When is a photo not a photo?

When is a photo not a photo? For many people in the photography and art worlds the answer to this question seems to depend on the aesthetics of the image and the intent of the creator—even when the technique of creation is overwhelmingly photographic.

Passion © Harold Davis
Passion © Harold Davis

In the eyes of important gatekeepers, the distinction is not merely semantic or taxonomic. I was reminded of this when I met with a very important photography collector a while back, who concluded our interview by telling me that “nothing you’ve shown me is a photograph.”

As many people who follow my work know, I consider much of my work “post-photographic.” It has rightly been said that I use digital painting, with photography as my source material, to create a new category of art that combines photography with digital technology, and also references artwork of the past (for example, Japanese art, impressionist and post-impressionist painting).

That said, Passion (shown above) is essentially photographic, and created using an in-camera studio multiple exposure.

Related images in the same series: Multiple Exposures, Kali and Les Desmoiselles, Being and Becoming; Solace for the Wild Rest, Duos and Redos.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hi Harold,
    the question of what is or is not photo in a open question and probably it will remain open forever.
    Me too, as a first reaction, think that photos are a clear clean and faithful representation of reality, where the world “reality” means “something that exists in the real world”, something that can be perceived in the same way by two or more “observers”. But the trick is exactly here: Does actually exist something like this? A great deal of philosophical research in the first decades of the 20th century say that reality, in this sense, doesn’t exist, because the observer is him/herself involved in the perception. This is a consequence of the uncertainty principle (yes, that form Heisenberg!) and certifies that we cannot say anything for sure about nothing…
    On my way I decided, after brooding a lot about this topic, to think to photography as to “the way to transfer to the observer the emotions, pulsions, thoughts that I felt or had in front of some scene existing in my perception of real world”. Maybe it sounds a bit either intricate or useless, but it works, at least for me, and using this definition I could tell to your important collector that all your works are photographs.

  2. Thanks Mauro, great post!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu