It’s a Fine Art Print – Who Says?


It’s not uncommon to be asked what I mean by the term “fine art” as related to my photography, most specifically my photographic prints. I’ve wrestled with the answer to this query, not want to sound egotistical or too proud of my work by half.

When you look up the term “fine art” or often “fine arts” it’s commonly defined as a creative art, especially a visual art, whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content: the convergence of popular culture and fine art.

While that’s good, as far as it goes, it doesn’t seem to answer the question…at least not the way I interpret it. I initially have my thoughts turn to great names in art, when I hear the term “fine art.” Name like Monet` and Picasso come to mind immediately. Even great Native American artists like Judy Larson or Martin Grelle come to mind.

Of course, with my inclination for nature photography, you wouldn’t be surprised if I started to drop names like Ansel Adams. But, the fact is, while I appreciate his work I tend to look to more contemporary photographers for my inspiration so my list is more likely to include such notables as William Neill, Freeman Paterson, Tony Sweet, or John Shaw. These are the artists whose work has inspired me and while I market my pictures as “fine art prints” I strive every time I take my camera in hand to make good use of the inspiration photographers like these provide.

Some people seem to think that “fine art photography” means the image will be black and white. Of course much of any collection of great photography will be in the black and white category. Yet, so much of what is being produced today is equally moving in full color.

I’ve read that fine art “describes any art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than utility.” With that definition fine art can be found in virtually any visual expression – including painting, sculpture, dance, theatre, architecture, and of course photography.

I think that fine art photography is created to fulfill a creative vision of the photographer. Of course, over time photojournalism photography can work its way into the art category, but for my purposes I think the photographer needs to set out to create art.

That doesn’t mean it has to be envisioned and created solely for the purpose of visual edification. Many of the great artist/photographers of today, Art Wolfe, Tim Fitzharris and countless other, use their art to impact the ongoing debate around environmental issues.

What’s the difference between fine art prints and prints I can buy in a mall? signed limited edition prints

So where do I come down on my definition of fine art prints? I certainly think that the “artistic” quality of the image is important. However, I also think that in today’s environment the term “fine art” is often mean to help different between the mass-produced, poster or even matted print and the custom produce piece that the photographer/artist personally produces.

Of course the mass produced “art” is much less expensive, but you are also likely to find it on a friends wall, in your doctor’s office, or on the back of someone’s shirt. Most often they are printed on lightweight glossy paper and while they may be very pleasant to look at, they’re really nothing special.

To my way of thinking a fine art print needs to incorporate the characteristics we often associate with art and it needs to be special to the photographer, special enough that he or she will be personally committed to the production of the final product. In my case, that means I’ve worked hard to create an image in the first place, often spending hours locating the scene, defining my shooting angle and perspective and arriving when the light is most appropriate for the image. Does that mean I don’t want to see my images on a calendar or in a magazine? Most certainly – not.

What it does mean, though, is that from the first instance I’ve worked to provide the viewer of my photography with something special and that I’ve followed through with that endeavor right up to the packaging of the final print.

Of course just because I think I succeeded with one print or another and I am therefore comfortable tagging it as a “fine art print,” only the person viewing it can determine the real success.

When you want the image on your wall…only then is it truly a fine art print.

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