Exercise 1.4: What is a photographer?

Photography and  Photography and Artistic–Photography

De Zayas starts with a firm statement “Photography is not art. It is not even an art. Art is the expression of the conception of an idea. Photography is the plastic verification of a fact. The difference between Art and Photography is the essential difference which exists between the idea and nature”.

The essay is then divided into two parts – the first a discussion around the role of art “Art has abandoned its original purpose”. He considers the influence of art from other cultures on the modern artists of his day for example Picasso. He continues to state that “imaginative element has been eliminated from art” and that “all the elements for creative imagination have been exhausted”.
He developed his argument through a discussion of form and states “The reality of Form can only be transcribed through a mechanical process, in which the craftsmanship of man does not enter as the principal factor. There is no other process to accomplish this than photography.”

He then makes a distinction between art and photography “Art presents to us what we may call the emotional or intellectual truth; Photography the material truth. Art has taught us to feel emotions in the presence of a work that represents the emotions experienced by the artist. Photography teaches us to realise and feel our own emotions”.


De Zayas develops the second part of the essay with the statement “Photography is not Art,but photographs can be made to be Art”. And he then differentiates between what he defines as photography and artistic-photography “The difference between Photography and Artistic-Photography is that, in the former, man tries to get at that objectivity of Form which generates the different conceptions that man has of Form, while the second uses the objectivity of Form to express a preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion”.

He then makes what, to me, is a very contentious statement “Photography, and only Photography, started man on the road of the cognition of the condition of the phenomena of Form”.(For De Zayas photography is all about form).

He then describes the work of two different photographers, Steichen and Stieglitz with Steichen as an artist and Stieglitz as an experimentalist. “It would be difficult to say which of the two sides of Photography is the more important. For one is the means by which man fuses his idea with the natural expression of Form, while the other is the means by which man tries to bring the natural expression of Form to the cognition of his mind”.



I find De Zayas’ arguments interesting, but have difficulty with his basic tenet which is that only photography can truly represent form. this is a very “formalist” argument which seems to consider that only the shapes, lines et cetera of an image are important in conveying its message, the context both social and environmental, within which the photograph was taken, seems to be excluded from this argument. I find this a very difficult argument to sustain.

His distinction between artistic photography and experimental photography is, to me , a lot more interesting . I can see the arguments that he is making although once again I do not necessarily agree with the fact that the distinction between the two depends upon their representation of form .  I do believe that form is important in photography just as it is in painting and other artistic media . However I think it is but one of the elements that make up a compelling image.