This is a recurrent question: what is fine art photography and what does the word “fine art” mean in this sentence? What is editorial photography and how it can be included in a photography career? Should you be an artist or a pro in order to do the one path or the other?
I will try to give a basic answer to these questions with the following essai. High-end pros will attack me, I already know it. “OMG! He’s putting a line in between the two things!”. On the other hand, concerned beginners and amateurs for how to start their possible career will find these answers helpful. At least in a way, the answers are intended to help someone to develop a possible professional career in the world of photography. Let’s start here.
The main difference between fine art and editorial photography: “fine art” is everything you do on your own which includes the best of your skill, something you do for yourself (because you feel you need it) with no prior commissioning or assignment by a client, with no further goal but your personal pleasure.
“Editorial” is assigned by a client, being a magazine, and agency or a company seeking for publicity. It’s a bounded commercial work shot within guidelines set up (usually) by an art director or by a photo-editor.
In the detail.
Some people would complaint at the sentence I used above to describe fine-art photography: “for your pleasure”. So, if you like, you can substitute it with the most commonly used and politically-correct sentence “for to express your personal concepts”. But, please, do you really need “to express” something while you are shooting your pictures? I frankly shoot my pictures for PLEASURE and not for I need to express my personal ideas on a due subject matter. Nevertheless I understand there are people (photographers) out there that are so committed to World’s troubles that they only shoot for to express their concepts, which otherwise would remain hidden in a part of their soul, unexpressed, unknown to many, unuseful to… life(?).
Yes please. Try to tell yourself: “I shoot for my own pleasure” and see what freedom your can bring to your work. See how much it gains in terms of “expressivity”. Free yourself from super-imposition of the common moral and discover the world beyond the boundary. Promise you’ll think about that.
Because if you don’t act this way, if you shoot politically-correct only, if you shoot what the latest trends require or if you follow the most committed and fashionable topic of the moment, you are not really doing fine art out of anything. You would do just another form of commercial work masked of “commitment” but art. I’m thinking at those committed photographers in taking pictures of the last melting icebergs of the North Pole, or the last trees of the Amazonas, or the last refugees escaped from the last war-zone… I don’t believe you want to do art that way. I would not believe you. Please tell me you just want to SELL photos and I will appreciate your work better (maybe).
Art is another matter. Art don’t ask for public agreement. You do it because you feel you need to do it for your pleasure, whatever it can be.
Yes, someone may buy your art, so it may turn into money. But they will buy the product of your soul, the expression of your most personal desires, fears, concerns, ideas, fantasies, dreams, hopes. That may happen. I wish you so. And it always happen with products you made for yourself, not for a client. Fine art is the result of your personal need to make something and you make that something even if you don’t see any point in doing so, any commercial goal, any money to get back.
Fine art must be the best of your product. The word “fine” is borrowed form the Art world. Painture leads in this topic. This term is used to define the state-of-the-art craft-work, the piece that best than any other can show the skills of the painter. A superb use of the color, a perfect stroke, a nice composition, and so on. It is not only related to technique. Yes, technique helps to create better crafts. But fine art cannot live of nice technique only. An art piece must be alive, must transmit an idea of tridimensionality, must take your soul to an upper level, must intrigue you. In few words it has to speak to you. If you can achieve all these results, your art is a kind of ”fine”, nice.
You should understand that achieving such a result is a very personal journey. You cannot rely on others. You cannot delegate your work to your pupils. You must be committed to carry out every single chosen step of the process on your own. Only in that way you can name it “the product of MY art”.
From now on I will consider photography with the intent recently proposed by famous state-of-the-art photographer Sebastião Salgado, which sounds (more or less) like this: “photography means print, otherwise it is just imaging”.
Yes, fine-art photography is linked to film photography.
Many supposed-to-be photographers use fine-art definition applied to digital printing (they don’t do by them selves). If you do not practically work on ALL steps on your own, you may be doing nice photography, beautiful photography, effective photography, what else photography but FINE ART photography. If you want to do fine-art photography you must do it yourself. That means to work on ALL steps of your production until you reach the finished craft.
Do you actually manage an Epson plotter or a Durst Lambda machine? No? So you are not really doing fine art photography. Someone else is printing your work for you.
Fine art requires the total of your own commitment to the realization of your own product. To date, this way is achieved with film and darkroom photography, because just few people have access to manage on their own a digital printer for to test, print and print again time and time again until they get the very best out of their work. Whenever you assign your job to an operator, that final step is not anymore under your total control. That’s not YOUR product.
Do you really want to do fine art photography? Learn how to work with film, being black and white or color negative or even color positive. It does not matter. Learn how to master development and printing phases in the darkroom. Get the maximum out of your processes and learn thoroughly all techniques for to improve your expression. MAKE the final craft (print) on your own. That’s fine art photography. The market will then judge your work and, eventually, award it, one day.
Editorial is commercial. An agency or magazine (or client) is assigning you a job. In this case you must know the commercial rules for making an effective picture, worthy for the client, commercially proficient. This is the field for pros. They really know all the techniques necessary to get the best possible result for their clients. That includes mastering the lighting gears, digital cameras, lenses and digital post production, Photoshop (maybe), studio gears such as tripods, stands, reflectors, flash units, beams, props, dollies and bla bla bla… They must be masters of architecture photography if they want to deliver products for architectural market. They must master still-life photography if they want to produce commercial shots of products for their clients. They must know how to move on the set with models if they want to shoot for fashion magazines. They must know a lot of technique, history of photography, history of the arts, contemporary photography trends (for to avoid duplicates), commercial and advertisement language for to pack straight-speaking photographs for their client targets.
Often, more than a person is involved in editorial productions. The photographer is the one, the art director can be the second, then follow copy writers, graphic designers, make up artists, location scouts, bla bla bla again and again. The final product of your work is bounded by guidelines. You are not free to do what EVER you like. Nevertheless the photographer is chosen upon his/her own personal works that appeared here and there. Perhaps that was his/her own fine-art works. And the loop closes here. A fine-art path takes the artist to operate on a commercial field.
So, don’t you think now studying one or the other, fine-art or commercial (editorial) photography, it would mean improvement for your knowledge?
Well, you only know the answer. One thing is crystal clear: “The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” (László Moholy-Nagy)