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Dan 'Dano' Steinhardt

Marketing Manager, Professional Imaging Division

Recognized as a photographic imaging industry leader, Dano has over three decades of business experience in photography. As Marketing Manager, Dano is credited with helping position Epson as a key player in the photographic industry.

Digital Photography is Not Fine Art

April 22, 2010

It's true, digital photography is not fine art.  While this may seem a heretical statement, pay close attention to the use of the word "digital".  As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century its now OK to drop the word, "digital" when speaking about modern-day photography. Today, "Digital Photography" is redundant with the overwhelming majority of photographic imaging produced with precision binary systems vs. variable chemical reactions.

There was of course great resistance to digital photography.  Most of this resistance had little to do with technology but to our resistance as humans to change.  As Harold Wilson said,  "The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery".  As such there was never really any doubt about the future of digital technology as there was little doubt about George Eastman's flexible film vs. glass plates that helped launched his Eastman Kodak Company.

Analog photography, which used to be known as photography, was widely accepted as a fine art.  Analog photography should be highly respected as a critical component in the incredible history of photography.   But it should no longer be referred to as "traditional" but really more historic as fewer and fewer analog products and services remain on the market.

It did take a long time for analog photography (aka photography) to gain acceptance as a fine art form.  The first photography collection was not acquired until 1910 by the Albright-Knox and it was not until 1937 that the Museum of Modern Art mounted its first exhibition of photography.  And then it really wasn't until the late 1960s that photography was seen as a true collectable art form vs what some characterized as an artless craft reliant on mechanical devices readily available to the masses. Ambrose Bierce viewpoint was typical of naysayers of that time, "Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art. "

While analog photography and printing took well over 130 years to gain acceptance as a collectable form of art, in early 1990s digital prints started to find their way into a few museums and galleries. Digital prints are now found in the collections of most major museums and exhibited in hundreds of galleries worldwide.  In 2004, the Getty Museum made their first major digital print acquisition with the purchase of thirteen 30-inch by 30-inch prints produced on an Epson Stylus Pro 9600.  This signaled to the industry that these prints were no longer digital prints, but true photographic art.

With digital prints gaining acceptance in less than 20 years vs. the 130 years it took with analog technology, today's artists and photographers are able to experience their own success instead of their heirs.  Throughout the history of photography some of the best-known names became famous after their deaths.   Alfred Stieglitz was forced to close his groundbreaking 291 Gallery.  Man Ray was never recognized in his native America during his lifetime and sought recognition in Paris. Edward Weston lived a humble life selling prints for $7-$10 until his death in 1958.  In the 1970s Weston prints were selling for up to $1,500 and today some Weston's have sold for $1.6 Million.

Fortunately today, incredible photographic fine art works created by Gregory Crewdson, Robert Misarch, Bob Wiengarten, produced with Epson printers, inks and papers sell for tens of thousands of dollars.  Most importantly when these works are sold they are not sold as digital prints or inkjet prints, but as photographs.  They are called photographs because they express the vision of the photographer. The technology is an enabler but not an entity in and of itself. 

A few still argue that with digital technology the masses have access to these tools and thus the ability to produce not only digital prints, but lots of digital prints which flood the market and devalue photography as an art form.  While the average person does has access to the same tools as leading fine-art photographers they are, in the end, just tools.  Leading edge tools in that hands of those with no vision is not fine-art but more of what the British call Bumph.  And by the way this same argument was used to describe the satanic impact of color over black and white decades ago.

Digital photography is back to being photography without the constraints of chemical reactions and hours literally spent in the dark.  Inkjet prints are now simply photographs. These photographs are widely collected and considered an art form not because of its technology but of its inherent ability to convey artistic expression that not only moves us today but will for future generations.

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