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Andrew Male
December 2016.
139

Is photography art?

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I get asked that question quite a lot. In a sense, I don't really care. It doesn't make any difference to me whether somebody tells me my photographs are art or not. Recently, I was having a discussion with the Arts Council about potentially backing a project of mine but they couldn't decide whether it was art or not, and they they can’t back it if it’s just photojournalism. I was asking them, Well how the hell do we make it art? Weirdly, it came down to the medium. Because I shoot on film, because it wasn't digital, because my images are very grainy, that’s more like art. That’s the kind of bonkers conversation you can get into.

Is it art? What I would say is that I don't think there’s such a thing as truth in photography. As soon as you back into a room you’re already pointing a camera in one direction. You’ve already ruled out 50% of the room. As soon as I press the shutter I’ve chosen to capture that second as opposed to all the other seconds in that day. You’ve made a decision.

“As soon as I press the shutter I’ve chosen to capture that second as opposed to all the other seconds in that day. You’ve made a decision.”

I don't believe there’s truth in photography but I do believe there’s honesty. The honesty is trying to use your photographs to tell what you think is the story. And, in that sense, it’s art.

Also, I think that definition is to do with what’s perceived as the outcome. If you’re taking a picture that’s just going to end up in a newspaper then it’s just photojournalism, as opposed to if you wanted to mount it on a billboard on the South Bank. Is it art then? it’s a strange debate. That’s why I would never call myself a photojournalist. I'm trying to express my feelings through my photography, and anybody communicating their thoughts, their feelings, for somebody else to understand, through their medium of choice., that’s art. 

To add to the very profound answer by photographer Giles Duley, can I just pick and choose 3 quotes by  Marcel Duchamp? Why him? Because he challenged the whole idea of what art actually is:

Can works be made which are not 'of art'? 

The word 'art' interests me very much. If it comes from Sanskrit, as I've heard, it signifies 'making.' Now everyone makes something, and those who make things on a canvas with a frame, they're called artists. Formerly, they were called craftsmen, a term I prefer. We're all craftsmen, in civilian or military or artistic life.

What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the links which exist. It's not what you see that is art; art is the gap.

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