Reading time: 2:30min | When you use your camera to gain new and more profound knowledge of your environment with all the twists and unpredictability it might provide, you work in fine art, as a painter would do with their colours and brushes.
And when you think of your camera gear as tools and realise your client’s photographic wishes for a living, you are a photographer.
And then there are uncountable people with neither profile who take pictures all the time. Why are they doing this?
First of all, because they can. Almost four billion people carry a photographic device with them all day long that can do many other things besides taking photos. One of them is giving people a ring. That’s why this device is misleadingly called a phone.
Secondly, taking a photo with your phone makes an event, and be it as mundane as it possibly gets, a memorable event because the event is considered to be worthy of being documented. Quite a few of such photos end up on social media timelines and private photo streams. But most of these photos end up nowhere and never get revised or looked at.
That is because people use their phones as viewing devices. It’s the process that matters rather than the result. No one collects sunset images, but everyone is highly motivated to snap one if it occurs.
That can happen with many other things around you that people consider to be worth looking at. With the snap, the watching experience reaches its fulfilment, and we can carry on. In that sense taking photos makes people whole, events whole, watching and gazing whole.
Thirdly, people love to take photos of themselves. Here, again, the process of taking a selfie makes selfie-takers more whole human beings and give their presence’s location a historical place in the never-ending, self-elevating stream of social media posts. Andy Warhol coined in 1968: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Of course, he was right, and here we are. You have only to determine what world-famous means.
Regardless, selfies are therapeutic self-affirmations in individual, historical contexts that often explain themselves with the motif: the delightful café au lait on the Champs-Élysées, the great time at a pool in Ibiza, the party on the neighbour’s balcony (but please take only the city’s skyline in the background in the frame).
In that context, photos work as an illustration of someone’s personal news and sometimes, when the Warhol effect wield its full power, they become regular press photos which generally are taken by photographers (remember, the people who press the trigger for a living). Lines blur, and so does photography’s means and meaning.
In the end, the question of all art questions remains: does the picture give me new, unpredicted insights into the world? And if it does, is it worth being a keeper? How many are that? One out of a million?
But the question is moot, as fine art painter Claus Brunsmann recently told me. He thinks of painting pictures partly as a therapeutical act (but there’s more to it, of course). And that’s with most of the trillions of images taken and stored in the digital domain the case too. But does that make selfies and sunset photos automatically fine art? When you can answer the question of all art questions positively, most certainly yes. Time to check your photostream. Perhaps you’ll find a hidden gem.