Is Photography Art?
Perhaps you were following along in 2014 when journalist Jonathan Jones of The Guardian wrote,
It just looks stupid when a photograph is framed or backlit and displayed vertically in an exhibition, in the way paintings have traditionally been shown. A photograph in a gallery is a flat, soulless, superficial substitute for painting. Putting up massive prints is a waste of space, when the curators could provide iPads and let us scroll through a digital gallery that would easily be as beautiful and compelling as the expensive prints.
If you weren't following then, I strongly suggest you don't start now because if you are a photographer, the article is sure to piss you off. The comment section of this article is flooded with opposing opinions, most saying that Jones was outrageously out of touch.
We are encouraged to give it [photography] the same, or more, attention. Today's glib culture endlessly flatters photography's arty pretensions. The winning picture in the Taylor Wessing prize at the National Portrait Gallery has clearly been inspired by Caravaggio, raves the Evening Standard, as if this meant it was somehow as rewarding as the 17th-century master's works. Sorry, but it ain't . Jonathan Jones"
It ain't. Except many people, myself included, think it is.
Jones wrote a follow-up article later that same year in response to the photographer Peter Lik selling a photograph of a black and white Arizona canyon (titled Phantom) for a reported 6.5 million dollars. This prompted Jones to double down on his argument hat photography is not art. He argues that photography is instead a technology, and that if it were to be considered art, any normal person with an iPhone camera is then an artist. He says of Phantom,
As a colour picture without any arty claims, this would be a valuable record of nature. Instead, it claims to be more than that; it aspires to be art. It is this ostentatious artfulness that pushes it into the realm of the false. For the artistic ambition of this picture is so very derivative from paintings that were created more than a century ago. Just like the very first art photographers in the Victorian age, Lik apes the classics in order to seem classic.
It is worth noting that while Jones criticism of photography as art was not directed specifically at Peter Lik, other critics including The New York Times, have questioned the price point of Lik's work, and his motives as an artist.
An Australian native, Lik sells his work in tourist-heavy places like Maui and Las Vegas, where travelers are often happy to pick up a handsome, large-scale landscape print that will let them bring home the spirit of their vacation. His buyers generally don't have an art education, but they do have disposable income, and see Lik's nonthreatening work as providing easily accessible entre into the booming art market. -Art.net
Lik typically produced limited editions of his photos (around 995 in circulation for each photo) and was able to drive up demand as the quantities dwindled. So, the first of the 995 photos to sell may go for $4000, and as the available images drop, the price for the remaining handful become known as premium Peter Lik. The remaining inventory can jump to $17,500.
This scarcity model creates high-demand and is a major reason why Phantom sold for $6.5 million. For Phantom, Lik used a new pricing model by putting the word out to his most prolific collectors that his latest work would be one-of-a-kind. Art.net was also quick to note that although Lik regards himself as the world's most famous photographer, most sought-after photographer, most awarded photographer, his work has little to no resale value or secondary market presence.
While Jones disdain was not addressed directly at Lik, per se, the $6.5 million dollar sale did raise some eyebrows.