Can you make pictures that are art?

If you are a photographer in Portland, Oregon, you are in good company.

If you are a photographer in Portland, Oregon, and you call your photography art, you are in even better company.

Portland must have one of the highest number of photography-centric gallery spaces per capita in the U.S.. 

And: The Portland Art Museum has a wise and talented photography curator in Julia Dolan and an active Photography Council, on whose board I sit, and learn. There are strong photography programs at PNCA, Portland State and a slate of classes, gallery shows, talks, wet and digital darkroom space at the New Space Center for Photography and other venues. Photolucida is about to happen on its every other year schedule - I’ll be a roving reviewer during some of its four days of events.

One of the best photography book publishers, Nazraeli Press, is based here, and Ampersand book shop sells mostly photography books and has monthly photography shows. And on and on.

So in any given month, you can see a lot of photography.

The point is not just to applaud Portland as a place to live. The point is this: The more photography I see, the more I think that the approach to making pictures for commercial reasons can learn from the approach that is called art. (Commercial reasons include photojournalism, advertising, commercial, wedding, portraiture ... Not that art doesn’t have a commercial layer but its creation is driven solely by the creator.)

I’ve believed this from the beginning of my career. Until grad school, my visual training was in art departments. The first photo class I took required a 4x5 view camera. Painting, drawing and composition classes gave grounding to my photographic life.

One of the core differences between art and commercial photography is its desired longevity. Art, ideally, sits on walls and in collections for decades. Commercial photography essentially vaporizes after its intended use.

The ideal in the commercial world would be to create images that serve the day’s purpose but also last beyond the day - that they have value for their intended purpose but also speak to aspects of life on the planet that remain engaging and relevant after their initial use.

How do you make pictures as an artist? There are two sides to image creation: The craft and the reason for making a picture. So if you elevate your photographic craft and enlarge and refine what your photography speaks to, then your pictures stand a greater chance of lasting beyond the day.

To make pictures that are equally at home on refrigerators and walls is an admirable goal.

Bring back Two Pictures feature: Benjamin Rusnak

Have you seen the light?