Fine Art Photography
The primary and underlying ethos that differentiates fine art photography from other fields in photography is that fine art photography is not about simply recording a subject. It is born from the artist’s internal vision. Fine art photography is the purposeful making of a photograph as an artistic means to further a conceptual notion or intention.
Fine art photography is about the artist. It is not about recording what the camera sees but rather about what the artist sees. In fine art photography, therefore, the artist uses the camera as another means to create a work of art. Fine art photography rests on the value of an artist’s use of the camera to make an artwork that reveals an artist’s vision and makes a statement of that vision rather than only chronicling the subject before the lens. Fine art photography is appreciated by viewers primarily for its beauty, emotional power, top-level technique, innovative approach, or the role it plays in preserving a tradition or furthering a genre or particular aesthetic. When artists use the camera as an art-making tool, when they create photographs for these express purposes, they are recognized as fine art photographers.
Types of Photography and Their Applications
Briefly examining the other forms of photography and their uses provides a refined, nuanced understanding of fine art photography and the ways in which it is unique.
Primarily amateurs, rather than professionals, engage in recreational photography. Most often, the photographs document aspects of everyday life and are saved for personal use and memory-making. Recreational photographs are frequently candid snapshots spontaneously taken in-the-moment, rather than posed portraits or orchestrated scenes. These photographs are typically not meant for a broad audience.
Advertisers use photography to sell products and services, with pictures telling a story and highlighting the appeal of products or services. Known as a commercial practice, this type of photography often centers on fashion, products, and food. The images under the commercial photography umbrella seek broad exposure and can be found in print magazines, newspapers, trade publications, and on billboards, online websites and social media platforms, among other places.
Representational photography documents specific subjects or events as objective realities based on their own merits. It is also referred to as straight or descriptive photography. The focus is always on realistically representing the subject or subjects being photographed. For example, landscape or documentary photography prevailingly emphasizes realism, as does photojournalism, which uses images to tell nonfiction news stories.
Fine Art Photography
When a photographer’s work extends beyond content that is literally in front of the camera and expresses the artist’s unique ideas, emotions, messages, or creative vision, the result is fine art photography. In this framing, photography is primarily an outlet for artistic expression, and the photographs emphasize aesthetics and imagination. Fine art images convey more than just what the camera sees – they express what the artist sees. Usually, fine art photographs are the result of a process that is considered and intentional, not images taken at random. The photographer combines artistic elements and principles such as light, space, balance, line, color, depth, texture, and form to create art meant to evoke emotion and thought from an audience. The work of humanitarian and fine art photographer Lisa Kristine is an excellent example of fine art photography and the ways it impacts the world.
Lisa Kristine’s Vision – Imaging the Inherent Dignity of Every Living Being
Lisa Kristine has spent over 30 years traveling through more than 150 countries and six continents, creating works of photographic art that showcase the inherent dignity of every living being. Carefully blending still-documentary, journalistic representational photography with fine art photography, paying special attention to natural light, color, and texture in surroundings, Lisa’s unique vision encourages the viewer to enter into dialogue about the interconnected world and the beauty and pain we experience as humans.
Fine Art Photography as Activism
Fine art photographers with humanitarian purposes often use the images they create to advance specific causes or to raise public awareness of issues such as social and environmental justice. Frequently, the topics and subjects are important not only to the individual artist but to all of humanity. Lisa positions her fine art photography to drive awareness around global unity, indigenous wisdom, and human trafficking. With decades of expertise, she has developed a practice involving compassionate image creation that preserves the dignity of the people, land, culture and communities in which she works.
Fostering Global Unity
By respectfully and beautifully documenting indigenous cultures and their environments, Lisa invites her audiences to participate in a rare opportunity. The images are beacons of intimacy, as if to say, “Pause, inhale, exhale, look into the eyes of “the other” and find yourselves.” Recognizing in the images our shared commonalities and seeing reflected our overlapping values such as love of family, respect for traditions, honoring community elders, and uplifting the land and all sentient beings irresistibly fosters global unity. Collectively, Lisa’s images are a bridge, reminding us that we are connected, regardless of place or race or religion or gender identity or economic situation or walk of life.
Preserving Indigenous Wisdom
When Lisa first began her artistic journey, she focused on beauty, serenity, and presence, recording vast landscapes and indigenous cultures. Juxtaposing the permanence of the land with the fluid, adaptive indigenous people who were somehow both fragile and resilient at the same time was provocative and illuminating. From the beginning, her art was energized by the conviction that humanitarian photographs could renew the interest in indigenous wisdom and traditions. By bringing the images into the modern world—in museums, galleries, print and online publications, and as part of revolutionary installations and global conferences—their relevance was proven unquestionable and ensures the people and cultures represented in her work are never forgotten.
Combating Human Trafficking
In 2009, Lisa met a supporter of Free the Slaves, an organization dedicated to eradicating modern slavery. Learning about the enormous and pervasive scope of human trafficking—sometimes in locations where she had worked previously—was shocking for Lisa and forever altered the trajectory of her work. After all, how could she, a highly skilled professional photographer trained for close observation, have failed to see what was in plain sight? She began documenting modern human slavery around the world, focusing on the integrity, nobility, and dignity of each person, regardless of the ugliness or pain in their situation. Her unflinching and intimate images command the viewer to acknowledge the troubling truths of slavery in our modern world. They are a “wake up” call for one and all.
Through this visual storytelling of fine art photography, Lisa blends the problematic realities of conditions in our world with her elevated view of the beauty of humanity. The images extend the initial call for awareness when joined by her voice as a public speaker bearing a message that demands action against injustice. Lisa’s photographs educate her audience without negating their larger purpose; to ignite emotions, encourage action for change, and inspiring people worldwide to join the global movement to eradicate human slavery forever.
Photography as Fine Art
And so it is we circle back to where we began; cell phone cameras and the easy taking of photographs to ask, “Why do artists invest so much energy, time, personal income, energy, preparation, exploration, patience and concentration to create art? It is because art has the unique ability to pluck us out of our everyday lives, to immerse us in deep introspection—out of which we rise up, encouraged to be better, to do better, to find our place and role in humanity at large and act with courage and strength. Art can most assuredly comfort, entertain, provoke and educate us, but fine art photography provides a lens through which we can for ourselves envision a world in which there is greater compassion, wonder, beauty, and awe.