Photography As Fine Art – a lecture by Brian Slater
Brian introduced his lecture by telling us that Britain is the most photographed country in the world. We are bombarded with photographs every day. He asked the question ‘Can the very best photographs be regarded as fine art? ‘ It was a question he was planning to answer in the lecture.
In Britain he told us it is still very confusing. David Bailey is quoted as saying ” The British don’t understand photography and don’t give it the space it deserves.”
The Oxford dictionary says photography is not art but a montage using photographs is Art.
A series of articles in the Times written by their art journalist ‘Rachel Campbell Johnson’ looked at the 20 best art examples and neither photography nor sculpture was included in any of the categories.
Brian said he would address each of the categories used by Rachel .
He described a good photographer as ‘knowing when not to press the shutter. ‘
He gave us two definitions of Art. The first by Longfellow ‘Nature is a revelation of God. Art is a revelation of man” The other was from the Concise Oxford Dictionary ” Fine Arts are those appealing to our mind and to our sense of beauty’ Brian said that he would be using these quotes to consider photographs.
Brian began with the category of Portraits
The first photograph he showed us was Arnold Newman’s photograph of Stravinsky.
He showed how this was a beautiful example of pure black and white with tones between, and how contrary to most portraits, Newman has placed his subject to the side.
which has the same sense of unorthodox composition – opening up the vista behind and moving Moses to the right with a stance similar to that of Holbein’s Henry viii.
Adams would reduce all blemishes and create a crystal clear photo. He wanted to show a portrait of innocence unsullied by man and denying the activity of man. However the irony of this was that as a result of seeing these photographs people went in hoards to visit these places. !!
The next category was Still Life and Brian went back to the work of Ansel Adams with his photograph of the Leaf where again Adams is intent on showing us every minute detail and then compared it to the work of Ernst Haas ‘Leaf in a Puddle’
and Bowl of Flowers
a photograph which is full of understanding and compassion.
Brian discussed in detail the photograph by Henri Cartier Breson ‘ Wall St.’ showing the rhythm between the strong upright pillars and the brokers in front; the guy on the steps – is he really a pillar ? he also showed how the photograph has been so cleverly split with the one third line coming directly through the man at the top of the steps.
seems to show the end of the day with the shadows of the setting sun on the trees and Bresson himself and his awareness that he was also close to the end of his life.
In the final category – Narrative he showed Herbert Mason’s photograph of St. Paul’s 1940 which showed Britain alone and defiant . Churchill asked for it to be published in America to engender support.
Stuart Franklin’s photograph of Tiananmen Square shows the bravery of the individual
Brian closed this fascinating lecture with the photograph by Larry burrows of Vietnam where optimism was cutting through cultural taboos.
After this lecture I don’t think many of us were in any doubt that Brian had presented his case admirable and we were left in no doubt the photography is indeed a Fine Art. Thank you to Brian for opening our eyes and sharing with us such beautiful and thought provoking images