Some years ago I was snooping through a gallery operated by a local (Chico, California) arts organization. The blue-haired lady behind the counter asked if I was an artist to which I replied “I am a photographer.” Her dismissive response was that they didn’t regard photography as art. I usually think of something good to say about 15 minutes after it is needed but this time I got it out straight away. “Oh I agree – but neither is painting or drawing or sculpture. However, some photographers and some painters and some sculptors are artists.” Taken aback she wandered off to annoy somebody else.
I believe that it was Robert Frost who said that “poet” is a gift that must be given to you – that you cannot claim it for yourself. I would add “artist” or “novelist” as similar gifts.
So I am uncomfortable to self-identify myself as an artist. If somebody else wants to identify me as an artist that’s fine by me.
However, nobody can disagree that I am a photographer. I make photographs. Most of the time the result of doing so is rubbish. Sometimes it is a product. Once in a while it may be art.
Nobody always gets it right. I suspect that even Picasso had a full trash can. Mark Twain burned a lot of his drafts so that nobody could pick through his rubbish after his death. Photographer Brett Weston similarly destroyed most of his negatives before his death.
How often to you need to get it right to deserve the honorific? John Nichols wrote one terrific novel, The Milagro Bean Field Wars. That’s all folks. The second and third books of his hastily devised trilogy after its success were just awful. Is that enough to earn “novelist”?
I likely have a couple of dozen prints that I would hang on a wall alongside those of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s – but he could muster up several hundred.
I’ll continue to self identify as a photographer.