I was waiting in line to withdraw cash from the ATM at my local CVS. The man in front of me using the ATM carried two DSLRs, one on each shoulder. One had a conspicuous Canon white lens, and the other I cannot quite make out.
I’m not a photographer, neither am I well versed in photography jargons — exposure, aperture, ISO, etc. But I appreciate good photographs. This man was most definitely a wandering tourist trekking through Downtown Manhattan. He’ll probably walk westward on Fulton, stopping by the Fulton Center to snap a picture of One World. Or, he’ll walk east towards the river, frames The Peking against the Downtown Brooklyn backdrop. In his memory card, he’ll have what people call “street photography”.
This whole act of stopping to capture the sights reminded me of a topic I’ve discussed with my roommate from freshman year, who studied Film and TV. She wrote a long essay about the demise of art and the rise of photography. The words “demise” and “rise” loosely describe how easy or difficult an image can be produced. Imagine a world without cameras, one would draw to capture a sight. Each detail is drawn with care in strokes. It would take hours, whereas a press of the shutter button takes a photo in the matter of seconds. Photography is less time-consuming and accessible, hence the “demise” of art, and the “rise” of photography.
If photography is equally capable of expressing the details in a painting, does it then replace art? Is photography is also art? What constitutes as art? What makes an art “good”?
In my opinion, the amount of the effort it takes to create an image should not be part of the consideration. An image is not any better if a terrible painter were to spend more time on it. The same applies to photography. Why should I care if a badly-framed photo was shot on a DSLR with expensive lens on an sturdy tripod? In both cases, the products simply would not be art, and definitely not “good” art.
The focus should then be the product itself. Drawing and taking photos are simply two different mediums to create — drawing just happens to take longer.
I took the following photos underneath the Brooklyn Bridge using my iPhone 6S on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps I was extra mindful that day. The patterns on the bricks were absolutely mesmerizing. I stopped. I looked. I felt the urge to capture this moment. Photography was the fitting medium at that moment. I needed to capture the image quickly.
The first photo was standard, vanilla, bland, cliche, etc. I wanted to capture the arch of the bridge, and the stark contrast between the bricks and the background. I waited until the chubby lady walked towards the edge of my frame. The photo was anything but exciting — standard, like I said. Another photo, not another piece of art.
Maybe the lady was ruining my photo, I thought. I tried again. This time, without the lady. It was equally underwhelming. I hated how the highway in the background unforgivingly cuts through the arch. The apartment building was too orange for my liking, which also looked weird against the green backdrop.
I noticed a lamp on my left, and I tried to frame the lamp in this next photo, creating a contrast between the two lamps. The two glowing points, as I hope, would somehow connect and complete the linear perspective. The backdrop on the other side of the arch still bothered me. The underexposure did not do the beauty of the bricks justice.
I looked around, and at this point, an art was born — as a vision, in my mind. I had a preconceived notion of what the art should look like, and photography (in this case, using an iPhone) helped me realize it.
I abandoned the other side of the bridge completely, only leaving a hint of green on the right side. I tried to focus on multiple places, and eventually fixed on the jet black lamp. The exposure was “good” enough that light and darkness juxtapose well in the photo. The lamp was a hint of zest. I’m in love with the geometry — the arch, the perspective introduced by the sidewalk, the striking vertical lamp, the string linking the bridge and the lamp diagonally, and the color — orange from the glowing light, the pipes, the spilled paint on the street, and the little cone to the right.
Art is created in a critical mind regardless of the medium through which it was born. Art is democratic in that it does not require extra apparatus for it to be “good”. So are the man’s photos art?