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"IS PHOTOGRAPHY AN ART?"
I would say emphatically, yes. Whenever this age-old question comes up, and it seems to have arisen for as long as photography's been around, the obvious and inevitable comparison between photography and painting rears its frequent head as an integral part of the debate. Let's examine these two disciplines, which require different skill sets and tools specific to each art. Before we do that however, it is incumbent upon us to point out the common denominators. Chief among these common denominators is the mind's eye. In painting, the mind'e eye is the ability to previsualize an image that will appear on a canvas, followed by the execution of the image with painting-specific tools. In photography, the mind's eye is the ability to scan the world around us, to sift and to isolate, to lock in with the so-called "good eye" that separates the mediocre from the sublime.
Another common denominator that painters and photographers share, is the talent for composition. With painters, this takes place almost entirely in the painter's mind, with a pure creation of the painter's composition on canvas, as the painter physically executes his or her vision with paint and brush.
With photographers, this compositional acumen requires the ability to organize within the viewfinder's parameters, the elements of a picture that will result in a visually striking or emotionally influential picture.
Both painters and artistic photographers strive to create what is visually striking, or emotionally moving through an idea.
In photography, this ability to cull an aesthetically moving composition from the disorganized cacophany that is the world around us into a coherent idea, is the key to what makes a given photographer a true artist.
This visual idea is expressed through the resulting composition known as The Photograph. It is art by subtraction and isolation. It is the ability to take a segment of the whole, recognize it for what it may ultimately be in terms of the photographer's visualized composition, and shut the rest of the world out in mentally focusing on what the photographer has found through his or her mind's eye.
In painting, the competent physical expression of the artist's vision, depends on the manual dexterity in manipulating brushes laying paint. In photography, the necessary skill set requires technical manipulations of a mechanism. This mechanism is of course, the camera. At the very root of creating emotionally satisfying and compositionally aesthetic images in both photography and painting, is the creative talent that lies within the artists. Note that mechanical proficiency in both disciplines---with brushes and paints in painting, and with cameras, lenses and darkroom tools in photography---do not guarantee artistic competence. It is the intangible entity of creative talent, that ensures that the visual results are aesthetically moving.
There is also this to consider: in both painting and photography, there are subdisciplines---different schools or styles if you will---that depend entirely on subjective taste as to whether the results are judged to be "good" or "not good."
An abstract landscape painter for example, may feel entirely cold regarding realistic painting. Likewise, a street photographer may find floral photography to be boring, and not edgey. Taste has much to do with judged competence. In the end though, photography is an art, if the mind of the photographer is creative enough. At the very heart of what makes a photographer an artist, is the innate ability to see and therefore create pleasing compositions using his or her camera's viewfinder, as his or her canvas. No doubt, the ability to see and identify the unusual in the mundane, where everyone else may see the simply ordinary, is what separates true artists in photography from the chaff. Light, shadow, tonal qualities and form. These are the elements that good photographers work with to create art. Later.