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Esto Es Arte - mordançage on silver-gelatin

mordançage on silver-gelatin

Fine Art and Photography: An Introduction

By: Andrea Barbier

January 31, 2018

It’s important for us to begin with some parameters around what is meant by ‘fine art’. To be sure, the worlds of fine art and commercial art are so integrated that from a visual perspective there may be little to differentiate the two; it is the purpose behind the work that defines fine art and commercial. We will therefore use these simple definitions: fine art is “creative art, especially visual art, whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content” (Google), whereas commercial art will be defined as “art used in advertising and selling” (Google), or “art applied to commercial purposes” (Miriam-Webster).

Esto Es Arte

Esto Es Arte, mordançage on silver-gelatin


Why Photography?

I gave myself permission to make art for myself, using it as an outlet for personal and creative growth. As a young artist who chose to express herself through photography, my visual decisions were primarily aesthetic and compulsory in nature. As I studied the art form, as well as historical and contemporary photographers, my decisions became more informed and thought-out. Concept gained importance; photography became a method of reasoning, allowing me to pull from experiences and emotions, as well as visually respond to my external environment.

And why photography? Why not a different media? It’s my opinion that photography is one of the most versatile artistic mediums. The camera captures a precise moment, with the option of authenticity or divisiveness. It is a storytelling medium and a documentary medium. It can be inclusive or omissive. It is historically important and records like no other medium. My original intention was simply to put image to paper and the camera has become a most integral instrument of my own artistic expression. Part of my art is that I remove or obscure visual information from each image, so photography is critical in rendering the details that keep the viewer grounded in reality. The artwork is thus completed by the viewer—as opposed to the maker—when they fill in the missing information for themselves.


The Artist Statement

Overlying themes of memory, secrets, sense-of-self, and freedom are all ingrained in my work. While the imagery emerged naturally, post-reflection revealed to me more about the images than I had in mind during the creation process.  If you are trying to sort yourself out as a fine artist, an artist statement can be a helpful place to hash out your concepts and ideas.

Graviora Manent (Heavier Things Remain)

Graviora Manent (Heavier Things Remain), from a solo exhibition of the same title

Devised to help a viewer understand your work, the artist statement can be one of the most helpful tools in understanding your own work; it forces you to confront visual topics, grand ideas, as well as intricacies of the process.  In other words, it is an intimate reflection on your own body of work, which can help to guide the decisions of future image making or reveal insights on the project that may not be overtly obvious to a viewer.


Fine Art at Home, for Amateurs and Professionals

If you are a beginner photographer, or a working professional, or anywhere in between, an art series is both important and attainable!  We’ll start with our hobbyists: creating a fine art series is a way to tighten up your work and pull your best imagery to share with others. It helps give your shooting purpose; as a novice, we shoot anything and everything—as a professional, we may do this too! Begin going through your existing imagery, looking for those special images that really speak to you the most: the ones that stand out as something different, as something important.  You may not see a theme until you start putting all of these images together, at which point a harmonious theme may begin to emerge.  Use this to fuel your shooting! Start looking for opportunities to add to the series, and allow concepts to emerge.  This is a great step in propelling yourself as an artist and for honing your creative eye.

When you’re a professional photographer, it’s easy to let yourself get in the zone of shooting for the next job and abandoning your creative projects. Creating a fine art series – pulled from existing imagery, or a fresh idea that you can actively work on executing – is such a vital part of nourishing inspired vision; it can lead to more innovative shooting and output methods, as well as expanding your repertoire with your clients and reinvigorating your personal drive for artistic output.  We know well that to excel we must practice, and keeping a fine art series going alongside your professional work is one of the best ways to strengthen and sustain creativity!

Series Mompox on the River

Series Mompox on the River, repeated themes included walls, doors, archways, and modes of transportation

Once you have developed your body of work, producing a photo book out of it is an invaluable experience. First and foremost, it solidifies your series in a physical manner, lending palpable resolution to the grouping and establishing it as a complete collection.  Canon provides a brilliantly easy way of putting this together with their hdAlbum EZ app, which utilizes their DreamLabo inkjet production printer.  Offered are a gamut of paper options and 300+ archival dye-based inks, smoothing the transition from a body that only exists in digital form to one with physical presence.


The Gallery Experience – Getting Started

One part of the fine art world is the gallery experience.  The good news for those getting started is that you don’t have to be represented by a gallery to be exhibited by a gallery. One of the most accessible ways to begin exhibiting your work is by looking at a gallery’s call for entries.  Calls for entry often pertain to group exhibitions, which relieves the pressure of having to have a completed body of work. Each call will detail the themes, specifications and guidelines for the show.  

Exhibition themes might be loose and encompassing, or perhaps regionally or media specific, (i.e. Small Works, Louisiana Contemporary, or The Art of Photography).  They may also be conceptually driven (Interpreting Freedom in the Modern World), leaving plenty of room for artistic interpretation.  Look for a call that fits your work, and apply often! Conversely, if you are looking for inspiration, find a theme that interests you and create work with that idea in mind.  

How to select imagery for an art gallery? I’ll offer my insight as a former gallery director, stating upfront that this is an extremely broad spectrum. I will only speak to my own experience because to generalize this would be improper. What we look for most in any exhibition is thought-provoking imagery; visual narratives; images that propose questions and leave things unanswered; conceptually driven work.  Work with intent and meaning and nuances of the creation process are heavily weighted.  A unique point of view, the importance of documenting life and culture, work that contributes to the greater understanding of our time and place both historically, currently and to come… As I said, an extremely broad spectrum!


Considering Output

One of the things that exhibiting artists must contemplate is what style of output is most suitable for their work. While commercial work may remain digital or have a predefined output, the output method for fine art is extremely subjective.  Size can be a critical component in the way an image is meant to be seen.  Is the work intimate and should it remain small, or would a large-scale print have better impact?  Should it be handled, should it remain digital in nature, does it require an installation?  Does it need to be protected or is it meant to be a tactile experience? Only the artist can make these decisions, but a smart presentation choice will add an entire new level to your art.

Series Joie de Vie

Series Joie de Vie, documenting daily farm life in rural Louisiana

This is a good place to consider at-home printing methods.  There are such extraordinary options available and in such a spectrum of size (from card-size to 60”) and varying levels of expertise.  Canon’s line of imagePROGRAF PRO printers, and their smaller PIXMA PRO printers offer multi-cartridge pigment-based ink systems that are rated at 60 years light and gas fastness, 200 years if kept in dark storage.  This is particularly important if you are selling your work, as a buyer deserves a product that will last for years to come.  Additionally, these printers include monochromatic ink tanks that are capable of creating just as stunning black and white imagery as color prints.  You will find that printing an image truly breathes life into it, and once again, the ease-of-use of these products enables the most novice user to get started.


A Call to Create!

There is a beauty in making art for yourself, in finding something that kindles your artistic excitement, and then being able to refine it in a manner that is accessible to others. Things like developing a fine art series, seeking exhibition opportunities, and taking time to reflect on your work not only help to stimulate your own creative drive; it’s also what propels the ever-evolving world of art. Search for inspiration in your surroundings, in life events, or even try completing a photo challenge! You will find yourself simultaneously informing and enlightened by your own capture choices. This is a call to pursue fine art for the joy of it and to create with purpose!

 Natalie and Ella

Two fine art images, Natalie and Ella, from a larger body of work that focuses on solitude and the female form