What is a fine art photographer?

What is a fine art photographer? Here’s a question to create debate. The snarky answer, of course, is someone who makes fine art out of photography. This is a post from another blog I wrote several years ago, but worth discussing if you like talking about photography instead of making photography. Naturally I like doing both.


Ballet #1

by Billy Brown


I took a long ride to Mobile and back this past week with my good friend/great photographer: Billy Brown. We went to interview and photograph Bob Soulliere, head of ThyssnKrupp USA. Billy is an incredible photographer and philosopher, and the nine hours in the car were pretty entertaining.

Billy said something toward the end that’s well worth thinking on. Years ago, he’d read a piece that talked about the traits of a fine-arts photographer. And while the specifics of the article were vague, the essential philosophy had marked his entire career. To be a fine arts photographer, he supposes you have to have three things:

Technical competence. Your ability to use your equipment and how to modify your surroundings—to control the light, the subject, everything—must be absolute. Like speaking a second language, you know you’ve mastered it when you no longer think about speaking it.

Intent: A fine-arts photographer had to pursue projects, rather than random images. I’ve heard editors say when they receive a portfolio, they expect it to contain 60 or 70 images. Only then, they say, can you expect someone to understand their subject. Which leads to…

An absolute understanding of your subject. This is where many people fail here because they don’t take the time to truly learn their subject. Billy mentioned Ansel Adams’s early days shooting Yosemite, when he packed his camera and eight glass negatives on a mule and hiked up into the wilderness. He studied the landscape for weeks on end and finally only made a handful of exposures in an entire trip. But he knew everything about the light at every point in the day.

Great projects result from spending a lifetime with your subject. Shoot it at differing times, under differing conditions. Spending time with it just watching and not shooting at all. Understand what defines it, what motivates it.

For Billy, that lifelong project has been photographing the Alabama Ballet. I doubt many people have a better understanding of the artists, the movements, the sacrifices that the dancers make.

I received a book last Christmas: Mark Seliger’s In My Stairwell. It’s the same sort of thing. He photographed hundreds of people (famous and not) in the stairwell of his studio. As a collection, it’s way more powerful than any single image.

The moments we remember






When I was a kid there was a set of twins living behind us, Ann and Jan. Beautiful girls, they were very popular in our neighborhood; even in a school as large as Berry, they stood out. They had a profound affect on my friends and I, who were several years younger at the time.

Time erases the details in my memory, but the emotions linger. I guess most every boy has a similar story about growing up. Of course, Hollywood has made this movie more than once.

I think this photograph captures some of those emotions. What I love about it is imagining what Cooper must be thinking as Abigail leads him around. On this day, he would have done anything, gone anywhere for another ride in her lap down the icy street. I wonder if she’ll occupy a similar iconic place in his memory years from now.




Welcome. Bienvenue. I’m glad you’re here.

Ok, so I finally created a web site for my photography. Call it egotistical. Call it vanity. Call it an over-late attempt to do something more serious with this love affair that’s been going on since 1998.

I’m not sure if it’s cliche, but most everyone I know in the advertising/design world has an alternate form in which they express their creativity. I know many artists who are also musicians, account execs who paint, writers who, when they aren’t drinking too much, make photographs. The latter is me of course, minus the drinking part.

In this blog, I promise to occasionally talk about the things that interest me in the hopes that they will interest you as well. If not, you will not hurt my feelings by quietly slipping out the back. Or by loudly leaving your dissent in a comment. I do have say over what gets published, after all.

In the end, this is about photography. The making of if. The enjoying of it. I love to learn new things, so please share with me what you are doing, new images, new photographers you are enjoying. I guess that’s what this space is about.