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Should we accept that the very best photographs can be regarded as Fine Art?

Report of the lecture given by Brian Stater BA MSc
on March 27th 2013

The talk started with a quotation by Longfellow:

“Nature is a revelation of God. Art is a revelation of Man.”

Art and photographs fall into four categories: Portrait, Landscape, Still Life, and Narrative.  Brian had chosen copious photographs in each category to be projected to screen for discussion.  These pictures were taken over a long period and are part of photographic history.  The power of photography is more subtle than painting, especially in black and white.

In writing this report I wished to include examples of photographs, but questions of copyright have arisen and we have to be cautious about what we publish.  However, the following images will be recalled by members and can be found on the web.  Please note that each link below opens in a new window to allow the viewer to switch quickly between the photograph and its commentary.

1. Arnold Newman: Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, 1946

Arnold Newman created many of the 20th century’s famous portraits.  His black and white portrait of Igor Stravinsky seated at a grand piano became his signature image, even though it was rejected by the magazine that gave the assignment to Newman. Taken during a rehearsal in New York on December 1st 1946, the image juxtaposes Stravinsky with the piano, and together they form the shape of a musical note.

2. Henri Cartier-Bresson: Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932

This photograph is full of action leaving you with a question as to the depth of the water?

3. Henri Cartier-Bresson: Scene of famine in India, 1950

This is a photograph full of interest with repeated patterns produced by the mother’s fingers and the child’s ribs and the spokes of the cart wheel.

4. Ansel Adams: Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite, 1941

The mist and clouds and the effects of the light bring this image to life and you can feel the weather as your eyes pass over the scene.

As the lecture progressed we became more and more enthralled by the pictures and the explanations and I feel sure that our members concluded that photography can be considered a Fine Art when artistic composition is applied to the picture-taking process.

Frank Illston

Brian Stater
Our quizzical guide to photography as fine art