Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Art and Photography

The question of art and photography has been in existence since photography was first invented. Many theorists completely rejected the idea that photography could be considered an art. Charles Baudelaire, among many others, firmly believed that photography was mechanical and belonged in the industrial category, not the artistic. Creating art was a very prestigious activity that could only be done by intellectuals. Taking a photograph was a purely mechanical activity that required no thought or planning at all. One simply pressed a few buttons, and the machine that is the camera created the image.

Fortunately for photographers, much has changed since the 1850's when Baudelaire declared his ideas. Today photography is considered as much an art as painting or sculpture is. Artistic photographs can be found just about everywhere in today's culture. Not only are artists highlighting their work through creative venues like museums and galleries, but they have found a place in commercial venues as well. Newspapers, magazines, and advertisements all use artistic photography. It is not enough to simply show an image of a scene or a person. There needs to be an idea behind the image that is shown through the layout, framing, and lighting of the photo. In his essay "The Photographic Message," Roland Barthes goes into great detail about the aspects that go into creating a photograph. He talks about the "trick effects" that a photographer can edit into his image, the posing of the figures that can be captured, the objects that are placed or removed from the scene, and how the image can be enhanced by elements of photogenia (lighting, exposure, printing). A photographer uses all of these aspects to create his artistic view in his image.

Even the images that we seen in the daily news about wars and disasters around the world take into account these elements. Each photographer has his or her own opinion about the event that he or she covers. As much as we like to believe that objectivity exists in the news media, we all know this isn't really that true. A photographer has an opinion and his images reflect that opinion. Photographers use the artistic elements of photography to show their ideas in their images. I think that art naturally finds its place in war and disaster photography simply because of the way photographers go about capturing their images.

Looking at Salgado's photo essays, the artistic elements are very evident. Even though Salgado's images did not appear in a newspaper or other form of media, they are still of disaster and suffering around the world. I think the fact that Salgado has won awards for his photography shows that art is definitely found in war photography. His images can also be considered beautiful. They are not beautiful in the traditional way, but beautiful in the way in which they evoke compassion. I think that this idea of beauty has in some ways taken over as what defines sometimes as beautiful. Pretty faces and sunny landscapes are rarely described as "beautiful." I think that people have come to expect beautiful images to evoke strong emotions. Viewers want to feel something when shown a landscape or a face.

Dorothea Lange's photo "Migrant Woman" taken for the FSA during the Depression, shows a woman gazing past the photographer deep in thought. Her struggles are clear on her face and she is not shown to be "pretty," but the image, and the woman, are still beautiful. The beauty of the photograph comes from the emotion that the woman's intense gaze delivers. Images like these show that even if a photographer is taking pictures during wartime or struggling, his artistic ideas still show through in his images, and it is these ideas that make a photograph beautiful.

1 comment:

Ashlee said...

I loved the description you used for Salgado's photos, especially your distinction between 'pretty' and 'beautiful.' You are right in saying that though Salgado's photos did not appear in newspapers or media, they still depict worldly suffering. Beautiful images defined in terms of the strong emotions they evoke was also an interesting point.