Is Photography Art or Science?

This question has been bugging me since I first looked into the waist-level viewfinder of a Yashica D twin-lens reflex camera more years ago than I care to admit. I haven’t been more than ten feet away from a camera since then, and clearly I am neither artist nor scientist. Explore a couple differing points-of-view with me and then please leave a comment and share your opinion.

Years ago I was taught that the proper way to define something is to place it in a category and then explain how it differs from all other items in that category. For example, take my dog. The category is mammal. My dog differs from other mammals by her unique ability to ignore me until she needs something. Come to think of it, that description might cause people to confuse my dog with my teenager. So change the category to quadruped mammal.

Not being one who shoots from the hip (at least not in the presence of readers who might challenge my flippant generalizations) I looked up both words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Actually, I intended to look them up in the OED but when I got to the library, it had already been checked out, so I Googled both words instead.

The gist of Art, from what I gathered, is “the organized application of a person’s creativity and imagination.” No, wait a minute—that describes the story you tell your boss to explain why you’re late for work.

Instead let’s define Art as “the human expression of creativity and imagination to produce something of greater value than the materials used to make it.”

Of course, that could also describe a good dry Martini or a bad Bloody Mary.

Without further research, I tentatively concluded that photography is Art. But being the tenacious fact-finding journalist I allege to be, I went to all the trouble of Googling Science, too. In a nutshell, I found that Science is “the systematic exploration and study of the structure and behavior of the world using human observation and experiment.” You find the same definition if you look up “bachelor party.”

Well, there certainly is a lot of experimentation and systematic study involved in photography, so maybe it’s Science after all.

Then I had an epiphany (which has been happening a lot lately since that bad Chow Mein I ate back in February). Each person must define photography in their own way. And they don’t need the OED or Google to do so. For some it’s the image, for others the process. And for many it’s their preferred way to experience reality.

I know what my photography is. My photography is an elaborate compulsion to collect and store people and things I want to see again. No more. No less.

Please leave your comments. What is your photography?

[The image at the top was shot with a Fujifilm XT-1 and 18-55mm F/2.8~4 zoom at ISO 800, 1/85 at f/4 in New York’s Central Park.]

—Jon Sienkiewicz