Are All Photographers Artists?

9/10/2021


Last week in hopes to start a discussion, I posted the following question on my instagram story:


"What do you think the difference is between a photographer and an artist? Or is there no distinction?"


It wouldn't be very artistic of me to determine the distinction all on my own and not share some of the many thoughtful responses I received as part of this article. The answers to my question seemed to fall into 5 main categories

Originality:

“A chef is someone who creates a recipe; a cook is someone who follows it. So separately to photography being considered an art form, if you apply the same concept, the only photographers who can actually be considered artists are those who create and innovate rather than comp stomp.” - Ben Maze

“Some photographers are artists, some aren’t. Off the top of my head, a photographer who is also an artist creates something when they take a photo, they don’t just fire off a shot from wherever they happen to be standing. They put something of themselves into the shot, which makes their work recognizable.” - Laura Zirino

“An artist creates something out of nothing, such as giving meaning to an inanimate object. A regular photographer is just re-presenting something without an original take on it.” - Brent Clark

Intentions:

“...making a photograph is art as long as it’s done with an intention to communicate something beyond ‘this is a photo.’ I think it could be a literal photograph of something but it has to communicate something more than what is simply there.” - Alberto Rodriguez-Garcia

“Maybe intentions. A person can use a camera to document or to create, either are a matter of intentions. An artist only creates. Perhaps ‘photographer’ is no longer an appropriate or applicable word and shouldn’t be used?” - Eric Erlenbusch

“Photography is a form of art. Therefore a photographer is an artist. However, is everyone with a smart phone who takes pictures an artist? Probably not. The intention of creating work that is original or unique or whatnot is what I think defines it as art. Though you’ll have people claim they are creating when comp stomping Rainier/Hood with a wildflower foreground. And you could argue that it’s not original but it’s still creating a piece of art.” - Trent Blomfield

“Art and artists generally seek to create things that have some sort of meaning or expression. There’s a level of intent behind it. The question is: is there a line? Is the quality of the work or the depth of intention what makes the distinction between someone who simply does a thing and an artist? Singing along while driving alone in the car has intention… it’s fun, it’s expressive, it’s emotive. I wouldn’t say that makes me a ‘musician’ but you are for sure in that moment creating with intent, however small it may be… and on some tiny level you could say that would make you an artist.” - Molly Anderson

“An artist cares and wants his work to say something.” - Rene Algesheimer

“I think it comes down to why you pick up a camera. I’ve always just been stoked to get out into nature… I didn’t expect to be able to do it so often as an adult, and I realize that most don’t have the ability to do it as frequently as I do. So I try to capture the feeling I get of solitude and gratefulness, and share it with others who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to experience it.” - Quin Schrock

“‘Artist’ is a mentality and a methodology. It’s a dedication to a process that emphasizes the contribution of the maker. Nobody gets to tell you whether or not you have the intention of expressing yourself or of putting something of yourself into your work… only you know if that’s what you want. This distinction is separate from whether or not you have produced a work of ‘art’ that other people will esteem. You don't get to decide if what you have created is ‘art’ (with a big A–history’s art), and no single person gets to decide that either. Critics and historians collectively promote and endorse what constitutes ‘Art,’ and subsequent generations sometimes overturn those opinions. That’s all on the reception side of things though, and it’s separate from you deciding that you are going to make art. Anybody who tries to make art is an artist, especially when there is a high level of dedication to that intention.” - Erin Babnik

“I think it’s in the intention and vision that’s the difference. I believe artists have something they want to say or create and photographers document or capture. Photographers can be artists if they put themselves in what they are capturing, have a voice or point of view. I felt myself in this tension during the pandemic when my wedding photographer was halted. I jumped into real estate photography and felt the artist in me revolt against that form of photography because I felt I had something to say, not just an ability to take pictures. So I leaned into the artistic heart in me to create through shooting and sharing my vision and heart as a landscape artist.” - Allison Davis

“I think photography can be art, but it isn’t always. I’m not even sure if there is an objective definition of art. And then who gets to decide what’s art? Does the person creating it? What if no one else agrees? Is it still art? What if the person creating it only intended it to be documentary? Can others overrule the creator’s intent and call it art? Where does ‘art’ even come from? Is it an immutable quality of the work, or is it something transcendent that is bestowed upon the work during its creation by the ‘artist’ or during the act of viewing the work? Does art even exist on a wall as a painting or photographic print, or only in the mind of the one beholding it?” - Joel Wolski

Process:

“I do believe there is a difference. Anyone can be a ‘photographer.’ All that takes is a camera. But a photographer who is an artist is more nuanced. They see details, contrast, light, subjects, unique perspectives, and ways to define subjects by drawing in the viewer. Some see art only as creating from nothing using a particular medium and discount photography because the subject already exists and you just ‘point and shoot.’ But I see it differently as I’ve grown as a photographer. There really is a nuance/talent/creativity to capturing a large (or intimate) scene and putting it into a small frame that is compelling. That takes creativity and vision.” - Mike Burkhardt

“The medium is a vehicle for expression, but shouldn’t define the artist… you have to live the art!” - Saikat Chakraborty

Purpose:

“I think you can be an artist photographer but you can also be just a photographer, it depends on the subject and the way of delivering your work. I think in an artistic photographer the stimulus is more internal while in the commercial photographer it is more external. So Basically I think you can be an artist photographer, a commercial photographer, or a commercial artist photographer.” - Miguel Vanegas

“I think a photographer can be an artist as well. But mainly I guess a photographer is someone who serves the interests of clients mainly. It’s most important to be ‘seen’ and connect with new people to get published, earn money or something else, while an artist is only interested in his own perspective and view of certain things. The emotions and interaction between the artist and his art is the most important thing. So I guess the main difference is the attitude and goal between a photographer and an artist.” - Adrien Roedel

“A photographer by definition is considered a craftsman, like a carpenter, when he or she works on commission (commercial portraits, etc.). When the work is not commission-based, like taking pictures for the sake of creating and then selling prints or licenses, a photographer is considered what would be translated as an artisan, and eventually as an artist if the work really is related to the art scene and completely free of any financial purpose in the first place. The transition between those three states is fluid, of course, yet here [in Germany] you have to choose between being commission-based or non-commission-based, because each has different regulations for taxes, terms of business and laws.” - Johannes Pistorius

Is Photography Even Art:

“Photography can obviously be an art form, so an intentional photographer should be considered an artist. But photography is the most generic and easily accessible form of art that there is… I mean instagram is not full of people sharing their stencil work… to me the only distinction could be those who are engaged in it intentionally with purpose versus those using a camera casually as a hobby without much intent. Photography has so many applications beyond purely art such as scientific applications and more commercial uses like product photography or stuff like that, real estate for example. I can’t think of any other art form where you have this mechanical/electronic device that really does 99% of the work for you. To be an excellent photographer it’s obviously more about everything that goes into it before the shutter is triggered that matters most.” - Benjamin Stein

“A photographer deals mostly with the present - with what’s going on in the exact moment–the use of imagination is somehow limited to the location and conditions; their control is limited. While an artist (musician, painter, and so on) is in his/her own world–creating with his/her instinct and has full control over it…” - Rafael Castelo

“I grew up with a friend who’s currently receiving classical painting training and I was the less artsy one. I met him prior to discovering my affinity for photography, and made the distinction that I did indeed have an affinity for photography prior to taking notice of his artistic prowess, but when we got older I found myself looking to photography as a creative outlet for myself in lieu of not being able to draw or paint particularly well. I’ve always felt like a secondary artist by comparison…” - James Berardino

“I think that a photographer definitely makes art. The largest difference is that landscape and urban photographers capture art from scenes and places that are already made. They are capturing the beauty already in the world, not creating new beauty (like how singers, painters, etc. do)” - Caleb Brown

“In broad strokes, I think the more traditional art forms are creative. Photography is interpretive. While a musician or a painter can create something out of thin air, a photographer can only frame an existing thing in a particular way. Can both be unique? Certainly. But photography lacks the ability to create something where nothing existed and no subject was available. But I think both can be art forms because interpretation and perspective can also be at the heart of emotions, which most art aims to stir.” - Rohan D

“Honestly I’m not a big fan of the term ‘artist.’ It’s been too contested for too long and is inherently compromised. People have made it a battleground for legitimacy and value. If nobody agrees on what art is or isn’t, can anyone call themselves an artist? I think this may be why people have gravitated towards calling themselves “creators” or “creatives.” - Ian Riela

“My photography is an expression of my creativity so one might call it my art, but then I don’t care for a label because what is the benefit of having it called art? My photos have meaning for me, if I can reach others with some of them it makes me happy–that doesn’t change with a label. Labels don’t mean anything.” - Astrid Preisz

All Photography Is Art:

“I don’t think there is a distinction. A snapshot of the kids, for example, will be appreciated and viewed, and our fancy nature photos will also be appreciated, each by its own audience. The intent of the photographer may be different but for me the result is always art.” - Justin Brewster

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