Lee Sacrey Photography – Lee's Chatter

Mainly Photography but a little of everything at times

Photographs, are they fine art or not? What history might tell us.

with 2 comments

Ok, before I get into this weeks post there are a couple of things I need to mention. First, it is olympic time and I am Canadian. So, Go Canada Go. Second, being a former Minolta film shooter (and current Sony digital shooter), I have always wanted a Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D. This week I purchased. The photos included with this weeks post will be taken with that camera.

This is the front of a Canadian Hockey jersey, taken with the KM 7D. Go Canada Go.

Photographs, are they fine art or not? What history might tell us.

As an Amateur Photographer, I am always thinking about when do I consider myself a professional and when is what I do considered art. Let me look back at what little I know. The first Photographer that I was ever aware of was, of course, Ansel Adams and who doesn’t know Ansel Adams. I was also aware of Freeman Patterson, the great Canadian photographer.  When I first started to look at the history of photographers however, I stumbled on Gustave Le Gray of France. I was originally surprise by him, not because of his work but, because I didn’t even know they had cameras at that point in history (he lived from 1820 to 1884). He was one of the first to work in the then “new” medium format and he started the first photographic organization in the world, Societe Heliographique. The second was another Frenchmen named Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1802 -1892) and although he was an early photographer, none of his work was discovered until  30 years after his death and not well-known until 80  years after his death. Then of course, there is Group f/64. Group f/64 was a group of American photographers namely, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak (although she was born in Germany), Henry Swift, William Van Dyke and Edward Weston. The group on occasion would include others although, not officially I don’t believe. So of these, my three favorites are Gustave Le Gray, Ansel Adams and Freeman Patterson – Gustave because of what he did for photography in it’s early development (he also did some of the earliest landscapes that I have seen). Ansel Adams because well, its Ansel Adams what do I need to say. Freeman Patterson because he was the first real colour landscape nature photographer I really had paid attention to. Of course there are some more current photographers that would move ahead of these three on my favorites list but, they (as I do) have advantages of technology and the ability to study the works of others who came before them.

This was taken on the walking trail just behind my house, Again taken with the KM 7D. I am really liking that camera.

So what does this have to do with this weeks title? Well, I have struggled with what others think of photographs and photographers. People (I think Canadians even more so) don’t seem to consider Photographer artists. They don’t seem to consider photographs as artwork. Have you ever tried to have an art gallery hang some of your photographs? I have, with no success. It seems to me that photographs get a bum rap.

While thinking about this over the last little while, I thought I would look and see what the most expensive photographs were (maybe I would need to adjust my prices, lol). Here is what Wikipedia says are the 10 most expensive;

  • 99 Cent II Diptychon by Andreas Gursky (2001), $3,346,456, February 2007, Sotheby’s London auction. A second print of 99 Cent II Diptychon sold for $2.48 million in November 2006 at a New York gallery, and a third print sold for $2.25 million at Sotheby’s in May 2006.
  • The Pond-Moonlight by Edward Steichen (1904), $2,928,000, February 2006, Sotheby’s New York auction.
  • Kremlin of Tobolsk by Dmitry Medvedev (2009), $1,750,000, January 2010, Christmas Yarmarka, Saint Petersburg.
  • Nude by Edward Weston (1925), $1,609,000, April 2008, Sotheby’s New York auction.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe (Hands) by Alfred Stieglitz (1919), $1,470,000, February 2006, Sotheby’s New York auction.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe Nude by Alfred Stieglitz (1919), $1,360,000, February 2006, Sotheby’s New York auction.
  • Untitled (Cowboy) by Richard Prince (1989), $1,248,000, November 2005, Christie’s New York auction.
  • 113.Athènes, T[emple] de J[upiter] olympien pris de l’est by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1842), $922,488, 2003 auction.
  • The Great Wave, Sete by Gustave Le Gray (1857), $838,000, 1999.
  • Andy Warhol by Robert Mapplethorpe (1987), $643,200, 2006.

Again I was surprised, no Ansel Adams photo in the top ten.

So what is it about photography – does everyone think they can just go buy a camera and do it themselves? Although, I believe anyone can take the same photographs as I do, with very little instruction, it is not as easy as everyone may think. Just go try it and see.

I think that people need to change their view on where photographs sit in the art world. So, how do we get respect as artists, I think we all find a famous photographer known to the world and change our names to what theirs was (if they have since passed away) or to something close to theirs. So, from now on call me Gustave Le Gray (which will match my changing hair colour) and you can be… Angie Liverwarts (Annie Leibovitz). Now everyone will know us. Sales are bound to increase.

In addition to the first two things I mentioned, I always decide to try snowshoeing and today was my first attempt. It went well. I wanted a pair of snowshoes and these were given to me by my father-in-law before he passed away. I really like them (anyone can buy the fancy aluminum ones with the strap down bindings, these were made by hand and as for bindings. What else are you going to do with you heavy truck tubes).

Thanks for reading and as always Happy Shooting.

Written by leesacrey

February 20, 2010 at 5:46 PM

2 Responses

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  1. It’s an excellent question Lee, and I think you have hit on some interesting points, especially with regards to the notion that anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture. Certainly, we have hit a point where it easier than ever for many people to take good pictures.

    I think this is happening in almost all areas of art really – it is easier than ever to record an album, or make digital art – the technology we have developed makes these things so much more accessible, which I think is a good thing to a large degree. The danger of course is dilution – there is so much now, how can we dig through it all to find those truly stand out artists.

    In some ways we may be looking at a dramatic shift in how we think about art. For myself, I think there is no doubt that photography is fine art, and I fully intend to keep trying to develop my own artistic and creative talents.

    And from now on you can call me . . . Les Acrey . . . 🙂


    February 25, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    • Great thoughts Mike. I could have used those in this article. Be careful though I hear that Les Acrey is not as good as he thinks, lol.


      February 25, 2010 at 7:06 PM

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