Methodology Research on the Review of the Artistic Dimension of Photography

* AFSAD / Ankara Photography Artists Association, 4. Photograph Symposium, 21 – 22 November 1992, AFSAD
Publications No:23, Ankara, Proceedings, Pg. 219 – 233

Due to the multidimensionality arising when the subject is examined at depth, the paper titled “Methodology Research on the Review of the Artistic Dimension” constitutes a context based on the trail of thought that I will try to convey shortly.

The purpose of the research is to shed light on the artistic dimension of photography, to clarify unanswered questions, to answer the new questions to be asked, to produce antitheses against the theses put forward until this present time.

In this study, 2 important principles of methodological thinking were taken into account: First; a prejudice-free consideration, Second; transparency. With reference to the generalization, “Everything that is carried out on a two-dimensional surface by physical and chemical methods is photography”, in defending the antitheses, the types were not discriminated in order not to destroy the whole.

The thoughts within the framework I will try to convey are open to criticism and discussion.


I remember Karl Pawek’s characterization of our age as the optical age, just like yesterday, during the postgraduate training I completed in Germany on experimental photography in the 70s. During this period, we observed photography entering our lives in all its channels. Science, technology and industry have learned a lot from it; expanded their dimensions with its possibilities. Today I think and observe that, apart from enabling the development of science, technology and industry, the optical age has not contributed much to the artistic dimension of photography, which is at the core of its core being. Whereas, the industrial age has revolutionized the world with three new discoveries: The discovery of the compass, the discovery of gunpowder, and the discovery of the printing press. In the Technotronic Age, also defined as post-­industrial age, shaping the present and the future, we can find parallel equivalents of this triangle:

  • The invention of the computer, affecting socio-economic and political behaviors and enables the perception of the space, against the compass,
  • The discovery of nuclear power, changing the nature of war from its roots, against gunpowder,
  • The discovery of electronic communication, uniting the whole of humanity in a worldwide mass communication network against printing press.

Here, the Technotronic Age is the culmination of all these factors.

Every historical period creates its own specific artistic expressions, political and intellectual structure. This is a fact, we are aware of this. We are trying to satisfy our own instincts through writing on polemical subjects. While the debate over whether or not the photo, which currently preserves its position in the ninth and last order, if another kind of art does not intervene, is artistic in the entirety, should be made in such a technotronic age in which the electronics are increasingly taking the place of the human. We are so successful in this matter that we are particularly striving to set the benchmarks, prescriptions that distinguish the artistic photography from the non-artistic. One of the action points within methodological thinking of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is as follows: “One who limps but is walking on the right path outdistances a good runner who lost his way.” What does this mean? This is the necessity of moving forward on the right path in a reliable way, even with slow steps. It’s the good runner I am addressing, one day when you look around, you will notice that you lag far behind others who pursue their developmental processes albeit barely and know how to utilize photography adequately. Moreover, it is important to remember that in transitioning to the contemporary order, many concepts and disciplines have been united with definitions, interpretations and evaluations outside or beyond the customary.

After these brief explanations, I believe that the description and scope of art should be taken seriously for photography, constituting a ball of contradictions, with its technological aspect on one hand and its humane aspect on the other. The concept of art with what Andy Warhol, one of the leading representatives of Pop-Art stated, “I hope someday everything will become art” on one hand and the depiction in the Colorful Larousse Dictionary that still many people in the world trustingly consult, defining with a view from the 19th century, as “The expression of the ideal of beauty in the works created by human beings”, the concept of art should be seated into its actual place in the process extending from today to tomorrow and to bring clarity to the position of the photography in this process.

Let us use our creative intelligence in this direction, instead of disappointing each other and creating resentment with polemic writings! And let’s leave the associations alone while doing this! Because looking for the deadlock of the problem in associations is a tactical deviation.

Getting back to our subject; used in the line extending from yesterday to the present, often in areas that intersect each other, photography is;

  1. Reproduction,
  2. Document,
  3. Science,
  4. Pedagogy,
  5. Art,
  6. Hobby.

In the visual structuring that fills every moment of our everyday life in one form or another, attention is drawn only to the reproduction aspect of photography. In such a way that:

  1. Determining the moment in the perception of amateur photography,
  2. Compliance with the nature of the object in the press,
  3. Documentation of the phenomena that constitutes the subject of research in science.

This appearance is in fact in accordance with the purpose, the photography followed in the line of development extending to the present day: Photography, undertaking the function of imagining objective reality with its technological skill, was characterized as an extraordinary development in the past. In this respect, the photography appears to be a perfect tool. This is because many electronic devices, including cinematography, continue to function with its principles. However, when viewed from a different angle, we find ourselves in an intense change that shapes today and the future. At this point, when addressing the question, can the function of the photography be expanded in relation to the change in the new structuring or can loading of new functions come into question? The process has also prepared the answer to this question: Photography is Art!

The positive and negative consequences of photography for art

A glimpse to the past reveals that verbal communication is dominant in ancient times: Be they myths or the stories of Arabian nights, all were verbalized. Since the New Age, the novel has emerged, and these first novels were long novels. Ever since the industrial revolution dominated life, lengthy novels are disfavored. Short novels, and even short stories, are preferred. Short novels and stories are very good ways of describing the industrial revolution. People of our era are hasty and impatient. They tire so very easily and boredom tends to set in rather quickly. These features have now become common responses of all mankind.

Even today, it seems that visual expression has replaced verbal communication and reading to a great extent. Such that, a new kind like picture novel, the photo novel has replaced long novels.

Visual expression was once the task of the painter and sculptor. This task in our era is replaced by photography and film, identifying the image mechanically. When photography undertook the image work, the painter’s task of expression in this area ended. Thus, the painter no longer needed the academic studies, working with models to capture the optical image of the object. As indicated in Claude Delmas’s History of European Civilization book, portraits, landscapes, academic patterns, have lost their significance along with the painter’s task of expression regarding the image.

The conclusion to be attained from this is as follows: The naturalist representation in painting, that is, the expression of object and figure, in short the expression directed at image lost significance, against the uneasiness created by the Industrial Revolution, such as the individual withdrawing into his inner world, and against the onslaught of photography. The artist, confused by the dominance of photography in this field, competed with photography for a while, but ultimately pulled out of this race, tearing the object down and gravitated towards combining and using its parts in such a way that photography could not succeed. Today, however, photography has also laid hands upon the abstract opportunities of painting. This competitive environment has given the art of painting hard times. As the hope of obtaining results from image, after various factors and technological opportunities created by our era disappeared, the artist first removed the naturalistic representation from the objective work he performed before, and saw the approach to abstract organization of colors and surfaces as a solution for the continuation of the artistic work.

In my opinion, the main problem in the examination of the matter lies here. The form and color created by the artist in our era cannot obtain the reproduction, limited to the object image or photography serving to redefine reality. Because photography, due to its technological structure, is the same today as it was yesterday. In other words, is still the perfect child of the naturalist painting perception of past moments. For today, the expressions outside from what the mechanical tool can accomplish, fall to the share of the artist, and this new division of tasks -as we have seen today- already occurs spontaneously.

Photography and Realism

“I am a press photographer.  My photographs fall within the boundaries of the naturalistic approach, more precisely within the boundaries of an understanding of reality rather than the impressionist or expressionist approaches.” ¹
¹ The annual session of the German Photographers Society, 1973, “Color as a Tool in Photography, Film and Television”, Leverkusen

This is how well known press photographer Robert Lebeck explained his ideas on his work in a discussion titled “Problems of Color Photo-Reporting”.  This definition is quite interesting for our topic in terms of its appearance of versatility:

  1. At first glance, the successive concepts signal the presence of different expressive capabilities of the photograph.
  2. Rejecting some of the different approaches he lists, it reveals his personal attitude towards the object.
  3. Lebeck’s definition includes a pair of concepts, the naturalistic – realistic approaches, which reflect both the external reality of the object and the true image of the object’s reason for being.

Both of these concepts define an approach that is not very useful today, which are specific to a particular period. The naturalistic approach is a description rather than an artistic trend. Realism is a trend that describes the social reality with the help of art, and it has a critical structure.

Whatever the trend, photography is a subjective definition of the object world that persists its existence objectively. The masses reached by the image are those who create the subjective definition in this direction. The photographic indicator the narrator produces as the image itself reaches the mass that separates it into its definitions through an immobile similitude. The definition of the image is determined by the comparison method. Photography is a communicative tool because of the image’s ability to carry and transfer messages.

Because of its expressionistic nature, photography has been described as a realistic means of communication -very often made the subject of polemics- by a large audience. Emphasizing reality is the reason of the indispensable existence of photography, as alleged by many. However, the reality expressed with photography is neither an artistic activity nor a style. Conscious misconceptions, prejudiced approaches that can be loaded onto objects, carry suspicion in the expansion of meaning towards the image. Because the structure, environment he lives in, education and training, and character of every human being, are the source of prejudices. People watch their surroundings from the caves they are retired into. A large part of our prejudices arise from the difference in the language we speak and the words we use to convey the message. Because some thought patterns of the past have caused prejudices by reaching us in language patterns.

Photography is based on the inductive reasoning method in the approach to reality. According to this, the only and inevitable method to identify nature is inductive reasoning. The only way to acquire new information is to reach a general judgment by examining the specific events starting with observation. The inductive reasoning method is prejudiced due to its selective and shorter features. It is impossible to avoid generalizations during the implementation of this method. Photography, identifying the inductive reasoning method as unique and indispensable in determining the image, is prejudiced due to the reasons I just listed above. Prejudice increases the margin of error in the message loaded to the image.

Simplicity of Reality

In the de facto thought system, the simplicity of photographic reality was often focused on. The word simplicity is the synonym for plainness or simpleness. The thesis set out in this context: The photographic reality should be simple. It is not possible to be simple in the inductive reasoning method, just explained because of the interfering prejudice and language diversity. It is photography that conveys the closest approach to objective reality among the mimetic arts. The realistic aspect of photography argues that it approaches object and social conditions with scientific objectivity. This thesis is wrong. Because scientific research, scientific observation are objective. Science investigates simple and rigid reality, completely distant from prejudices. Photography, on the other hand, with its intuitive structure to a great extent, is subjective. This means that photography cannot really make us apprehend the final and simple elements of objects and events. This superiority is only possible by arithmetic and transferring its method to geometry. This means another thought pattern, i.e. deductive reasoning. This pattern only contains wisdom or common sense.

The conclusion to be attained from this should be as follows: If photography is an art form, then it has to fulfill 3 mental functions that determine the occurrence of the act of creation: These are intuition, deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning, respectively.

Art, Communication and Photography

Often the relationship between art and communication -like in music and cinema- is confused. The same applies also to photography. Art should know how to enrapture the audience by appealing to their power of study to enable the decision to participate to the act rather than through immobile similitude. Because art in its essence has tension and mutual conflict. Since the artistic dimension of photography is limited to the opportunities of technology at a great extent, the communication it tries to establish by means of immobile similitude, appears as a passive structure. This form of communication, on the other hand, cannot establish a fluid dialogue with the inert (active) structure of art, wherein essentially tension and mutual conflict exist.

Brecht, in this context, states:

“Our theater must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him” ²
² GEZGİN, Ahmet Öner, from the paper titled “A Global Approach to Photography Changing Shell” presented at the Symposium on “Photography from the Ottoman Empire to the Present” organized by the British Council between the dates 23-25 October 1991.


Photography presents a content-rich appearance based on intense narrative, originating from its communicative power and semantic structure. A careful eye can yield a great story from such a tiny matter placed into four corners. This situation, considered as one of the factors that alienates photography from the artistic dimension, originates from life having repeated itself. Indeed, in order for a display to connect to the rules of reading general art history and transition to an artistic status, it must be stripped down from the contents of that display and its aesthetic legibility should remain. Only then can he connect to the rules of reading art and refer to art.

Now it is understood that reality for art, is different than the reality to be in question for photography. This conclusion is such as to terminate the dilemma both between painting and photography. However, the positive answers to the question whether or not photography is an art form, still maintain their misleading qualities. Art is the consciousness and attempts to eliminate the missing unity between the finite and the

infinite, by the act of creating. For photography, the act of creation is the mark of reality. Moreover, this act occurs within a very narrow section of time and space, and its reality can be distorted and transformed to a certain degree. In my opinion, it is wrong to search for the act of creation in such shallow waters.

After these observations, photography has to play an intermediary role in the realization of the artistic milieu, due to its own special talents rather than being a purpose.

October 1992


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