I want to discuss today, a subject which appears to be important for people involved in fine-art photography and their admirers.
In this entry I would like to put a clear difference between conceptual photography and visual art based on photography and photo manipulation. Unfortunately, illustrating that difference could prove difficult. I would like to avoid using someone else’s works and I doubt anyone would agree to have their work used as a “negative example”.
As I’m not going to use particular works, I will mention some artists, who in my opinion, are ones which are well known by most- so their style is easily recognizable.
To start, I would like to say that this entry is not about judging the value of the style or particular works. My journal should not be considered as a personal attack or claiming someone’s style is bad or good – my purpose is just to discuss the genre purity and set some borders.
What conceptual photography is not
For a quite long period of time I was a member of a group on fb created by Holy Rose Stones called “Conceptual photography with…”. The purpose of the group was to inspire each other and to share works. Watching the activity of the group gave the direct impulse to think deeply about the issue of conceptual photography.
Another popular across the internet conceptual artist is Joel Robinson. Both of them and plenty of their followers create surreal and fantastic scenes as if from the illustrations of children’s books.
Example: a person holding an oversized puzzle piece, much bigger than their posture and trying to put it in the sky, a bulb hanging in the middle of the forest and someone climbing up on a ladder leaning against a giant book.
The photographic element there is very modest and their works get its final expression only due to manipulating impossible elements in some graphic software. Working this way with your photos has very little to do with being a photographer. That’s why pieces created in this style should not be called “photography” in any case, but they constantly are.
Some people from the group tried to defend themselves saying: “But I use photos I took on my own, so this is photography!”.
All photo-manipulations use photos! But what exactly happens when you try to put together two or three photos taken in different time, different lighting, or different places ? You have to work on them in the way they get pretty “equal”. So you take away their primary look, original shadows/light settings, you add some layers and finally your product gets a flat even look. Photography in their language uses depth of field, source and type of light and of course color and shapes.
Conceptual portrait and still life
Giving a positive example is more difficult. Partially because I do not follow activity of any particular photographer and partially because most artists treat the conceptual photography as just a part of their work.
There’s no accurate definition of “conceptual photography” but as far as my experience (both active and passive when I seek for works to my magazine) goes, the point of conceptual photography is to express an idea, a thought, a concept by setting people or objects in your frame in a certain order. So this is a totally different artistic and mental process than manipulation.
I think from me known artists that are good examples would be Oleg Oprisco and Anka Zhuravleva. From time to time you can see on their works some minor manipulation elements but they remain incidental to the whole idea of the image.
There’s nothing really bad in it to add birds on the sky, change the dress color, or add fire to a book (rather, better to use photoshop or gimp than set a real book on fire!) but as I already mentioned, it should be just a small element, not the entire creation process of one’s work.