I came across a quote earlier this week and thought that this might be good to open up to discussion.

There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art anymore. Maybe it never was.

― Robert Frank

Frank was quite known for his noncommercial work around the USA, although he was a commercial photographer for a part of his life.

His iconic and history changing photo book, The Americans, released around 1958, had severely deviated from the norms of photography in his day.

Today, you’d look at the images he shot as a precursor to modern street photography, capturing America’s culture in a different light, but back then, the style of images were unheard of.

I guess you could say that his style is what paved the way for what we would perceive as today’s modern images and perhaps most of the images found on Instagram; that is being free, slightly careless, and lacking respect for compositional rules, while adding feeling and creating a divergent yet accepted aesthetic for photos.

Robert Frank, apparently had shared this quote recently. “Recently” meaning during this time where cameras are readily available and 200,000 pictures are uploaded to Facebook per minute…

How do you feel about this quote as the world gets closer and closer to documenting every moment?
So, is photography still an art? Was it ever?

Tell me what you think.


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Join the conversation! 32 Comments

  1. who decides? and why? i love images and visual learning…

  2. I could strum a guitar all day… but I wouldn’t be making music. In the same sense, I think photography in it’s true form has always been and will always be art. There is a big difference between purposefully crafting an image, and simply taking a snapshot then slapping on a filter to share on social media. To me the latter is NOT photography. But in this age, sadly, most people don’t differentiate between the two.

  3. I think Mr. Frank is absolutely on the mark! Do I need to know or care what someone had for lunch today? What their shoes look like? A photo of pee in a toddler’s toilet because it was the first time s/he went that way? I’m not kidding…this picture was recently posted on Facebook! Really?!?!?!

  4. I totally disagree with the quote from Robert Frank. Art is certainly about capturing emotion and beauty in a moment. There are plenty of moments to capture. So what if there are many cameras capturing more moments.

    • David! I think this kind of aligns with a few things in my head. I’m trying to think in terms of what Frank would be thinking…

      I’m thinking that if he’s right and everything is captured, and I mean everything (perhaps we’ll get to that point, perhaps not), then what is special anymore? If photography as an art is a capturing beauty and moments, and all of it is captured, is it still an art?

      • Think about what you are suggesting. Is it possible for every special moment to be captured? I can’t imagine how that is possible. Is it possible for every angle of Mt. St. Helens or the Statue of Liberty to be captured? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean photography is no longer art. Art rests in the eye of the beholder: the beholder being the artist and the beholder being the person viewing the art. That art is often times seen differently by these two beholders. Can we possibly imagine that every artistic photo has been taken and viewed by every beholder? I doubt it. I believe God reveals beauty to us daily and given that belief, I can’t possibly imagine that God has shown us everything there is to see.

        • Totally on board that everything isn’t going to be covered and documented (thankfully… although maybe Google will aspire to do so). And you’re right, art is subjective, and maybe you’re right that someone’s accidental snapshot of their scissors on their desk that they uploaded to the cloud may be considered as art to a viewer.

          I personally feel and agree that emotion is a big part of art, and an important part of the creation and execution of photography– especially for me as a portrait photographer. A huge part of the experience of creating portraits are the moments that I’m able to spend with the subject with the pictures being a byproduct of it. Especially the ones that weren’t captured on film or digital media. That aspect plays into my creation and passion of the art that I create. To me, if it was all captured and documented, the recreation of those moments in my mind wouldn’t hold as much importance to me. Its one of those things where you appreciate it more when it is gone and kill some of the aspect of art to me. After all, it is life, and I feel that special moments should be documented, and even more important and special moments shouldn’t be documented, as art or otherwise.

          The appreciation of photography as an art form is decreasing due to how many “moments” are perceived to be meaningful as art compared to how many moments are actually captured. In Frank’s time, not everyone had access to a camera or the even the know-how and skills to capture moments, which I feel adds to his perception of art, moments and photography. Makes me wonder about his explaination.

          Will the art cease? Probably not.

          • I gotta contradict, Mykii. I think the appreciation of photography as art is increasing! As there are more and more mediocre images placed in our view, the ones that have been artfully made stand out even more and are more appreciate. I have many clients who have left me for cheaper and less experienced photogs, and many of those come back because they appreciate that my artfulness makes the pictures more valuable.

            I say, Bring on the mediocrity! It makes me look that much better ;)

          • Alright alright, Levi… perhaps I redact my statements a little. Perhaps the appreciation of photography is decreasing overall from the perspective of those who don’t have interest in photography. I do agree that for us in the profession, it’ll make us stand out more. Some of my friends don’t use intstagram anymore just because they’re sick of all the food and random pictures… I’m sure they’d be more inclined to continue viewing instagram pictures that had meaning behind them, even if it is food… just needs some meaning– or captioning that provides meaning… or something of value… yah?

  5. Yes, some of it. Always will be. A very complicated question. Kind of like asking if ‘words’ are art.

  6. This just sounds like someone who maybe is going through “burn out” periods. Art is subjective to begin with and what one person classifies as art another may classify as complete garbage. Yes there are cameras EVERYWHERE now and almost anyone with a modern cell phone has a camera. The saturation of images will continue to grow as technology continues to push forward but that doesn’t make photography any less of an art form.

  7. Thought #1: I’m fortunate to live 30 minutes from the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m a member and visit frequently. They always have photographs on display. Some I get and love and some I don’t get and don’t like. But, someone at the Art Institute has decided that the photos on display deserve to be given wall space at that prestigious museum and are therefore art.

    Thought #2: I take lots of photos of my children and grand children and also photos of my travel destinations. The photos are important to me as a visual memory of people I love and places I’ve been. I think that serves a very real purpose for me. Are my photos art? I don’t care. If someone outside my family sees one of my pictures and says “Wow, that should be framed and up on your wall” then I guess that photo has become, for that person, “ART”. My goal is to create the best damn snapshots of people and places that are important to me. If any other person thinks they’re junk, well, that’s OK.

    Thought #3: I don’t have to view ANY of the 200,000 pictures per second being added to Facebook. But if they’re being posted by my family and friends I want to see them. If they are properly exposed and composed, wonderful!

    Was the Mona Lisa considered to be ART when it was painted? I don’t know how it was thought of in 1506. How many people even saw it? I bet a very small number. What makes something ART? I have no idea. I guess that some photographers work is considered ART because at some time and for some reason some one influential in the art world decided they were ART.

  8. I agree that art is completely subjective. What I find interesting, beautiful or thought provoking for me is “art.” I am a freelance photographer. Not all my images could be called art, not by me or anyone else for that matter. I think personally where Mr. Frank is correct is that we are bombarded with images that really don’t belong in a place where the general public has to see them. Keep the shots of your dog/cat/fish/boat/car/camping/swimming and so on to yourself and your friends and family. Use one of the plethora of image storage and viewing sites and keep them there perhaps behind a password. I have never uploaded anything that is of a personal nature and then left it out for all to see. It means something and is “art” to those that were involved in the making of the image as a memory. I do not want or need to see anyones birthday or first kiss.

  9. To recite a timeworn axiom, because I have no better way to say it myself, art is completely subjective. But are we discussing photography as an art form or the photograph as art? Camera craft in itself could be argued to be an art-form, most convincingly by those who ‘know’ how to use a camera, but then, how many pieces of work created could be deemed as ‘art’ when captured purely by accident? I believe that we all have the nature to see something different in any one image however, the mundanity of subjects (many of my own included) does beg the question you astutely ask. It’s a difficult question to answer.

    I suppose ‘art’ comes down to ‘taste’: what each of us relate to as art, or not. Does every painter create art, or merely pictures? Who’s to say? The fact that the painter knows how to use colour, form, texture and light could be argued to be an art form. The only real difference here is the medium. Perhaps my view is this, that while most photographic images may be competent within the (so called) ‘rules’ they are not necessarily ‘art’. But the ability to capture light in ways seldom seen or envisaged by most of us, is a wonderful art form that I myself might aspire to achieve one day. To ‘see’. Such images may speak to me as art, but maybe not to others. I really believe it’s down to our own personal connections to what we see.

    Whether to hold memories, create records, or, art – is photography a perfect and versatile medium for all three? I believe so.


  10. […] he topado en Photofocus con una cita del genial cineasta y fotógrafo Robert Frank, una reflexión bastante poco acertada […]

  11. Of course it is… not ALL photography, obviously, some, mine in particular, qualifies… =:o)

  12. Photography is what you make of it. There can be art in everything we do, or everything we do can be mundane. As a programmer, I took great pride in creating elegant, efficient code. I want the occasional dance recital video I make to invoke similar elegance, and portraits to convey something beyond the ordinary.

    But, you know, sometimes…sometimes that beautiful, delicious Reuben sandwich that the person behind the deli counter made…sometimes that beautiful, delicious Reuben sandwich with its golden blonde companion with thick foam gently cascading down the side of a frosty glass—sometimes it just demands to be photographed. Who am I to say, “No!”?

  13. “even a blind chicken picks up something [to eat] at some time”
    (quote by unknown)…I guess that metaphor does apply to most digital photography today.
    In the ‘film-camera-loaded’ days limited shots (24 or 36) did force the construction and composition to hold more importance for a ‘good’ shot. I still think its a good disciple for young photographers to ‘practice’ using that old technology for a short time, enabling future digital photographs to have more depth to them (compositionally or aesthetically speaking).

  14. This reminds me of the movie “Mona Lisa.” Julia Roberts plays an Art Professor from CA in the early 1950s who decides to trek across the country to a very conservative womens college, and she ends up having to break down the barriers of those student minds who thought only the right kind of creativity, the right opinion, was the determining factor in calling something, anything, ‘Art.’ Art, as she stresses, is in the eye of the beholder.
    I’m so green to this world that all I own is an iPhone and PAS camera I bought 5/6 years ago. I’ve been struggling to find an outlet to my creativity that’s been locked behind a career in Finance. Photography literally set off a big, bright light bulb. Is Photography an art form? Hell yes. Are ALL photographs art? Yes. The person capturing the image felt it was, therefore it is. If anything that I’ve read in blogs so far to get a feeling for what I plan to take on, photography is like dancing. Technique is what takes the subject to a higher level. You can dance like you don’t care and look like you’re having a medical problem (selfies, random snap shots of nothing special), or, you can learn how to refine your moves and become more graceful (portraits that let the eyes speak, nature shots that pull you into environment, everyday life that feels like you’re part of the moment). That being said, just learning a new trick or two, I’ve taken better pictures with my current equipment.

    • “Are ALL photographs art? Yes. The person capturing the image felt it was, therefore it is.”
      I think this is where the intent part kicks in. Quite possibly, there are many who just take a picture for the sake of taking a picture. I would say that there are many who do not view the pictures they’ve taken as art, but instead a matter of record and activity that they do to.

      Is car racing a sport? Yes. Are all drivers considered racers? Some may say yes, some may say no– just like all photographs being called art (I’d say no).

      I’m thinking that passion fuels intent, and those who do not a have passion for art may also not have intent to create art and appreciate art. Now that cameras are increasingly and readily available, I would say that one can more easily feel the intent to make art by one who has the passion, but at the same time, I feel (perhaps the same as Robert) that there are more photos being captured that have no artistic intent with the increase.

      Driving a sports car everywhere doesn’t automatically enter someone into a race and transform them into a passionate race car driver, much like owning a camera doesn’t automatically make someone a passionate artist. I drive a vehicle that is capable of being entered into races and own a camera that is capable of creating art, but I don’t always have the intent to do either. I could have the intent to race my car much like I have the intent to create art with a camera.

      Some may still deem me as a race car driver because I have access to a car, and some may also still deem me as an artist because I have access to a camera. I am passionate and intentional about both, so perhaps I am both?

  15. […] he topado en Photofocus con una cita del genial cineasta y fotógrafo Robert Frank, una reflexión bastante poco acertada […]

  16. True art is very difficult to define,and to become a true artist is a very difficult journey! Now
    anyone can pick up a camera produce a 1000 pictures and call themselves a photographer. There is no learning if they get lucky and get a few good shots and someone pays them for them. It takes away from the true artist, it takes away from the true quality of the art. There are fewer people willing to make the sacrifice to learn the craft to produce the art and therefore the art suffers! We have 1000 photographers producing mediocre work and only one that is willing to make the sacrifice,and then he is cut because we are willing to except mediocre work because there are so many photographs out there. You can argue that then you have to stand out, but it’s much harder to stand out in a crowd of 100,000 that it is 100 and no one may see the differenc anyway! Mass production of anything is not art, because true art is a rare thing!


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About Mykii Liu

This portrait photographer is named "Mykii Liu". Yeah, that is a weird/crazy awesome spelling, isn't it? Well, that kind of goes with his personality. Liu is a technological geek that has drifted in and out of full-time portrait and wedding photography as well as the IT world. As a youth, he was raised with computers and exuded an inherit ability to explore and understand other bits of technology, which included a 35mm Canon FTb film camera that he was gifted. Fast forward 20 years, add a couple other cameras, computers, lights and lenses, then find Mykii Liu shoot for love as he explores the portrait world.


Opinion, Photography


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