Exercise 1.4 What is a photographer

In the first part of the exercise the task is to read de Zayas’ essay Photography and Artistic Photography (de Zayas, 1913) and after reading, to summarise the key points made by de Zayas.

The next task in the exercise is the note personal responses to de Zayas’ point of view and to consider whether the questions he raises are still relevant today.

The final task is, as practitioners, to think about where we stand on the main issue raised by the essay.

de Zayas begins his essay by stating

‘Photography is not Art, but photography can be made to be Art’

He then splits photographers into two main groups and expresses his view on the differences between the two groups that he has defined as photography and artistic photography. In a nutshell, form and objectivity versus creativity.

Photography in the first form, from de Zayas’ point of view, is a process where the photographer captures the actual state, a representation without emotion.

In the second form which de Zayas describes as Artistc-Photogrpahy is a process where the photographer uses their emotions within the representation as a means of expression, to represent more than what can be physically seen within the scene at the first glance.

de Zayas demonstrates his point of view by using two established artists of the time; Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. de Zayas considers Steichen to be an artist whose work expresses ‘the perfect fusion of the subject and the object’. Stieglitz is considered as being in the process of eliminating the subject in a prescribed Form in order to seek out the ‘pure expression of the object’.

These two groups can sit happily side by side however, the artist can move between the camps as they see fit.

Is de Zayas’ points of view still relevant today?

de Zayas was a Dadaist and at times looked for structure within Art; as William Bohn points out, in his article ‘The Abstract Vision of Maruis de Zayas’, de Zayas used an algebraic formulae to try and demonstrate the human spirit and the thought processes of the artist.

de Zayas’ article was looking at the new forms of photography created due to Eastman’s development of the roll film. This development moved photography from where the photographer had to carry a dark room with them to this new form where images could be captured on ‘plastic’. This new plastic age meant an expansion in how photographs were taken and how a photographer could work. It was no longer the realm of the rich, photography had become a artform that everyone could be involved in.

When the article was written there was a definite divide in what was being considered as ‘art’ and what was not. Photography was still in its infancy and still being used by artists to capture scenes that they could paint later it was still seen as ‘not art’. It was still to ‘instant’ a form for it to be considered as creative.

The idea that photography is ‘not art’ would be challenged only a few years after this article was published as the world moved on, technology and skills advanced and picture making was freed through roll film and new technologies within cameras and lenses.

Now with the digital age and advanced camera technologies, the lines between photography and art are blurred, which makes it, in my own view, very difficult to separate it into only two distinct categories. Especially with the manipulation of images, moving images and digitally created art pieces, now even

something as simple as a selfie with a camera phone comes with a flurry of filters, add-ins and instant adaptions.

As a practitioner where do I stand on this issue?

Where I stand on the issue depends on the brief that I am working to. It may be a direct commission to capture and record an event, something which does not require that an overall artistic viewpoint or changes to the image, unless requested in the brief.

It may be a commission which requires or benefits from an artistic point of view and this would be sought by the person or persons making the request for the commission.

In my own work I look for different points of view and angles as a way of expressing myself, it may be that a simple recording of an event is all I want, or I may want to put my ‘personal representation’ as de Zayas describes it into the piece.

I do have to say that I did find some of what de Zayas wrote as quite disturbing; he expresses in the essay ‘Photography and Photography and Artistic Photography’ some points of view which can be interpreted as racist and white supremacist. His view that proper art can only be created and understood by White Europeans as they are ‘the latest is evolution and consequently the most advanced’ is just wrong and I have to take a personal stand against his view.


de Zayas, Marius (1913) Photography and Artistic Photography http://www.camramirez.com/pdf/DI_Week6_PhotoAndArt.pdf [Accessed 07 March 2018].

The Abstract Vision of Marius de Zayas on JSTOR . 2018. The Abstract Vision of Marius de Zayas on JSTOR . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3050029#?seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents#page_scan_tab_contents. [Accessed 07 March 2018].

Anon, 2016. Man Ray: Writings on Art. Tate Publishing.

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