We hear a lot of talk of fine art photography and photographic art, but how do these sectors differ to the world of commercial photography. In a word, I would say “mind-set”! As with so many things, there is often a thin dividing line, although between photographic art and commercial photography, I think the line is actually a lot thiner than many people perceive or realise.
An artist, is first and foremost “an artist”, regardless of the medium of choice. His/her medium of choice may happen to be photography, it could equally be any of the numerous other mediums with which we are all familiar. The important thing is that he/she has the mentality of an artist, with the medium of choice being a secondary factor.
Commercial photography needs little explanation. Clients provide photographic assignments of an immensely diverse nature, and photographers fulfill the needs of those clients by providing the photographs they require. This could be in relation to advertising, editorial, promotions, weddings, etc., etc. (as we all understand). Outside of this brief, many commercial photographers will also have their own personal portfolio, wherein this work is sometimes also defined as “Fine Art”. Some commercial photographers will even include a specific fine art portfolio, and quite often, images from that portfolio will be offered for sale as stand-alone artworks. Is the latter “Photographic Art”? Mostly, the answer would have to be “no”.
Artists themselves can be broken-down into various categories. There are those full-time professional artists, normally listed and well referenced and often represented by one or more formal representatives, such as an art gallery, dealer or agent. There are many other artists, who produce a very high-standard of work, but for whom art is a secondary profession, the majority of whom will not have formal representation, instead, marketing and selling their works directly to their clients. Subsequently, we have artists producing what I would define as decorative arts, following which we have craft works and kitsch.
Each of these have a unique value within the sector in question, and each a place within the art-world. However, in practice, each sector is quite autonomous to the other, and it is unlikely that you will find a main-stream art gallery selling decorative arts, just as it is unlikely that a gallery dealing mainly in decorative arts would be selling collectible artworks (and by collectible, I mean of interest to serious art collectors, the likes of whom also patronise major international auction sales). Effectively, it’s each to his own.
Likewise with photography. In the majority of cases, those aforementioned “Fine Art” portfolios, are generally more in the decorative