We are often asked if photography can really be considered 'art'. As a fine art photography gallery, "Yes", naturally is our answer. There are far more eloquent diatribes than ours on the subject online. This is one of the more digestible and interesting converstations we've found that touches on the subject.
Photography will always be a lesser medium than painting
The title of a debate held by Intelligence Squared in November 2010. They corralled a lively panel and whilst Stephen Bayley and A A Gill stole the show, the full panel all had good observations.
In their words:
"The great Henri Cartier-Bresson, a man who captured a thousand moments,once said that photographers are the hunters, not the cooks. But does that make photography a lesser medium? Are the likes of Robert Capa, Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson himself always going to be inferior artists to Michelangelo and Monet?"
In this Intelligence Squared debate, literary agent Michael Mack kicked off proceedings with the explosive declaration that, “photography has absolutely no credibility as a medium,” undermined by its “birthright of endless reproduction.” Although he conceded that photography “revolutionised the nature of art,” AA Gill, the first speaker for the opposition, interpreted the motion as implying otherwise. Was it not, Gill asked, fundamentally about the “exclusivity,” about “who is allowed into the club and who is merely a snapper?” We see art as “uber-culture,” precious and special, so our contemporary snobbery refuses to accept that “what appears in ‘Hello’ everyday can be the same as what’s hanging in the Louvre.” But great photography is far from easy or mechanical, an argument he clinched with his recollection of an interview with the reclusive Magnum Photography co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson. Despite being credited with the “decisive moment,” the “precise fusion of light, shade, expression and gesture, where one moment before, or one moment after, it would be a picture you or I could have taken, but at the decisive moment, it is a picture that only Cartier-Bresson could have taken,” at the time of the interview “it was about ten o’ clock and way past his first drink time,” and all he wanted to talk about was his bizarrely contorted drawings. In three hours Cartier-Bresson could not produce nudes that obeyed the confines of his paper, yet time and time again he unfailingly captured the ‘decisive moment’; “that’s what art is”, declared Gill, “and that’s why photography is art.”
Stephen Bayley disagrees. He opened his argument by saying that, questioning photography would be like questioning sight, but the motion is about the medium, not what is art. As such, paint is more subtle, wider in scope and variety far more susceptible to human interference and therefore allows for a better message. In contrast, photography is powerful but limited in expressive range, as it depends most of all of on technology and equipment: photographers are dominated by their medium, not masters of it. The photographer, Bayley concluded, is more passive, less creative. He has to wait for his great moments; he cannot create them."
The motion was defeated with 208 votes to 81.
Intelligence Squared is Britain's premier debating forum, providing a unique platform for the world's leading intellectual figures to argue the most important political, social and historical issues of the day.