Digital photography has transformed the fine-art world. Beyond merely allowing commercial photographers to produce more efficient and cost-effective imagery, the digital revolution presents artists with new tools to create broad-reaching, high-impact images that can be seen around the world, instantly, with the click of a button. The potential of the digital image is tremendous, but it faces a challenge in the art world of being cast aside as amateurish, simplistic or even mechanical rather than being driven by true artistic inspiration. It’s a hurdle that professional digital photographers and fine artists have been struggling with since the onset of this vast and potent medium—where communicating the effect of the work isn’t hindered by the effects used.
One of the greatest fallacies of digital photography is that it’s a replacement for traditional wet photography. These two are so different in the capabilities of capture, manipulation and reproduction that a strong argument could be made that they’re each a discrete medium. Each requires a mastery of specific skills and techniques, and the ultimate art created by each can vary greatly.
The concept of what constitutes fine art deserves some consideration. Those who would criticize digital photography for the way in which it’s created lack an understanding of the impetus behind fine art, as well as the diligent craft, skill and vision that’s needed to create any fine art—digital image-making included. Fine artists are individuals who choose to convey a specific statement utilizing the tools at their disposal, which are inherently those skills, techniques and mediums that they have mastered in the pursuit of visual communication. Choosing the right tool for the job is a requisite step in conveying a fine-art message, and professional digital photographers are demonstrating time and again that their craft, approach and tools meet those same requirements.
The best artists working in every medium understand the potential of their process and utilize their medium to maximize the potential of their statement. These individuals choose the tools of their trade and create images that demonstrate their unique vision and commentary because they understand the strengths of the medium that they chose to employ. The digital fine artist can alter an image in an understated fashion, optimize a complicated set of variables for perfect results, use the interfacing capabilities of modern technology to enhance their vision or even employ the traits of the digital medium to comment on the modern art world. Over the next few months, these techniques will be discussed in several focused articles, but it’s important to remember that each expresses one possible tool in an arsenal for visual communication. How each artist chooses to use a single tool, or a combination of several, to convey his or her vision is what sets him or her apart as a fine artist and ranks him or her among the digital pros of the fine-art photography world.
Among critics, art collectors and gallery owners there’s a common misconception about digital fine art that images will be vastly manipulated simply because the possibility exists that they can be. Even though there are instances where immense postproduction manipulation can be an effective communication tool, it’s simply that—a tool that should be evaluated and chosen based on the desired effects of the final artwork. Changing something in the final image with photo-editing software simply because you can is an amateurish approach to the subject and tools at hand. Changing something because you want to change the influence, the statement or the atmosphere of the final image in an attempt to elicit a certain response from your audience establishes a fine-art sensibility. This approach is how fine artists hone their skills, their message and their presentation in harmony. Just as painters have no need to use every brush in their collection or paint on their palette, neither must digital fine artists employ every type of postproduction device at their disposal. In many cases, the more understated use of the tools available creates the more effective and significant imagery.