on my portfolio site that adequately sums it up for me. “Photography – An art capable of eliciting powerful emotions, Capturing a moment into eternity, providing insight into life’s reflections”.
Let’s break this down: Art – yes I do believe photography is an art. When I talk to people about “fine art photography” or “fine art prints” some are stumped or mystified at the idea that photography can be described as a form of art. Let’s look at a painter for a moment. They start with a blank canvas and start layering different colours of paint in different angles, etc. to result in a piece of work, that for the most part, people call art.
Now let’s turn ourselves to photography as an art. Unlike a painter who starts with a blank canvas, the photographer starts with a full canvas (the world) and has to remove distracting elements by moving forward or backward, zooming in or out, moving sideways either left or right, crouching down or raising oneself up, deciding to shoot landscape or portrait mode or perhaps somewhere in between, choice of lens for wide angle or telephoto depending on whether to achieve a compressed background or not, choice of aperture to create a blurred background or one in sharp focus, choice of shutter speed whether one wants a blurred background to create a sense of motion or fast to create a tack sharp image.
While many of the decisions appear to be technical in nature (and they certainly are) the choice the photographer makes is based on a creative desire he wants to achieve.
Capable of eliciting powerful emotions – this can be a challenging endeavour. There are many images we see in our lifetime that elicit emotions of happiness, sadness, joy, sorrow, etc. It can be a picture of a child splashing in a pool with a funny face, to perhaps a child suffering or dying in the midst of a war. We have all seen them and each image conveys it’s own emotional response based on our own beliefs, values, and experiences. It’s that almost instantaneous emotion that we feel deep inside us that determines where exactly that image fits in our opinion of whether it’s art or simply a snapshot.
Capturing a moment into eternity – haven’t we all seen these? Think about it for a moment, those shots in history that we immediately recognize. Images of WWII, soldiers at Vimy Ridge, President Kennedy shooting, Neil Armstrong on the moon, Twin Towers of 9/11; this list goes on and on. Simply open the “Life magazine’s Year of Pictures” and you’ll quickly understand where I’m coming from.
Providing insight into life’s reflections – When I think of this it’s much more personal for me, but basically comes down to “expressions” of joy, happiness, anger, sorrow, etc. Those images that really “tell a story” of ones life. To me it’s not simply a single image but rather a collection of images that tell a story and convey “who this person is”.
If you have enjoyed our answers to “what is photography” be sure to stop at the following links to read up more: