Photography versus Art, Rinse, Repeat

Photography versus Art, Rinse, Repeat

1799 1012 Craig Sinclair

Ansel Adams might have been the best photographer that ever was or ever will be. But he wasn’t an artist. A bold statement, and one that’s gotten me into trouble in the past. As argument, I offer this; what Ansel Adams did with a camera and what he later did in the darkroom is nothing short of remarkable. His technical ability is beyond reproach. He was a brilliant photographer. But photographer’s aren’t automatically artists.

Film negatives kind of suck, and using film to capture details in the shadows of backlit mountains, while not blowing out the highlights of sun-drenched cumulonimbus clouds is, to say it mildly, challenging. I think it’s the fact that it’s so hard for film to take this kind of photograph that’s part of the reason we’re attracted to it as a medium today. Getting the image we want with the limitations of the tools we have is a worthy challenge, an idea especially reinforced whenever we see the brilliance of an Ansel Adams landscape photograph. 

Much like the audiophile will praise the soulfulness of vinyl over digital music, film has a quality to it that is music for our eyes. But even so, we’ve tried to make film easier and more accessible. 

In the time of Ansel Adams there were any number of objects that made taking a photograph “easy.” You could buy a Leica I in 1925 that used the relatively new, small, and convenient 35mm film format, available a full two years before Adams shot Monolith, the Face of Half Dome in 1927. 

But Ansel Adams wasn’t interested in easy. What Adams preferred was a variety of large and larger cameras, mostly heavy, mostly slow, all of them needing a device known as a tripod to hold them perfectly still while they made photographs. Even Adams’ negatives were heavy, often made of glass. They were slow and limiting as well. How many plates of glass would you want to haul out to Nevada Falls in the heart of Yosemite National Park for the sake of a landscape photograph? 

Ansel did take on this challenge, and he managed to capture rainbows in black-and-white and honored, respectfully, the majesty of all six hundred feet of that waterfall. I couldn’t do what he did with a 50 Megapixel camera, 100 Gigabytes of memory cards, a tripod, every single lens Zeiss has ever made, and a helicopter to get me to the perfect vantage point. Nearly none of us could. In fact, I’d suggest that there’s no other person on the planet that could do what Adams did, then or today. There are pilgrimages to the Yosemite Valley scheduled by astronomers who have figured out when the Autumn Moon will be positioned just so, so that Ansel’s iconic photograph can be recreated, with the added advantage of compositional queues from a master, and digital bracketing and RAW files allowing for a whole lot of exposure leeway. And yet the copies are underwhelming by comparison. 

That’s why Ansel Adams was a brilliant photographer. He took that majestic mountain range vista, or the powerful roar of a waterfall, or the heavily contorted spine of a Jeffrey tree, and he turned these into a photograph that you can hold in your hand or conjure up on your computer monitor, and reflect upon, and feel an intimate connection to, and he did it in a way that no one, and I mean no one else, could do. It’s brilliant photography.

But what he did wasn’t art. I think we lose sight of the subtle difference when we talk about photography. 

Gregory Crewdson is an artist, and photography happens to be his medium. He’s also an excellent photographer, which is a bonus when you’ve chosen photography as the method for expressing your artistic vision. Crewdson will shut down small town main streets and cart in truck loads full of snow, or set buildings on fire, all for a photograph. He will bring in crane mounted lighting rigs, or build intricate sets to look like decrepit houses and hire a recognizable movie star to portray a man managing a mental breakdown by laying sod in his garage, all for a photograph. There is a team of assistants and set designers, builders, costumers, lighting techs, food services, security details, and days, weeks, sometimes months of planning and meetings and energy all in preparation for capturing 1/60th of a second. 

While Crewdson is a brilliant photographer, there’s nothing natural or real in his compositions. They are art, contrived and considered down to the smallest detail. This elongation of composition exists in contrast to what a camera gave to us as a tool; a camera is something that can perfectly capture a singular moment, conveniently and with little effort, and what Crewdson does in the name of art undermines this. And he does it very well.

Photographer William Eggleston is an artist who exists on yet another plane. He takes photographs of stuff he just finds lying around with the odd exception of a portrait or similar, but even the portraits are in natural settings and you can be pretty sure that his crew of technicians consists entirely of a friend that sometimes drives him around and patiently stands by while Mr. Eggleston takes photos of sunbeams landing on worn linoleum, or an array of cars in a parking lot during the golden hour, or an unused fruit stand in the middle of a gravel parking lot. 

What Eggleston does is find narratives in seemingly banal contexts. He so perfectly captures the elegance and poetry in the pressed “good” shirt of an old man sitting on his tidily made bed while holding his cleaned and readied revolver handgun, his poverty betrayed by the chamber pot poking out from under his bed despite wearing his Sunday Best. No one, not even Ansel Adams, takes a photograph like this. 

What Eggleston and Crewdson do is produce photographs that have underlying narratives, stories about time, or space, or socioeconomic well-being, or pride, or prejudice, or… You fall into these photographs and they create scenes, contrived or found, that stop you and make you think. The dialogues are rich, though sometimes quite subtle, but they affect you in a way that goes beyond the visual. This is art.

What does all this mean?

There are those amongst us who strive for the singular perfection of an Ansel Adams landscape where negatives are precious and difficult to produce and prints are generated in environments where dust doesn’t exist. Photographs with a dynamic range perfectly bridging midnight black and just shy of blown-out white, and every shade of grey in between. Some may approach the perfect photograph slightly differently, buying more and better glass every year, more pixels, better computers, faster memory cards, lighter tripods, and swankier bags to carry it all in. 

And there are those amongst us who pretend or profess to be artists. I sometimes profess to be an artist. We find that perfect little vignette and compose (in camera of course) and push the trigger and use art speak to describe subtle narratives and subversive themes and distortions of social conventions. 

This is all a distraction. None of this matters, probably. 

I have some pretty decent digital camera stuff, and some pretty good film stuff as well. I take a lot of photographs and I have monographs from Crewdson, Eggleston, Frank, Herzog, Stettner, Maier, and more, and have spent a fair bit of time at the library looking at the monographs I don’t have or can’t afford. I’ve watched the films and sat in on some lectures, and spent many hours in art galleries around the world looking at photographs and art. I will tell you how you should never meet your heroes because it’s always disappointing, and then go on to tell about how seeing Eggleston’s work in the Portland Art Museum was a religious experience for me. He’s that fucking good. 

Distractions.

I’m blessed with a photograph that exists like a memory, a bit grainy, slightly idealized, accidentally shot like I was a monkey with a camera making photograph after photograph until I happened to make this one. I wasn’t smart enough to perfectly expose it, or lucky enough to have the right film in the right camera at the right moment. But I had a camera in my hand and I just took a picture. We can argue the semantics of “photograph” vs “picture” and “photographer” vs “artist” and so much more. I took a picture. This picture – 

It’s a picture of a kid mid-skip. My kid. And I could pretend that I intended for the red of the flowers to be reflected in the red of her shorts, or how the composition was just so that it showed an implied connectivity in suburbia and a network of community manifest through paved driveways linking to common roadways contrasted with the intimacy of the proverbial suburban home driveway. I could argue the branches teasing the top right of the composition allude to grander scales outside of the somewhat intimate composition, an intimacy and fragility furthered by a shallow depth-of-field and a shutter speed that barely captures a moving child alluding to the ephemerality of it all.

All of that is a lie. I was taking a photograph of something else, creating my art, when I happened to face my kid with a jump rope in the driveway and without time to carefully compose, or adjust exposure, I raised the camera and took a picture. It’s not art. It’s not even a very good photograph. But it’s why photography exists. It’s a moment in time captured. It’s like real memories, fragmented and out of context, but genuine and thoughtful. 

It’s pictures like this that should inspire us all to take more photographs. It’s not why I take photographs, but it probably should be.


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[Featured illustration by Lori Bailey]

Craig Sinclair

Craig Sinclair was born in Ontario and is a University of Toronto School of Architecture graduate living in Vancouver for the second time. His photography explores the underlying narratives existing in found contexts. There is beauty in the ordinary, a concept he explores by taking a photograph every day; an exercise he began in 2007 and continues to this day.

All stories by:Craig Sinclair
16 comments
  • Merlin Marquardt May 15, 2019 at 10:41 am

    Nicely said

  • Craig, you guys here at CP continue to impress me with your writing and insight. I didn’t take up photography until I was in my mid 40’s. I’ve only been in it for 5 years and doing film for the last 1-1/2. In that time, I’ve absorbed so much knowledge and studied so many pictures and what you said about the distinction between art and photography rang so true to me.

    I’ve had people critique my photos, recommending “lightroom this, photoshop that” or “bracket your exposures”, etc., etc.. My response has always been that I want to capture the moment as I saw it. If I didn’t get the exposure quite right, I can fix that in Lightroom.

    I like to shoot landscapes primarily, and In my studies, I’ve seen way too many photos that end up looking like paintings (albeit, beautiful paintings) that leave me wanting to see the original as the photographer saw it.

    I’m still learning the craft, but thanks for helping me reinforce that I’m a photographer, not an artist.

  • Merlin Marquardt May 15, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.”

    Ansel Adams

    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/ansel_adams_141284

  • I research video game music, and in video game theory there has been a long and intense debate about whether video games are art (thanks Roger Ebert et al). After watching this debate unfold, and even taking part, my impression is that defining ‘art’ is as tantalising as it is impossible. It is an immensely subjective undertaking, and one that is often embarked upon without acknowledging that the way humans think and act is as liable to change as we humans ourselves.
    Sure, structured composition is a lot closer to the classical notion of art, built upon centuries of tradition. However, I would think it overly restrictive to require something to do old things in new ways before it can be considered artistic. Refusing to acknowledge new kinds of art just condemns the whole question to irrelevance while society moves on in the continual evolution of its expressions.
    That said, thanks for yet another excellent and thought-provoking article!

  • What one considers art is extremely personal and subjective. There is no defining characteristic that makes one photo “art” while another not, it’s strictly up to individual and how they perceive it. Art is not such a cut and dry subject. It is not based on yes/no or good/bad. To praise Eggleston as a great artist (which I strongly feel he is) but say how Ansel isn’t (mostly based on their processes) is just an opinion. It’s also one that I highly disagree with, which is also just an opinion. Yet this article is written as if it is a fact listed on a film stocks data sheet. Part of the beauty of fine art is for the viewer to make their own conclusions, which are unique to the individual, and based on a large variety of personal factors.
    I also feel like many photographers who believe they are artists have every right to feel and believe so. It can be very empowering for them and help them create better work. To reinforce the idea to someone that they are just a “photographer” not an “artist” is doing them a large disservice.
    I normally really enjoy this sites content, but unfortunately this article was a miss for me, which much like this article is just an opinion. I encourage everyone to please think and decide for themselves. Thank you

    • Craig Sinclair May 18, 2019 at 4:50 am

      I get it. I get that it’s all very subjective. What I feel you allude to, but don’t quite say, is, “there’s no accounting for taste.” Well, there is accounting for taste. Education and experience accounts for taste. Considered exposure and research and practice account for taste. And I’ll even acknowledgement that if something isn’t appealing to me it doesn’t mean it isn’t “good” or “significant” in the world of photography. .

      My goal wasn’t to undermine the legitimacy of Adams. I more than acknowledge his skill by suggesting he might just be one of the best photographers ever. I just think the word “art” is overused. The art of cooking. The art of woodworking. The art of war. I think the word “art” is used in place of a rather clumsy but more accurate, “the thorough understanding of, and competent expression of, through honed and informed technique, experience, and understanding.” I’m trying to give credit where credit is due. Adams deserves credit for his full and competent skill as a photographer.

      But yes, it’s semantics, for sure. Still, I believe it’s time to reign in the use of the word “art.” No, “art” is not easily defined, but knowing the burning point of sugar and how to exploit it when making barbeque ribs, or creme brullee, is skill and experience and science and education and practice. But it’s not the “art of cooking” even if it demands finesse and understanding.

      I will also add, that as a long time supporter of the arts at all levels, I won’t tell someone what they do isn’t art. But I will always ask someone, at any level, to justify what they offer as art. “why did you pick this colour? What does this dark space mean?” etc. And if they answer with consideration and conviction, I never tell them they are wrong even if I don’t buy it. As long as I get the feeling they are being honest and thoughtful in their explanation of why their work is “art” I will accept it as art. I say this because you’re right, “many photographers who believe they are artists have every right to feel and believe so. It can be very empowering for them and help them create better work.” And this should be encouraged. I am my own hardest critic, I know what I thought was a good photograph 20 years ago is quite insufferable today, from an artistic point of view. But I respectfully disagree with “To reinforce the idea to someone that they are just a “photographer” not an “artist” is doing them a large disservice.” I never said Adams was “just” a photographer. I acknowledged he had an ungodly skill, and that he was a better photographer than Eggleston. But Eggleston was a better artist than Adams. There was no discussion about which or who held more merit. If anything, I would suggest it’s harder to be a brilliant photographer than an artist.

      But most importantly, take photographs of your kids, your friends, your family, your lovers, your pets.

      Thank you for your considered comment. Discourse is always good and I appreciate your perspective.

      • Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your honest and thoughtful response.
        I couldn’t agree more about your statement to take photos of kids, family, friends, lovers, etc. I always encourage those I know to do the same, and most importantly to do it with film. So many people I know shoot film, but still take all their important family and friends photos digitally and usually with a cell phone. One of the greatest attributes of film is its archival nature by default. 95% of people I know aren’t even backing up their cell phone shots. If they do it’s to an external hard drive that won’t last more than 10 years or a cloud service that will keep charging them further down the line to access their own work. And that’s If that cloud service is even still around. I remember when people thought Flickr was the way to archive for free and we’ve all recently seen how that’s not the case. Most of these cell phone shots will be lost and it’s sad to think of all the precious childhood images that won’t be around. I’m so glad my parents made physical photo albums and their parents did as well. It’s amazing that I can still make a high quality print from a negative shot in the 30s of my grandfather as a child. In 90 years will our grandchildren be able to do the same with a cell phone shot?
        Sorry to rant but it’s something I feel very strongly about. Perhaps this would make a great topic for a future article?

  • Really well written article, sorry if this posted twice, just a few questions: From my understanding of Adams, his entire process, from exposure to print, was directed toward trying to recreate the feeling one would have standing in the presence of the great natural scenes of Yosemite and other locations. This seems to me very much like instilling a narrative, idealized form, or commentary into the image, making it something other than a technically perfect recording, however impressive and irreplicable. Would that imply that Adams work was art, with an goal outside of pure record making?

    A second question (or series of questions), does art have to be intended to be art? In other words, can something have intrinsic qualities, independent of the artist/photographer’s intent, that constitute it as art? For example, the picture you made of your daughter. A long list of possible compositional elements (that would seem to constitute artistic intent) was given and then dismissed due to being unintended, but should the fact that compositional elements were unintended mean that they are altogether not present? Can art occur even without our intending it to?

    Final question, can we even keep ourselves from implying meaning/narrative/commentary (the implied definition of art for your article from my perspective) anytime we take a photo? Given all that comes from our own perspective, from positioning, to skill, to when we feel it is time to press the shutter, can it be said that anyone takes a photo without imparting some separate/meaning/commentary? I think it is impossible to escape our own perspective, so thus we necessarily create images with our own implications, which by what defines art in this article would imply that creating “art” with one’s photos is an inevitability.

    Thank you so much for your writing and opinion, they definitely have me thinking about how I conceptualize photography as a work/hobby for myself and others.

    • Craig Sinclair May 18, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      Good questions…

      “From my understanding of Adams, his entire process, from exposure to print, was directed toward trying to recreate the feeling one would have standing in the presence of the great natural scenes of Yosemite and other locations. This seems to me very much like instilling a narrative, idealized form, or commentary into the image, making it something other than a technically perfect recording, however impressive and irreplicable. Would that imply that Adams work was art, with an goal outside of pure record making?”

      Contrarily, recognizing the majesty of something and being able to record it is the foundation of brilliant photography. It’s a skill, not an art, in my opinion. We’ve all looked at a sunset, a waterfall, a rainforest, or similar, and taken a photograph only to feel like it was missing the essence of what we were trying to capture. The fact that Adams can do this makes him a brilliant photographer. But what he’s capturing lacks process or interpretation or implied narrative beyond the purity of the experience. This doesn’t lessen the brilliance of his skill, if anything it praises his ability to capture the essence of a scene with such clarity and purity.

      “A second question (or series of questions), does art have to be intended to be art? In other words, can something have intrinsic qualities, independent of the artist/photographer’s intent, that constitute it as art? For example, the picture you made of your daughter. A long list of possible compositional elements (that would seem to constitute artistic intent) was given and then dismissed due to being unintended, but should the fact that compositional elements were unintended mean that they are altogether not present? Can art occur even without our intending it to?”

      Intuition is a powerful sense to hone. I think Eggleston is very aware of the essence he’s trying to capture in his photographs. And post-rationalization is the friend of many artists but there is a gut instinct that informs decisions. My daughter wasn’t front and center, face in the middle, legs cut off, because I’ve trained my brain to understand the rule of thirds, and also understand the compositional faux pas of limb removal. So, yes, instinct and skill and experience certainly informed the composition and the timing of the shutter release, which may allow for “artistic intent” without an understanding of the specifics in the moment. But moments are fleeting and instincts honed, and it’s possible, I believe, to recognize a metaphor, or underlying narrative, without specifically understanding it as the shutter is pressed.

      “Final question, can we even keep ourselves from implying meaning/narrative/commentary (the implied definition of art for your article from my perspective) anytime we take a photo? Given all that comes from our own perspective, from positioning, to skill, to when we feel it is time to press the shutter, can it be said that anyone takes a photo without imparting some separate/meaning/commentary? I think it is impossible to escape our own perspective, so thus we necessarily create images with our own implications, which by what defines art in this article would imply that creating “art” with one’s photos is an inevitability.”

      Yes, I believe we can direct the narrative of a photograph. To an extreme, consider a crime scene photographer, or a mug shot photographer. This is pure documentation from a lighting to composition perspective. Controlling artistic intent is paramount, and documenting every specific detail clearly and without narrative is the essence of the job. It’s flat photography.

      Adams takes this a step further, he also captures the essence of the scene, without manipulation. We’ve all (or most of us) stood in front of something, and taken a photograph of it, whether it’s a sunset, or a mountain range, or a kid blowing out birthday cake candles, and we’ve tried to capture the energy of that moment. We’re not trying to create a narrative beyond exactly what’s happening. We want our breath to be taken away by a scenic vista for it’s beauty, or we want to relive the excitement of a newly five year old’s exuberant effort to blow out all the candles in one breath. It’s not easy to capture this energy, but it’s not interpretive either.

      In these two examples, underlying narratives about the journey to that vista, or the companionship one had on that trip, or a historical battle that took place on that site, or a human mark on a natural vista, or a camp in the foreground, all add a narrative. Or for the birthday kid, a photograph without a parent in the background may suggest a single mother or father who is presumably taking the photograph, or a high quality cake on a table in a run down motor home kitchen may imply sacrifice and shifted priorities for the celebration of a loved one. It’s not always easy to create these narratives effectively. And it’s not always easy to remove them from a photograph either.

      I won’t get into it here too much because I want to write about it in the future, but if you compare Frank Herzog’s and Greg Girard’s photographs of Vancouver you’ll see what I’m talking about. Both took photographs of Vancouver in the 70s, but they both have completely different feels to them. Herzog’s photographs are more popular, and he sells a lot of them at a premium, and they very effectively capture a moment in Vancouver’s history, while Girard’s have an earthier feel to them, each with an implied underlying narrative, an untold story, or an implied idea about the human condition at a moment in time..

      I don’t know if that’s clear. It’s a tough one to put into words and I feel like I’m talking in circles. Your questions are good. Thanks.

      • Thanks so much, Craig. Your answers were very helpful and continue to be as thought provoking as your article.

        A follow up question if you have the time, but are you familiar with Sultan and Mandel’s book “Evidence”? With your ideas on what constitutes art versus “flat photography”, I would love to hear what you think about their insinuating narrative into flat photography.

        Thanks again for the reply, your answers make good sense.

  • Great article, great writing one more time.
    A way to remember that photography is an art. An art like all the arts, where there are the great masters, and all the others. A great Master is someone who has a level that allows him to do everything at the optimum level with an art that no one can reproduce. Ansel Adams is one of the greatest. Nobody can do better than him.

  • Hi Craig,
    great article, and I think you are absolutely right. To me, the distinction you are making is totally valid and definitely makes sense. Adams was a great photographer, one of the best there ever were, in the sense that he was a master of every technique possibly involved in creating ‘perfect’ photographs. ‘Perfect’, that is, on a technical level. Composition, timing, contrast, exposure, dynamic range, etc., everything we think about when we think about technique could probably not have been made better by any other photographer. Adams’ skills both out in the field and in the darkroom are unsurpassed.
    Art, however, has nothing to do with technique. Art can make use of technique, but it doesn’t depend on it, as it exists on a completely different level, or rather, it works on different level of perception. (Of course, for an artist, developing technical skills doesn’t hurt either…) Both Eggleston and Shore are good examples for this. Their technical skills aren’t awfully refined really (at least not in comparison to Ansel Adams or Bruce Barnbaum), and the same holds true for other photographers, like for example W. Eugene Smith, Trent Parke, Ralph Gibson, Robert Mapplethorpe or Henri Cartier-Bresson (the latter of which couldn’t even be bothered to enter the darkroom). Nonetheless, they created some of the most memorable works of art within the realm of photography. Now what is the difference? While technique exists on, or manifest itself in, the physical level of the photograph itself, art is something that transcends this physical existence. It is that part of a great photograph that reaches beyond it, that goes beyond both the form of the photograph (exposure, composition, contrast, etc.) and its content (that which is depicted), by making the viewer perceive something else through the picture. This something can be an emotion that’s stirred within the viewer, or for example a kind of deeper insight into the world or human life (HCB’s recurrent theme), or something else completely.
    All this sounds pretty vague, I know, which is probably my fault, as I am no expert. (Roland Barthes did a much better job in his distinction between ‘studium’ and ‘punctum’.) At the same time, however, I think this is mainly due to the fact that art is vague. I don’t think there are any objective criteria by which one can assert what is a piece of art and what isn’t. Rather, all of this takes place on a personal, subjective level. So this of course means that what for me is art does not have to be art for everybody else. If a picture doesn’t tell you anything beyond its mere substance, if it doesn’t reach out to you on an intuitive or emotional level, if it – in your eyes – does not transcend itself, it is for you probably just that: a picture of something. Even if it was created with an awful lot of technical skill and expertise.
    Now let’s go back to Adams. I have not seen every single picture he took, but those I have seen for me are not art. They are refined, they are beautiful, they are technically sophisticated beyond words. But that’s it. For me. For everybody else, of course, this may be different.
    Cheers, Carsten

  • Good article. Let’s distinguish between the art and the craft.

    Craft means in the formal, wider sense, not limited to textiles or sticking things together with HotGlue. Craft encompasses the processes, techniques, methods and problem solving that goes into how the thing is made, whether it’s an oil painting, a photograph or a quilt.

    Art is the visualisation, the idea and what is to be rendered in whichever media the artist chose. It might (but often doesn’t) also tell why.

    I’ve seen many crafts, especially photography and weaving, raised to the level of fine art and at other times being perfect examples of exquisite craft. In this definition, Ansel Adams can be both artist and craftsman, although he may possibly been more artist on his first trips to Yellowstone and more craftsman on his many return visits, by which time he had already committed to his photographic intentions.

    Crewdson is going a few steps further in his craft, beyond photography to include theatre set design and direction. That gives him more freedom to define his artistic visualisations the way he wants them, not kept to the ways that Yellowstone’s rocks, trees, water, sky and light were there for Adams. But just having more crafts in your repertoire doesn’t necessarily increase the artistry.

    Throughout the evolution of photography there have been many people doing excellent craft, and then every so often, someone or other does something they’ve seen in a different way, then we all take a look from that alternative view and it’s never quite the same again. That’s an artist.

  • HeartShyCan’tHide May 21, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    I’m a therapist by profession. I’ve seen the value and also the pain that comes with placing parameters around something. When I work with survivors of intimate partner violence, I have to be very precise and rigid around the definition of abuse so people can keep themselves safe. When I work with relationships where there is a male-identified partner, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard precise and rigid definitions of masculinity that have been given to these men. It sucks. What ends up happening is that they are unable to identify and name some pretty basic emotions. Or they disown all emotions, except maybe anger because that’s the “manly” one. Anger is the one that pushes our partners away, whereas vulnerability brings them closer, but they’ve never explored those vulnerable emotions or had the emotional safety to express that. It’s heartbreaking to see how that negatively impacts a relationship, how they see themselves, and how they see each other. So I’m weary about anyone putting parameters or giving specific and rigid definitions to art for this reason. I’m worried that we’re sending the message of, “If you don’t fit this, then you’re not worthy of an artist designation.” No one deserves to feel like they’re at the bottom of some imagined art hierarchy. But can a definition be helpful? Sure. Terry Richardson is a total pile of shit and has harmed a bunch of women. If a photographer coerces someone into doing anything sexual for the sake of a photograph, then calling it art is harmful. But is calling the landscape hanging in your general practitioners office “art” harmful? Nah. Because art is an expression of our humanity, defining art is really an attempt to define our humanity. So if you’re looking for a blanket definition, maybe that’s a good place to start. What makes us human? For years, I’ve been studying humans and joining with people in their process of healing and change and I still haven’t figured it out yet. We are emotional, relational, cultural, historical, cognitive, neurophysiological, behavioral, experiential, spiritual, representational, conceptual, story-telling, meaning-making, etc. If we can find a photograph that speaks to any one on any of our dimensions of humanness, then that’s enough.

  • Good writing is Art. Thanks.

  • I didn’t read all of it, but you’re absolutely right. Photography cannot be art, no matter how impressive.

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Craig Sinclair

Craig Sinclair was born in Ontario and is a University of Toronto School of Architecture graduate living in Vancouver for the second time. His photography explores the underlying narratives existing in found contexts. There is beauty in the ordinary, a concept he explores by taking a photograph every day; an exercise he began in 2007 and continues to this day.

All stories by:Craig Sinclair