Is THAT art or JUST a photograph?

Along the Neshaminey, a photograph by Christine Goldbeck
Along the Neshaminey by Christine Goldbeck

At an art show in Maryland last weekend, a show goer asked photographer Patty Hankins, “Is this art or JUST a photograph?”

She aptly replied ” It’s both.” Good answer, Patty.

Still, the question concerns me because in this age of digital photography, some people tend to think everyone is a photographer and such thoughts devalue the craftsmanship we put into our work. Of course, photography has always had a bit of a reputation as not being among the so-called “high arts.” That high-brow attitude sends me into rants.

I probably would have engaged the visitor with a little education about the inks we use, the papers, the conservation quality of our materials and the matting and framing involved.

Bee Happy by Christine Goldbeck

Most likely, I would have stressed the psychology (lunacy sometimes?) of pro shooters. For example, I probably would have asked whether they get up before dawn to chase dew, sunrises, birds and spider webs. Or, do they lay on their bellies in mud or wade through thigh-deep, slippery, river muck to get the shot of the dew-kissed honeysuckle in a riparian woodland. Do they sit in one spot for hours, waiting for get the shot?  I would have inquired whether they adjust their camera from autopilot and auto settings to dial in ISO, shutter speed and aperture and whether they use custom white balance, bracketing and exposure compensation.

A few years back, a woman entered my show tent and purchased a framed purple iris. Her adult son arrived as we were completing the sale. He saw the item and said “Why are you buying THAT? I could make the same thing in your backyard.”

I smiled and said, “Oh, then you should.”

When they left, I had a few choice words about the son to which Jay replied “Easy, killer. He doesn’t know any better.” Jay’s words hit me where it counts – my brain. Of course! He does not know any better. Many do not know better. So, it stands to reason that if I nicely help people appreciate the art, they WILL know better.

Since that time, when such comments are made, I try to offer visitors and potential buyers little lessons in professional photography by asking some of the aforementioned questions. Many people engage and seem happy to learn a little about photography and how I make photos they like.

A few, including the know-it-alls, walk away. I’ve learned to deal with the various responses and to shrug off those made by unhappy folks who really don’t want to know better. If particularly nasty folks make snide comments about their photographic prowess and I gauge that they know as much about the image triangle as I know about cooking (which is nada!), I smile and ask things such as “Oh, hey, what aperture would you use to make that when you are shooting with a fixed 50, low ISO, handheld, and you need isolation on the subject?” That usually shuts them down without further ado.

By the way, I don’t want to discourage anyone from becoming a pro shooter. In fact, when I see good shots that friends have taken, I encourage them to change a few settings to achieve even better results. So, if you happen to like making good photos and want to learn how it all works in the real world of shooting, please do sign up for my Basics of Digital Photography class at the Art Association of Harrisburg. My class will resume in the Fall, but since the spots fill up quickly, you should register with the association ASAP.

Future Perfect Tense, a Holga photograph by Christine Goldbeck
Future Perfect Tense, a Holga photograph by Christine Goldbeck

One more thing: if you aspire to learn and grow as a photographer, join the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, where you fill find the best in the field, including Shedrick Sloane, Andy Smith (two of the best bird photographers I know) Larry Lefever (his landscapes and florals make me always want to do better) and many talented others.

*Shy to online purchasing? To buy any of the photographs in this post, call me (570-205-0736) or send an email to to arrange the sale details. Otherwise, please use Paypal via the links below.







As always, thank you for supporting an independent artist.


%d bloggers like this: