I’ve though very much about the nature of photography as form of expression or art and of what differentiates a person with a camera from a “photographer” and a “photographer” from an “artist”.
Everyone has a camera, usually accessible at all times.
Phone cameras are half decent at snapshots, while dedicated digital cameras can be small and easy to pack around. These cameras can are are often used to record spur of the moment images and snapshots with the intent of creating a record to be shared with others. But the “person with a camera” is distinguished from a “photographer” not by equipment, but by intent and level of involvement.
The “photographer” knows their craft and their equipment. They are a craftsperson, with a level of mastery allowing them to envision and attain a particular result in particular situations. While they often shoot for the record, they likely also practice picture taking as a hobby or profession, becoming well versed on the techniques of one or many types of photography, be it portraiture, landscapes, wildlife, or any of the myriad other subgenres. Their dedication to attaining a set of skills may allow them to make all or part of their living using all or a subset of said skills. When one knows how to shoot a pleasing portrait, one can repeatedly shoot such portraits, perhaps even convincing others to pay for the honour of having their picture taken.
The “artist” likely also has a set of photographic skills they may or may not use to make a living. Like the “photographer”, they have attained a certain mastery of craft that allows them to envision a project and see it through to the desired end. Unlike the “photographer”, the artist has a unique vision. While the artist likely studied technique to get where they are technically, they are interested in pushing the envelope of technique in a unique way, presenting subject matter that is innovative and provocative. They have developed a vision of what they want to portray, and happen to use photography as an end to achieving that vision. They are not satisfied by developing a reliable technique and banking on it, rather they are satisfied by pushing the technique, scrapping it if need be, in order to properly see through a unique vision.
These thoughts have come to me at times that I have contemplated the legitimacy of photography as an “art” form. I realized that just as someone who can use a paintbrush is not necessarily an artist, neither is someone who can use a camera. Just because the basics of photography are “easy” compared to other artistic forms (though that is very much arguable) does not make photography a less legitimate form of expression. The tools and the medium have little to do with the legitimacy of art, rather it is the artist’s ability to forge a unique vision and use tools and medium to see it through that create a legitimate work of art.
For what it’s worth, the three above categories are just constructs, and I’m guessing no one with a camera always falls exclusively in one of them. I know I dabble in all three. Are they levels of attainment or mastery? I don’t think so. Maybe between “person with a camera” and “photographer”, as technical skills are easy to quantify. However, the differences between the “photographer” and “artist” categories are pretty sketchy and draw some highly subjective lines that depend on evaluation of certain qualities of work and approach.
In terms of esoteric theories of reality and valuation, the artist exudes dynamic quality while the “photographer” practices “static” quality in their work. I’m sorry for the reference to what is by now a rather dated and much forgotten theory, but I feel it certainly brings something to understanding in this context.
I’m not intending this ramble to be in any way a comprehensive theory or framework of any sort. I’m just really good at overthinking things. Especially in the winter when I’m stuck inside.
PS- If you’ve read this far and are wondering what the photo accompanying this post has to do with anyone, click through to it’s Flickr page. I will say it’s a great example of artistic vision seen through.