We’re drawn to instructional articles, tutorials, blogs, interviews, where people claiming to be experts explain the difference between photography and better photography (bad and good, yours and theirs).
Stated as fact instead of what it is, opinion, tricks us at first into thinking there’s a consensus among photographers and art critics about what constitutes good and bad photography and photo editing. But there’s not. Photography opinion is more subjective than in any other field and pursuit, but it’s presented as if there exists a body of knowledge accepted by those in the know. The right camera, the true definition of street photography, art photography, etc. Every aspect is one speaker’s opinion presented as fact. The claim to expertise based on an imagined professional agreement occurs more in photography than in art, politics, science, health, anything.
All photo and edit, Jessie Carveth, 2017, unless noted
the expert I heard was a photography writer/teacher who displayed pairs of snapshots taken by two people of the same view.
Two of the same fork in the road shot by two different photographers. Two of the same street corner. Two of the same sailboat. Then she pointed out how one was better than the other. I’ve seen countless of these tutorials. I think there’s an inverse correlation between definition of good photography and amount of people proclaiming to know. 1,000,000 photography experts, zero collective definition of good photography, or the right camera, or what training is necessary.
I understood what she was saying. I saw. One had a focal point, the other didn’t. Stuff like that.
In the end, still, I either 1. like both versions equally or 2. prefer the one identified as the bad one, or 3. happen to prefer the one designated (by one person) best.
What defines good photography is a matter of the viewer’s visual taste and preference for particular themes. Photography isn’t rate-able.
As I’ve said too many times, the most revered photographer who ever lived could take the greatest picture of a butterfly, using film and a Leica or whatever the trend is at any given time, and it will still be boring as hell to those who aren’t interested in butterflies.
Unfiltered photo rating is impossible. What matters is whether the viewer finds a theme appealing. Not zoom, slow shutter, vanishing point, or who is in front of the intended subject instead of to the side, or not there at all.
Professional fine art photography isn’t Gauguin or Raphael. It’s much easier for anyone who loves to take pictures to approach the skill level of a fine art photographer, truly, than the greatest photographer or anyone could aspire to paint like Michelangelo, Seurat, Eakins, Matisse, Magritte, or even as well as many unknown, non-machine painters.
If your great-uncle Joe took snapshots carefully (see below about care) at a family picnic in 1938, it’s conceivable that he’d get this:
I’m very embarrassed to say it about Cartier-Bresson, it’s a disgrace. Crazy to post a photo of mine anywhere near his but honestly, he operated machinery and got a picture. Uncle Joe could, too.
But Uncle Joe could never
(In fact, I prefer photography to painting and other forms of art media. I admire painting, the remarkable talent it requires but still, I like photography, by anyone, more than painting by anyone.)
2. Photo art, editing, image manipulation, photoshop, are different from unfiltered photography, it requires a separate set of skills from camera operation, but is just as far from Botticelli or Renoir in terms of talent.
The one aspect that seems connected to quality photography is amount of care given to the project. I’ve watched millions (because of the internet there are millions) of people who start out taking snapshots casually, carelessly, whose pictures became really fine, beautiful, as soon as they started caring.
I’ve observed those who stay casual and careless forever, taking snapshots, and others who fall under the spell of photography’s potential.
Anyone who slows down and takes care becomes an artist of photography. Anyone can do it. Photo art isn’t painting. A camera isn’t a paintbrush.
All photography and art, Jessie Carveth, 2017