What is a Photograph?

Peabody Library, Baltimore Md.
Peabody Library, Baltimore Md.
“What is a Photograph” is the title of a new exhibit opening at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York City on January 31st. At first glance, one might wonder why the question, “What is a Photograph,” is even posited. But today, with the ever increasing quantity and variety of “photographs” it is an entirely logical question to ask. While photographers, gallerists, collectors and photography experts may not agree, the question is fascinating, if for no other reason than there is a wide range of opinions.

Photography, during its relatively short lifetime has constantly been the subject of question and debate. The topic of “Is Photography Art,” was argued in the late 19th and 20th century, and most would agree it has been resolved. But with ever advancing technology, including digital capture, digital processing, instant sharing of the image through social media and the internet, it seems appropriate that the discussion of what is a photograph has once again emerged. For contemporary photography, is all digitally-based imagery digital art or is it photography? The lines converge, they blur; but for some they are distinct.

There is a very interesting article in the January 23rd New York Times, “The Next Big Picture – With Cameras Optional, New Directions in Photography” that mentions the upcoming ICP exhibit, but more importantly discusses the intriguing topic of today’s dilemma of defining what is a photograph.

What do you think? Does a photograph require a camera? Are items placed on a digital scanner a photograph? When does a photograph go from being a photograph to being digital art, and not a photograph?


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