Thoughts on Photography

Philip Larkin says, “A poem preserves what is seen, thought or felt.”

Can we say the same about a photograph and, why do we take a photograph?

• To record a scene or a subject
(a landscape, a building, a place, a record, etc.)
• To capture a moment
(that decisive moment)
• To express an emotion or feeling
(portraiture, drama, impactful situation or scene)
• To tell a story
(reportage, photojournalism, etc.)

Throughout the history of photography there has been the constant argument as to whether photography is art. I am not going to settle that argument on this page but let me précis my thoughts.

The technical nature of photography in the earlier days with the complexity of equipment, both for taking, processing and printing an image certainly involved much that was science not art. However, the results were often stunning and exquisite. Much of this came about because photographers had to spend time getting it right first time.

The photographic image is, nonetheless a mere representation of a scene observed or constructed by the photographer. Which is little different from a portrait, landscape or still-life painting. The distinction, and one that artists have put forward, is that their representation is a personal construction in all respects, whereas the photographic image is a technical production. This is true to a degree and I would agree that most snapshots don’t have much in the way of pre-visualisation.

The immediacy that has come with developing technology has been to open up picture making to the masses. Consequently, much of this photography is not art, but personal record ….. though just as valuable in a small world sense.

However, the elements of colour and shade, tone and texture, as well as composition are common to art and photography. Additionally, the computer has now enabled the creativity of individuals, who have not studied art, to come forward in a way that is unprecedented.

So I come closer to seeing photography as art, when there is a degree of pre-visualisation, an understanding of the elements of picture construction and a management of the end product within the various means of printmaking.

Whatever your thoughts …… ‘Does it really matter?’ ….. keep taking photographs, whether they are personal records, or attempts to convey some other meaning to the world at large.



Paul R. Adams