Is it pretentious to call oneself an artist?

For as long as I’ve been living in France, two significant photographic events have been held more or less concurrently, during early November in the capital city of Paris. One is Paris Photo, the other is the Salon de la Photo. The former is the world’s leading photographic art fair, with prestigious galleries and publishing houses exhibiting their prized pieces to collectors and enthusiasts alike, in the luxurious setting of the Grand Palais.

Crowds and architecture of Paris Photo Salon in Grand Palais, Paris
Two people looking at August Sander photo at Paris Photo

The latter is a trade show held at the Porte de Versailles, open to amateurs and professionals, showcasing the latest cameras and associated technology. In many ways these two events exist in two separate worlds, attracting very different crowds. Put most bluntly, the sophisticated, culturally aware, fashionably attired bourgeoisie, flock to Paris Photo, to see and be seen. The commoners, head to the Salon, seduced by growing pixel counts and looking for a bit of new gear at discounted rate.

Crowds at Porte de Versailles tram station, vivid evening colours, Paris
Crowds leaving at the end of the day, Salon de la Photo

Maybe I’m exaggerating the divide, but I can personally vouch that several of my personal contacts go to one of the events, while remaining blissfully ignorant of the other. Why is it that photography as art and photography as a trade, are often positioned at opposite ends of the spectrum? Where do I fit into this range?

Lockdown photography

Last spring, when the reality of Covid and lockdown first kicked in, with professional assignments cancelled and Street Photography not a viable outlet, I began feeding my creative curiosity by photographing objects around the house. I wrote about this experience in a previous article, entitled “ Clear the Mind and See the Light”.

Triangle of light on kitchen cupboard

Close up detail of Hopper Nighthawks painting against background of window shutters

I received a lot of positive feedback, with several close friends describing these pictures as a new departure, a revelation of a previously unseen artistic expression. For me, however, this new “production” was nothing quintessentially different from how I’d always viewed the photographic medium: it was just that the circumstances had given me the legitimacy to spend more time on the subject.

Commercial work

I’ve always been motivated by the way in which photography can transform the elements of reality into a moment of abstraction and beauty, simply due to an original perspective, or via a special direction of light. On assignment for the industrial giant Arcelormittal, I found myself drawn to the aesthetics of the forms and textural qualities of the various steel products they produced and incorporated these images in my selection for the client.

Abstract shapes of industrial steel, produced by Areclormittal

So while I’ve always been willing to approach commercial work with an artistic perspective, does this make me an artist? Am I happy to assume to assume this label, does it not smack of a certain pretentiousness?

Put it this way, I am increasingly at ease in proclaiming myself to be an artist. That doesn’t mean I’ll go shouting this from the rooftops. Nor will I be having calling cards printed with the term emblazoned across them. However I see no reason not to value the pictures I “take for myself” on the same level as professionally commissioned work. Indeed, to prove the point I have recently made my pictures available as limited edition fine art prints available to be bought via my website.

Yellow lines and black ring shadows of gated entrance in Saint Malo
Man on phone and woman in pink hat walking by sea and palm tree in Nice

 

Creative influences

I have always felt naturally in tune with photographers like André Kertesz and Gueorgui Pinkhassov, whose œuvre , whether in black & white or colour, is imbued with a poetic approach that cannot be pigeon-holed into ready-made categories like documentary, portraiture or street.

Black and white photo of man's silhouette standing by rail behind glass, looking out to sea
© André Kertesz, Martinique, 1972
Angled view through curtained window at night of house, winter trees and church
© Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Moldova, 1990

Indeed my initial impulse to make a career out of photography was never really framed by the desire to become a particular type of photographer. I was simply motivated by a curiosity to explore the multifaceted possibilities of the medium. In assuming a little more openly today the mantle of artist, I have no desire to “specialize” in art photography. I simply embrace the opportunity of further breaking down the barrier between my personal and professional work.

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