Maryland Federation of Art just hosted their annual Collector's Choice event. For a price of $185 ($250 for the VIP option), you can select a piece of art. Each patron gets a ticket with a number. The numbers are drawn randomly, and when your number is called, you select your work of art from any remaining. The first patron whose number is called gets his first choice and this continues till the very last patron number is called.
There are short breaks between the calling of numbers to allow you to regroup as the longer you are there, the more likely it is that your first choices have been selected.
It is an evening of great fun and lots of applause and moaning as your favorite piece goes home with someone else. Or cheers, when you get your first choice selection!
This was our fourth year and this year, my selection was a photograph by Christopher Fowler. A beautiful tree printed on metallic paper and framed to enhance the tones. It is a piece of great beauty.
But like every year before, this event brings out the question "What is so fine about the art of photography?"
There is a bias that often shows in the art community that paintings and hand created art are of greater value than a photograph. Since other art is created by hand and each piece is an original that alone gives it a superior attitude. But also, that photographer, could take a stunning photo and still print it a million zillion times thus decreasing the value.
Then there is a belief that painters/artists take years to master their art and photographers just push a button.
Ever heard this joke:
A photographer is exhibiting a brilliant photograph. A friend sees is and says to him "That is stunning. You must have a very good camera." A short time later, he is invited to her house for dinner. She serves an amazing feast. He turns to her and says, "That meal was sensational. You must have a very good stove."
There are artists who embrace the paradigm that originality and true artistic expression can only occur in art created by hand and entirely from their imagination. They believe it impossible for conceptual art to exist in a photograph. This above all, diminishes the photographer to a button pusher. A recipe follower. A serendipitous moment that anyone with a cell phone could have experienced and captured.
Plus now, there is the deceit factor that photographs are now post processed so they lack authenticity. Instead of viewing post processing, often referred to as Photoshop after a single Adobe digital product, as a way for the artist to create an interpreted piece of art, it can be viewed as cheating. Even in the photography community you can see the bias between photographers who shoot film, or shoot digital but believe is it only authentic straight from the camera.
At Collector's Choice the bias is not so evident, but still felt in the undercurrent. A well-known photographer who told me his wife would not allow him to take home anything but a painting. The woman who was quite excited about the above photograph "Our Dream" till she saw the label read photograph and then she exclaimed "How can this be a photograph? It looks like a painting. I don't want a photograph. I want an oil painting." Her husband, offered to take it off their list, but she whispered "No keep it on the list, but not as first choice. I still like it."
"Our Dream" was someone else's second choice, behind a painting by a close friend of theirs. I was happy to see it find a home with someone who could value it for the work and not the medium. I was happy that my piece of art was their second place choice in a room of 151 pieces of art.
I don't know that photography will ever reach the status of a painting. I don't know if it should.
The bias is real. It shows when photographers don't want to collect photographs of other photographers. When even local collectors only want paintings. When we live in a world flooded with snapshots, and an attitude that any photograph could be snapped off with a cell phone. When jurros of nationally juried shows publically state at the art opening, "Look, I even selected a photograph as one of the honorable mentions for best in show." When rumor is an internationally known photographer paid a million dollars (anonymously) to purchase one of his own photographs from a reputable auction house in order to drive up his prices.
But the question of art always comes down to the person viewing it. The question of what is so fine about the art of photography is in the value you place on it.
Do you think an oil painting of any quality is of more value than a photograph?
Have you ever had a photograph hit you emotionally? Is there one that still haunts you?
What would you pay for a signed original Annie Liebovitz? Peter Lik? Ansel Adams? Henri Cartier-Bresson? Dorothea Lange? Vivien Meyer? Steven McCurry? Alfred Stielglitz? Diane Arbus? Sheila Guevin?
When you figure out this out, you will have the answer to the big photography question.
What is so fine about the art of photograph?