A professional painter with an extensive and impressive resume said to me a few weeks ago, “Landscape photography isn’t art, it’s just copying what’s already there. Painting is art, because it’s your interpretation of what’s there.” It was not intended as an insult to me personally, and I was so intrigued by that statement that I have pondered over it for hours and hours. Am I just copying scenery? What is art? Where is my interpretation? What follows is my opinion.
I am an artist. My goal is never to simply copy a scene to show it to others, because as I talked about in my composition post, I want to direct and influence the viewer through my work. Sure, photos of a pretty sunset might get lots of social media attention, but the best photographers I have studied all create work that expresses their artistic personalities and strives to affect, not appease, an audience. In that sense, my painter acquaintance is right - every scenic snapshot may not be art. But, if the first thing you do when you show up for a photograph is check the light and begin looking for a good composition, how can anyone say you’re not an artist?! You just began the process of creating your own interpretation of what you see.
Artists have styles. They have personality. I can stand next to my friends during sunrise and we both walk away strikingly different photographs. Why is that? We obviously weren’t just copying the scene! The reality is, landscape photography is art, whether artists of other mediums like it or not.
Truth be told, this painter’s comment cracked through my usually thicker skin. And though it wasn’t meant to be constructive, those words changed the way I approach each new photograph. I am not a documentary photographer, and I don’t want to simply snap a frame of a scene to share with all my followers. For me, photography is about much more than that, which is part of the reason why I don’t have a new photograph to share every day. I’d encourage you to consider this topic, since it’s had a surprisingly positive effect on my approach toward photography. I know my conclusion might be a bit controversial, so please – share your thoughts in the comments!