ARTWORK


PHOTOGRAPHY

WHEN DOES IT BECOME A WORK OF ART ?





In our contemporary society, where images are everywhere and any owner of a smartphone can be considered as a photographer, one can wonder when photography can be elevated to the rank of art ... we share our thoughts in this section !


When is she hanging on the wall ?

 
Just as it is in America that Paul Durand-Ruel went to seek a deserved recognition for the Impressionists, it is at the gallery 291 - managed by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and located at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York City from 1905 to 1917 - that these are the first exhibitions dedicated to the medium and which have placed it in the rank of art, in the same way as painting and sculpture.

Indeed, Stieglitz had the ambition to offer exhibitions mixing photography with more classical works, bringing together these different disciplines and questioning the hierarchy until then established between the genres.
 

Photography exhibition at Galerie 291 by Alfred Stieglitz

 


When does she enter an institutional collection ?

 
MoMA in NYC is the first museum to have acquired photographic works since its opening in 1929. In 1940 it opens a department dedicated to the photographic medium, and now holds a collection of over 25,000 works of art. artists, journalists, scientists and amateurs.
 

 
In France, we must wait until 1978 with the decision to build a photographic collection at the Musée d'Orsay, following major projects to transform the station into a museum. From this date, the collection remains to be constituted since, unlike other artistic techniques, photography has never been the subject of a gathering by an institution in France.
 


When it becomes a discipline in its own right ?

 
Photography is exhibited in the walls of dedicated museums in France, as in the MEP, the Jeu de Paume, as well as in festivals and sectorized fairs throughout the territory. But it is less because photography is not part of art, only because it is a very specific medium, which requires expertise.

Indeed, photography is also present in major institutions - at the Pompidou Center, in the stands of the largest international galleries at FIAC, but also as an exceptional lot at large generalist auctions.
 


When does she have a creative intention ?

 
Rather than using aesthetic criteria to define the artistic value of a photograph, its originality seems to be a more relevant criterion, although it is not always easy to define this concept.

The originality of a photograph can be translated by the fact that the photograph bears "the imprint of the personality of the author" or at least "a mark of personal contribution" of the photographer.


© Alfred Drago Rens, courtesy Galeria L'Affiche


When is it limited in number ?

 
For some photographers, like Henri Cartier-Bresson for example, the personality of the author is undeniable. Perhaps we can find in this principle the reason why he never limited his prints.

In the field of art, scarcity is a primordial concept that creates demand and, in fact, helps to increase the price.

The idea is to consider the balance between, on the one hand, the concept of the unique work that is important for the other artistic mediums, and on the other hand the legitimacy of the photographer to shoot a photograph in multiple copies.
 


What does the law say ?

 
In French law, there is a precise legal definition of photography and its prints. Surprisingly, we find that this definition comes from the Tax Code, an option that can be linked to the very specific and regulated taxation of works of art.
 
This is Article 98A of Appendix III of the French General Tax Code :
« The following are considered works of art: photographs taken by the artist, taken by him or under his control, signed and numbered in the limit of thirty copies, all formats and media combined. »


When you decide ?

 
 "It's the viewers who make the paintings. (Salt merchant: writings of Marcel Duchamp, Marcel Duchamp, Paris, The wasteland, 1959)

 "Since we have to impose limits on the study of an art that keeps repelling them, photography is only taken into account here when it is part of the" world of art "" (Contemporary art in France, Catherine Millet, Paris, Flammarion, 2015)

Charles Chadwyck-Healey, a great collector of photography, relativises his passion himself: "Photography is creative but can not be compared to painting that is conceived from scratch" (Interview Les Echos, May 21, 2005)

David Hockney (figurative painter who also composed mosaics of photos): "I explored the photo because it's the way people see the world, but it always brought me back to painting" [Excerpt from press kit of his current exhibition at Pompidou]

Pierre Keller, flamboyant director of ECAL but also discreet artist, interviewed in 1994 during his exhibition of magnifications from Polaroid: "If press a button is to be a photographer, then I'm a photographer ! "