The State of Fine Art Photography Today

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By Charles Paul Azzopardi

Charles Paul Azzopardi is a physician and writer, as well as a multiple international award-winning black & white fine art architectural and performing arts photographer, an (en)VisionographerTM, with high distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide (IPA, PX3, Monochrome Awards etc.), published internationally in numerous books and magazines, always imbuing every image with as much impact as those pixels can tolerate. Visit his website here

I have been meaning to write this article for the last two years, tickling the back of my mind. I am a bookworm, a social media animal, a voracious reader, and I have been plying the fine art genre for enough time to notice some niggling issues. Are we bringing about the downfall of the long exposure architectural image ourselves?

The long exposure technique has gained huge swathes of ground in the fine art world, and now has a quasi-ubiquitous place in the armamentarium of many budding amateur, enthusiast and professional photographers. This is, no doubt, due to the distinctive style of the seascape of Michael Levin, the snowscape of Michael Kenna and the architectural masterpieces of Joel Tjintjelaar and Julia Anna Gospodarou. These enterprising artists have not shied away from sharing their vast knowledge with all and sundry, via books, tutorials, videos and workshops on site, although participation in workshops seems to be dwindling nowadays.

(c) Charles Paul Azzopardi – Divinity series, with an emphasis on Italian imagery involving strong leading lines and curves, processing aimed towards zone 4-7 silvery tones

(c) Charles Paul Azzopardi – Divinity series

Although the level of technical post-processing has improved drastically, and gradient mapping, luminosity masking and tonal ranges are now common parlance amongst those who have barely started dipping their toes in the wondrous world of long exposure photography, I cannot fail but notice a worrying trend developing. Most artists go on quickly to grasping both basic and advanced skills in post-processing, and yet skip essentially the most important step. Subject matter selection is the premier decision, and it affects the whole prospect from the inception of the image onwards. A perfectly processed image of a drab subject is a dismal proposition, whatever you deem to call it otherwise. This also applies to producing one discrete image of one building, failing to work in a series of images, but just producing one wow-inducing image to fuel the ache for 500px faves or Facebook likes, producing images tailored for the visual cortex of the masses rather to first and foremost evoke its own artist. Seascape images of piers and sticks jutting out of perfectly toned plates of zone 9 water abound. And yet they all look the same, feel the same, and leave the viewer aching for more, having already seen enough sticks and piers to last a lifetime. One has also to take into consideration that most of these images will never rise beyond the realm of picture sharing sites, social media or their producer’s hard drives; forever chained to a digital existence, never making it to print. And by print we mean premium grade art paper acid-free printed by a master printer with attention to shadows and detail.

(c) Charles Paul Azzorpardi – Path to Luminosity

(c) Charles Paul Azzorpardi – Path to Luminosity

This all brings me to my bugbear. Everyone can take a picture of a building, add the movement away from the realm of reality by incorporating the long exposure streaky cloud feel and the now almost universal Joel post-processing nous. But a photograph is not a picture; it is the imbuing of pixels with part of the artists’ soul, telling a story not via one image but via a holistic series with an over-arching vision and statement. We must not lose sight of fine art; by all means learn high end post-processing, but do not forget to leave a part of you in every image you produce. Because the legacy you will leave behind is not the amount of social media clout you have, but the vision exemplified through outstanding imagery. And for the love of that which is holy, print your perfectly tonal ranged image – I can tell you from experience you will cry the first time you see one of your images arising out of the printer, and every print you produce henceforth will be a birth of pride and joy. Because no amount of digital wizardry can substitute the negative moving to the print in your hands.

(C) Rotella Gallery – Joel Tjintjelaar’s almost 100″ (2.5m) Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta print from the NYC skyline coming out of the Epson 11880 printers

(C) Rotella Gallery – Joel Tjintjelaar’s almost 100″ (2.5 meter) Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta print from the NYC skyline coming out of the Epson 11880 printers


So I am proposing a call to action: stop creating images that are only intended to please the masses by creating visually aesthetic images that have proven to give you a sure amount of approval in the form of likes and favourites on social media sites. Stop and ponder first: can I explain why my image looks the way I processed it without referring to images that inspired you but only by referring to criteria inside of you? The image should have an explanation that has been triggered by something inside of you, not outside of you (e.g. emulating Michael Kenna or Joel Tjintjelaar). I am no one to impose anything on anyone, but it will improve you beyond comparison if you stop from revealing any images before you have produced say at least 10 images, with one unifying theme, all processed to such a high standard that they cannot be faulted. But please, aim high, be ambitious and do not pander to the masses or the social media. Let us save the fine art genre from its downfall by stopping from diluting it with tens upon tens of the same visually pleasing images produced aiming to ensure success, but who are soulless, meaningless and leading nowhere. Let us breed and foster the coming generations of enVisionographers, with vision and soul.

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