Fine Art photography in India, and is it really ‘Fine Art’?

I can almost say that I am allergic to the term ‘fine art photography’ as it is being used by so many photographers, especially in India, and it is therefore very difficult for me to even hint that my own work can be defined as ‘fine art’. I see so many people with cameras taking pictures of colorful doorways and old locks and calling it ‘my art’ that I would absolutely not want to have anything to do with this definition of art, nor would I want to exhibit my work alongside such works of reproduction.

A quick look at wikipedia tells us that “Fine art photography refers to photographs that are created in accordance with the creative vision of the photographer as artist. Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism, which provides visual support for stories, mainly in the print media, and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to sell products or services.”

The problem of definition

The dictionary recognizes that there are no universally-accepted definitions of the related terms “art photography,” “artistic photography,” and “fine art photography”, and so in reality, being the photographer’s ‘creative vision’ that we are talking about, if you call yourself a photographer you might as well be an artist! Everyone has a point of view and once it is framed and hung on a wall who will stop him from calling it art?

To be honest to everyone, there are a few serious galleries in Delhi, as well as in other cities in India, showing the works of some really fine photographers who’s work I respect and admire. To mention a few, PhotoInk, Tasveer, Nature Morte and Vadhera gallery are very serious venues curated by people who really know what they look at in terms of photography and art. I would love to show my work there when I feel I have something to show.

Being an ‘art photographer’ is very hip in Delhi now, and galleries open up in malls and shopping centers, catering for a growing middle class who knows nothing about art but has money to buy. This, in combination with the digital photography age that enables everyone to shoot without thinking has brought the market to this point. There are good sides to this development of course, as it is a step in the right direction and hopefully people will slowly be educated in the history of art and learn how to appreciate it. There are a lot of photo exhibitions happening in Delhi in the last few years and this by itself is a great thing, so not all is bad.

Chhattisgarh Woods

Here are a few B&W images from the woods in Chhattisgarh that I photographed last week. It was a commercial assignment, believe it or not, but it didn’t feel like one. I spent two hours in the forest early in the morning and came out with these. Looking at them I really felt for a moment that I wouldn’t mind printing them and putting them up on my wall. Would that make it fine art?

Fine Art Prints

If you like any of the images: Fine Art Prints Size: 12×18″ (30x45cm) and 16×24″ (40x60cm) | signed limited edition | archival paper | From the series Chhattisgarh Woods are available for purchase with or without frame. Please contact me by email for details and price.

15 Responses to “Fine Art photography in India, and is it really ‘Fine Art’?”

  1. Jess Sikand says:

    I would think there would be some technical elements involved in fine art. I recently went to the Guggenheim museum and some of the “art photography” was just plain weird and stupid. The best photography for me has the following elements: 1. demonstrated technical mastery of photography (compostion, light, etc), 2. does it have contextual value (is it documentive, interpretive, “artistic”), 3. is it evocative (does it evoke emotion or thought from audience) and finally 4. is it unique.

  2. Andrew says:

    Good article Sephi;
    I find the term fine art photographer is way over used in our industry, but I also realize that art is very subjective and
    everyone is entitled to their own version of what they consider “art”. Nice pics BTW, Trees do make for interesting compositions, looks like Infra-red?

  3. Hi Jess, Thanks for this comment. I agree with what you write about what photography, or fine art photography, should present but unfortunately the market in India, being very new to photography as art, does not yet understand or demand this. People who have no knowledge of photography and are at the most serious amateurs, participate in ‘group shows’ and are absolutely convinced that what they do falls under the categories you have mentioned.

  4. Thank you Andrew. Not infra red though. the trees actually look something like this. post production work with filters, dodging and burning is there though. A little like a darkroom job only in a lightroom this time :-) I cant say that my time in the actual darkroom did not mean anything. It helps to know what you want to achieve :-) cheers

  5. Sulagna Basu says:

    I agree that India is still very new to what we are refering to as ‘fine art photography’ and that there are many amateur photographers who have suddenly found a new ‘hip’ genre to fall under. Art has always been and will continue to remain a highly subjective and debatable topic. Honestly, I believe that good composition, light or any technical mastery should be attributed to any genre of photography! But then there are photographs that follow all these rules and make for great pictures and then there are those that are not necessarily shot within the confines of what ‘should’ be followed but they still make for very insightful photographs. In my opinion, the latter category of photographs would probably qualify as art. For me, a painting/sculpture/photograph/film/dance or anything becomes art when it makes you perceive itself beyond the medium that it is presented in.
    BTW, Great photographs, Sephi! An endless foliage make for some very haunting photographs.

  6. Thank you for this comment Sulagna. As there is classical music and pop music, there is high end photography and popular photography. if it has an audience then it has the right to exist. Classical music was not born out of nothing and evolved over the years, and so does every other form of art. When a composer knows his onions, learned music in theory and practice and then chooses to create something new it can be considered a style. When a kid picks up drum sticks and start beating the drums to the applause of his parents it is not music.
    The same is in photography. If you know how to make a good black and white print and can prove it, but choose to make a gray print it can be considered a style. If you print gray because you don’t know how to work in the dark room it is simply a mistake.
    There are levels of criticism and levels of expression. If I like the color of the door and take a picture then it is just a picture of a door! The problem is that people do not try to learn the history of photography or history of art. They simply want to take pretty pictures and frame them. this is not art even that it is a reflection of their so called ‘creative vision’.

  7. Sulagna Basu says:

    Yes I agree that some ‘works of art’ are really just mistakes by people with no technical knowledge. Appreciation of the history of art/photography and knowledge of the same is ofcourse what separates genuine interest from frivolous pursuits and this is true for pretty much any field. When you are genuinely interested your first impulse is to want to learn more. But, I do believe that what we were talking about was the perception of art and perhaps what is skewed is that we have started to use the term ‘art’ very loosely. Like you rightly said, there are levels of criticism and there are levels of expression. It is a difficult argument but yes, knowledge and skill go hand in hand with honest effort and this is not exclusive to art and photography, it applies to everything. Human perception is sticky business! but such is life! such is art! :)

  8. Vikram says:

    Damn…..i have a red door in my folio. :))))

  9. Vikram says:

    Damn…..i have a red door in my folio. :))))

  10. There is nothing wrong with taking pictures of red doors, as long as you know this is not enough to make you an artist ;-) A picture can have an aesthetic value even if it is a simple image. Like I said, it is a problem of definition. Cheers

  11. Vikram says:

    I totally agree sir. Interesting and informative blog posts. We need it here in India. :))

  12. Steve says:

    Well Sephi, no offence to your art, but don’t you think anyone with a camera could’ve taken these pictures of trees above? Converting them into BnW, printing them and hanging them on a wall with a signature doesn’t make them “Fine Art” prints or do they? Somewhere you talk about education in arts (like musicians studying music vs a kid tapping drums to hear his parent applaud for him) and on the other hand, a fairly ordinary picture turns to be a piece of “Art”! I also see someone appreciating (beauty?) these photographs. Had it been taken by a complete beginner and posted on the internet forums, I can bet you my money that he must’ve been thrashed like anything by people. For me, the above photographs don’t work. And somewhere I find your own comments contradictory.

  13. Hi Steve, thanks for this comment. hmm.. anyone with a camera? possibly. the same way that anyone with a brush could have painted like Piet Mondrian, but didn’t. It is of course a personal taste and you do not have to ‘like’ my pictures of the woods. However, ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ is a very basic level of criticism that really means nothing to the artist. If you said why you like them, or even better, why you do not, this would be a great feedback.
    Now seriously, the pictures here are meant to illustrate the article that basically says the same thing as you are saying; “printing them and hanging them on a wall with a signature doesn’t make them “Fine Art”. I even asked the question in a rhetoric way myself: “Looking at them I really felt for a moment that I wouldn’t mind printing them and putting them up on my wall. Would that make it fine art?” Cheers

  14. Jayanta Roy says:

    very weak and visionless works

  15. Dear Jayanta, which work are you referring to? Please try to elaborate.

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