Perhaps a better title would have been “CAN a Photographer be an Artist?” but let’s go with what we have. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of colorful emails about this, but what the heck. This is a highly debated topic, and truly art is in the eye of the beholder, though here are my thoughts and my story…

Before I was knee-high to a goose I was running around with a pencil and paper. I would sketch anything, at any time in any place.There was always something that took me to another dimension with drawing. It was all I wanted to do, and at that point I knew I wanted to be an artist.

One of my first friends could draw. Man, could he draw. His name was Nick Avezzano (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him out) and he lived right up the street from me. We must’ve been about 4 or 5, and I remember going over to his house and laying on the floor for hours sketching all kinds of things – cars, planes, warriors, whatever. He was lightyears beyond me in skills. He could take any object and make it look like it was coming to life. It was incredible.

I remember one time when we were about 8 our teacher gave us an assignment to draw a chicken. It was probably just some busy work to give us something to do while she got a rest from 30 kids with ADHD, but whatever, it was drawing. Nick and I sat next to each other, and when I had finished I turned to look at what my friend had done. This guy drew a chicken with a Cubs hat on holding a baseball bat perfectly shaded and toned with nothing more than a #2 pencil. It looked real. Even the teacher came over to us, grabbed Nick’s paper and ran to grab another teacher, the principal of the school and anyone else she could find. It was scary good.

Ten years later Nick and I were college roommates studying art at Northern Illinois University. Nick was still way more accomplished than me. By this stage in my life and seeing all the incredible artists around me, I knew my place in the pecking order was somewhere hovering just above the ground. I didn’t have the skills or creativity some of my contemporaries had.

I left Northern Illinois to focus on Graphic Design at the Art Institute of Colorado. One of the things that was my downfall with fine art was my lack of patience. I always wanted to complete the piece I was working on in one sitting, but a great painting could take years. I needed that instant gratification, and graphic design was it. I could accomplish much more much quicker than with a pencil alone. I thrived at the Art Institute, my design skills sharpening quickly.

Then I found the camera and my mind went into overdrive. I didn’t see the pictures the camera took as mementos or a finished product. I saw them simply as the canvas to begin my art. I didn’t want to just take snapshots, I wanted to create magic. So I took my photographs into Photoshop and added a pinch of light, a touch of saturation and a dash of contrast. I removed unwanted footprints, buildings and trees. I created new landscapes that were perfect in my mind.

My graphic design skills helped me immensely blur the boundaries of the camera and instead use the camera and Photoshop as tools to creating what I call art. You may call it photography. You may call it rubbish. But, I call it art.

See, in my mind a photographer is a photographer until he isn’t. What I mean by this is once the image has been taken by the camera and gone through processing in the darkroom (or in the computer) it is complete. When the photographer pushes past that, when alterations are made that reshape the scene or when multiple images are merged together to create one, it’s no longer a photographer being a photographer. At this point he has become an artist. He is creating a fictional reality, however subtle it may be. When he literally changes the landscape to fit his own desires, he is an artist.

Maybe that’s just me calling it as I want it to be called, but it is how I see it. I see all the time in blogs and by critics and even from members of my local camera club that using Photoshop isn’t the call sign of a true photographer. Let’s be clear, Photoshop is a tool, nothing more. It can be used to adjust hues, remove unwanted dust on a photo or to completely alter the image. It is the photographer who chooses to take pictures or create art. Well, at least that’s my opinion. What do you think?

You can see the difference between the two images above. Obviously I started with the one on the left, and after a few hours and a lot of adjustment layers, I finished with the image on the right. To me, the image on the left is a photograph, the one on the right I would call art. Which image appeals more to you is completely subjective, but to me, there’s only one I’d hang on my wall.

And speaking of hanging one on your wall, if you did want to hang the image on the right (called Long Way Home) on your wall, you can, for only $19.95. Yep. No joke. Click here to get your copy!