Is Photography Art? And is Art a Commercial Endeavour.

These two questions were the central focus area of this weeks investigation.

 Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II fetched £2.7m in 2011, setting a record for any photograph sold at auction. Photograph: Andreas Gursky/AP Photo/Christie’s

The question of whether photography is art was initially raised in 1853 at the Photographic Society in London. And as the Guardian succinctly stated in 2012 “over the past few decades the question has been heard with ever decreasing frequency. When Andreas Gursky’s photograph of a grey river Rhine under an equally colourless sky sold for a world record price of £2.7 million last year, the debate was effectively over. As if to give its own patrician signal of approval, the National Gallery is now holding its first major exhibition of photography, Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present (Prodger, 2012).” A teacher and student guide is available at

Many art museums and private galleries, now have collections of photography, host exhibitions and preserve the photographs for the prosperity. a great number of photographs have found their way into private collections. They adorn the walls of restaurants and private homes and is proliferated on the internet and social media. It is now unequivocally understood as a unique art form that may be closely associated with painting. And finally, the ability of this art form to generate and income for its practitioner has been effectively illustrated. My Photography business slogan “The Art of capturing Dreams” was justified when I learned that the documentary genre is well-represented at MOMA.

The unresolved debate, which applies to artistic endeavours, is around what is the measure of great art. Is it a commercial validation, i.e what will someone pay for it, or the authenticity of the vision that the artist wishes to present in his art? Or is it the difference in mastery and skill of the artist? This week has buttoned it up for me… it is all of the above or none. Artworks are assessed and curated but in itself protest against such an evaluation as each individual shouts out to be heard in this highly populated and saturated world. Photography has become the predominate voice available to all that which to participate.

This week reinforced the idea that, as a photographic artist, we need to retain our authorship and develop our own unique voice. This week’s lectures, interviews and readings presented the case that this artistic endeavour may lead to commercial success, as it is sought after in the industry. However, it comes with a caveat, commercial success may lead to its demise. I have come to realise that photographic artists should endeavour to ideally control their authorship and creative influence in commissions or do personal projects to grow it.


Prodger, M. (2012). Photography: is it art?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 22 Oct. 2019].

Forum- Art and Commerce

For many years I have been working as a part-time professional Photographer in the wedding, event and portraiture industry. I had full-time employment as an IT professional.  The purpose of commercial photographic work was mainly to support my private passion for photography and to be able to purchase high-end equipment for this passion.  About 5 years ago this passion resulted in another income stream where I undertook to share my knowledge by teaching my skills to budding photographers through a set of focused classes.  Up to that point I rarely shared my private work and “projects” being too sensitive to criticism. A shared artists problem… But my students encouraged me to break through this barrier.

Since July 2019 things changed for me. I was retired by my current employer at the age of 60 due to the slump in the IT industry. in 2018, knowing that this could become a reality, I started to investigate how I can convert my passion into a full-time photography career. I developed my business plan with the help of peers and training and research to determine what I needed to do to be able to convert to a full-time photographer by June 2019.

My research led me to various options., to become a full-time high-end wedding photographer, develop my skills to become a free-lance photographer or see if I can get into an education position.  The latter being my preference. Most of my research informed me to split my vernacular and my artistic endeavours.  I formally registered my photography business but separated myself as a Freelance Photographer and educator in a personal capacity. I believe that this would allow me to hire and train other photographers on a part-time or full-time basis to collaborate in my wedding business venture and keeping my personal brand as a photographer and educator separate. 

From the outset,  I decided to let the MA develop my personal brand and practice as opposed to the Wedding photography business focusing on documentary photography.  Photographing weddings is extremely demanding and I don’t see myself doing it for more than 10 years. By then I should be able to sell the business or run it purely as a business owner.  During Week 2 where we focused on other careers in Photography, I was introduced to the different levels of professional photography. It confirmed that if I apply what I am learning in this programme I can move myself to do projects at the corporate level and choosing endeavours and projects that I love without compromising my income.

That being said, my love for photography was never driven from a commercial intent but my love for the medium. Developing training material has led me to undertake personal projects. Most master photographers are acknowledged for their personal projects rather than their commercial work even if they were great at it. e.g. Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Jay Maisel, David Goldblatt and many more. Personal projects kept them sane and committed to their work for there lifetimes. It is my resolve that the need to earn a legal tender won’t derail my path to express myself and kill my passion. I am still able to generate double my photographic income from part-time IT consulting, This enables me to be selective of commissions And allow me to focus my attention on worthwhile personal and commercial photography projects. the aim is to eventually free me from this “Golden cheque”.  This income is also funding my MA. I aim to have this “long walk to freedom” co-inside with the completion of my MA.

I believe that I have developed my own style over time and continuously look for ways to improve and expand on it. Every subject has its own lessons to teach. and Personal projects and focused research has always paid off in my photography.  Wedding photography has stolen has done what Michael Freeman predicted, The mundane and drive for income has stagnated my photography development and I need to as Jay Maisel recommend… “Walk slower” and learn again to appreciate and enjoy every click. 


Oh. That ghastly on-camera flash!

Alexander Coggin- On Authorship

I start this discussion with a digression to reflect on what went through my mind during this exercise. The focus on my opinion is important here for indicative and reflective purposes.

Before listening to this podcast I viewed Alexander Coggins work on the internet and I was genuinely unimpressed. His overuse of on-camera flash in every shot gave me the impression that he never developed a proper skill. I was, and maybe still am, very judgemental. Yet Coggin owns it by proclaiming: “I love flash!”

The main reason for my reaction is that I am predominantly an available light photographer that rarely use flash, only in times that it is really needed and with a definite purpose. Like him, I am self-taught, and I developed my skill over many years but we seem to have taken different paths. I seek technical perfection… try to perfect exposure in-camera under many difficult conditions and then make fine adjustments in the digital darkroom. I was taught the skill by reading the books by Ansel Adams, Michael Freeman, and Chris Wesson and hours of work perfecting it in practice, learning and applying the zone system and exposing to the right, and then learned how to to use over and underexposure for creative purposes. And yet Coggin gets accolades because he consistently overexposes his images blowing out details he so vehemently says he wants to keep.

Due to my wedding photography work, I have learned to perfect the use of on-camera flash and off-camera flash, high key and low key photography and he can blatantly talk in disgust about others that use artificial light such as tungsten light. I often make use of the artificial lights in the room and adjust white balance. I use flash to fill in or augment the available light in the way that Annie Leibowitz does or sculpt my subject as Monty Zucker did. And Coggin use uncontrolled overpowering daylight flash all the time!

I did not develop these skills to copy the work of others but to learn how to use the skill to tell my story or present my aesthetic. At the age of 20, I was taught by Axel Bruch (in his book) how to compose simple and complex pictures in those and break the rules when I have a purpose. Ansel Adams taught me pre-visualisation and adjusting perspectives using lenses. I always look at composing my photographs in my own unique way. I even let intuition allow me to do so under rapid shooting opportunities such as street photography. I don’t know whether people see my work as authentic, but I know that it is my work, my visual language and my story. Sometimes good, mostly not good enough and occasionally perfect.

Michael Freeman taught me how to use aperture and exposure times. I have learned how to use a shallow depth field with hair with accuracy to direct my reader’s eyes to what I want them to see and how to use motion blur for a sense of movement. And Coggin always uses a closed down aperture and short exposure times to get everything in sharp focus as he wants to be able to view the photograph in all its detail.

I must admit that due to all of the aforementioned factors, Coggin’s use/abuse of flash made me deaf to his visual language. I did not want to even listen to this podcast and eventually convinced myself to listen to it. I am glad I did, and now need to eat humble pie. This technical flaw is deliberate and he can explain it. I still believe his use of flash, which he attributed to the use of cannabis in his initial photography years and the association with the spotlight on stage, equates to someone identifying the author because he uses red ink. But it is his view on authorship and his eloquence to describe it that impressed me.

Whether one person writes stories for one-year-olds or a classic Novel. They’re still authors and both works of Art. As long as they share their vision. But would both be called masters in their craft?

In Coggins case, he is a master! A master of his own vision, his own identity, his own selection of assignments. He has a certain discipline to stay with his vision. As he would put it: “He has his sh*t together”. He knows and owns who he is. And people see it and take note. He gets assignments based on his viewpoint and aesthetics.

While listening to his podcast I reviewed his photographs and started seeing it with different eyes. I discovered a person with authenticity and an original and unique point of view on photography and in his photographs. Someone that can teach me many things in terms of storytelling. His theatre background taught him to see things that I don’t.

While I need to agree with both Coggin and Thatcher about the influence of higher education always comparing your work against masters, I have found great value in the master’s techniques. But I say this carefully, as it is has been proven that the ability to think out of the box is inversely proportionate to education. Our creative work is always influenced by the works we study.

Hermeneutics in Photography

The exercise made a connection in my mind with another discipline I learned in my theological studies, Hermeneutics. In Biblical interpretation, I was taught that context is everything. What I have discovered this week is that photography is exactly the same. You need to know the author (photographer), know what type of literature it is (genre), for whom it was written ( the intended viewer) and how they would interpret it ( how original viewers read and understood the picture), how the current audience interpret it (how the current audience view it). In his case, it made all the difference in how I interpreted his work.

In terms of authorship and the interpretation of the work, this makes a lot of sense. And I want to explore this hermeneutic approach with every future photographer’s work I look at and in future blogs. It’s not about me approving his work or make judgement calls whether it is good or not. He has his own story to tell and own. I must just seek to understand their work and see if I can learn something of value, photographic or even better about life.


Fletcher, G. (2019). Alexander Coggin – On Authorship. [podcast] The Messy Truth. Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].

Making Pictures. (2019). Alexander Coggin | Making Pictures. [online] Available at: 21 Oct. 2019].

Coggin, A. (2019). Alexander Coggin. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].

The message I missed in 1980 that could have made all the difference.

My reading of Michael Freeman’s book, The Photographers Story, made me revisit one of his earlier books I bought in 1980 called “The 35 mm Handbook” (Freeman, 1980). As I paged through it, and obviously due to the reticular nature of the mind I picked up a section pertaining to the Professional practice and assignments. This was a year before I started with my Higher Diploma in Electrical Engineering (Electronics). If I read this with the mindset I have today, I would have taken a completely different path. I share this with those that don’t yet realise the importance of this semester being able to shape your future.

Freeman on Assignments

Speaking about assignments, Freeman warns that “if you become a professional photographer you will face a special problem. You will be relying on work commissioned by people for their own purposes. and you would be unlikely to be able to exercise much control over the assignments until you are well established in your particular style and area of photography (Freeman, 1980).”

Freeman offers an alternative or additive advice wrt. assignments. Idealistically one should “undertake only the assignments that will further the development of your style and technique, and work only for good art directors what will make the best use of your photography and from whom you can learn (Freeman, 1980.”

He further states that “as a rule, the most interesting assignments are interpretive, relying on the individual photographers’ skill and judgement to succeed. … combining interesting and demanding work, personal prestige and high fees. (Freeman, 1980).”

It all comes with a caveat. “It is unreasonable to expect the art director responsible for the commission to assign inexperienced photographers with no track record. By nature, interpretive photography is always something of a risk for an art director picture editor- and they rely quite heavily on the photographer to deliver far beyond the briefing. New photographers will mostly be assigned work that can be more rigidly determined from the start or come from a client who cannot afford the higher fees demanded by photographers with strong reputations (Freeman, 1980).” “

In the end, Freeman concedes that compromise is inevitable unless you abandon the commercial role, concentrate self-assigned commissions (Personal projects) and support yourself through other means.

He states that as a professional photographer, “you need a constant flow of work, not only for financial support but also to keep your style and name in front of potential clients”

He warns that doing pedestrian work will at best, dull the edge of your perception, and can sometimes completely alter the direction of your photography away from more interesting and creative ideas.

He suggests a practical plan to “re-assess regularly both your creative development and the type of assignments you are receiving. Assuming your work and reputation continually improve, you may be able to discard those assignments that are limiting. As the fees you demand rises, you may have no choice but to break with those earlier clients who have fixed low budgets. If your reputation gets stronger and your working time is full, you will get increased control over the work you are offered. Freeman suggests that you use this control to improve the quality of assignments and clients you accept (Freeman, 1980).”

Finally, Freeman warns that “taking assignments with clients with low standards, may encourage you to think your work is better than it is (Freeman, 1980).”

My reflection.

What Michael Freeman suggested in 1980 and what Lydia Pang and Gem Thatcher recommend in 2019 is merely a reflection on approaches based on two contextual drivers, A growing vs contracting Professional Photography market, and our changing landscape or work environment. Supply and demand will always drive what you do in terms of assignments and how much you ask for your services. I believe a shrewd professional photographer regular asses this demand and adjust his/her strategy many times in their lifetime.

Number one in all strategies is to keep on providing authentic, unique eclectic work i.t.o. style and personal focus. Even if the demand reduces.

In a growing market where demand increase is selective of your assignments and increase your prices. Keep yourself current and busy with paid assignments, continuously improving, establishing your style and build your rapport and reputation with your customers. If you do it right there won’t be time for self-assigned assignments (personal projects). You will be in control in what you want to do overtime and be able to grow your personal style, prestige and salaries within the domain of these assignments

In a declining market when demand decreases, be slightly less selective about your assignments, adjust your fee to a realistic and appropriate level matching your skill to your market value at that time. As you may not get assignments that fit within the ideal category, You need to fill or make your ‘free time” available for doing personal assignments to develop yourself and rediscover new paths that you want to pursue. Do not forget that you may be able to collaborate with like-minded professionals and it may be possible to share in the costs and of course the benefits, financially and reputationally. Investigate whether the slump is due to a changing market or due to a general market recession. it may require you to realign your personal vision. All professionals need to continuously reevaluate, rediscover and reeducate themselves today. In my blog: Lydia Pang on Commissioning I discuss how she, as an art director, changed their strategy in a market where they can no longer afford rock stars. They decided to reach out to up and coming (inexperienced) low-cost professional photographers that align with their already determined viewpoint and purpose. this is a great opportunity for those that want to enter the market. For those that has been in the market for some time,will need to you need to lean less on your personal relationships within corporates, engage with the new generation of creatives within these corporates, see that you are current in terms of technology, deliver work and display their work on the new platforms these customers seek to employ for their outputs and learn to compete with this new generation of photographers. and finally, play down the “rock star” status…

As Freeman pointed out Art directors will still need to manage risk. They still would still seek “experienced” professional photographers with a proven capability, but maybe more prescriptive…hence the statement they will give assignments to photographers that share their style and vision.

Because the cost of doing personal projects have reduced due to the digital workflow and the ability to get to be seen by corporate customers, the option suggested by Freeman of doing self-funded assignments is a more worthy endeavour than ever in this recessionary times and changing the landscape. Those that hold true to there vision, will become the “rock stars” in the future when the demand for eclectic photography increase and money becomes more readily available. But professional photographers need to make sure their development and style and skills are developed to meet the ever-changing demand for their services. Being unique will always make you a scares resource but being in demand will get you assigned.

Just another thought, Like Lydia Pang and Gem Thatcher, you may seek to pursue an alternative role in the photography environment to either augment or replace your current role. Become an Art director, curator, Photo editor, producer, video blogger and/or art and photography teacher. Even consider doing work in video and filming. There is a convergence happening at the technology level and the industry is expecting the operator being able to do both. In this world, there are no “holy cows” and not even the need to label yourself as a photographer only. Rather label yourself as a creative working in the photography environment.


Freeman, M. (1980). The 35 mm handbook. 1st ed. London: New Burlington, p 286.

The Power of the Personal project part 1- Grant Scott

The motivation for doing personal projects

Grants Scott’s Book is becoming a delight to read and I am enticed to read the whole work. But this reflection is limited to the section about personal projects and specifically the reasons for doing a personal project.


Motivation 1: “Through the creation of personal work we can explore the concept of developing our personal language, while telling the stories that most interest us, using our life experiences to inform our creativity” because “The only difference between one photographer and another is the individual life experiences that shape the photographer’s unique personality and the way in which they see the world” and it has to be developed through hard work, understanding, and original thought. (Scott,  2014, p83)

Motivation 2 “This is why the creation of personal work cannot be ignored by photographers and is demanded by their clients, looking for a reason to commission. (Scott, 2014, p83)”

Motivation 3: “As we start to see photography as a career path, so the expectation of financial recompense for our labours becomes greater until it can become our sole motivation for lifting our cameras to our eyes. At this point, personal creativity can reach a photographic dead end… Personal work keeps you connected with why you first fell in love with photography” (Scott, 2014, p83). “

My reflection:

After many years in the industry, I believe I have developed my own personal language but it has been convoluted with the many other influences and pressures I have been subjected to within the wedding photography business. I am convinced that doing a personal project for myself without those influences will be able to extract me from that confusion. A path which in the past I was reluctant to share. I am now confidently going to pursue that work without any regard if I can make money, impress a professor, tutor or other photographers. Like all of us, I need I am a bit of a pretender playing to the demands and views of others, and not allowing myself to without influence discover myself in my photography. I have come to the belief that I will then emerge from this confusion being to offer a unique me to this ubiquitous and over-saturated world of photography.

Even as a part-time professional I have reached a point where I was no longer motivated enough to carry on photographing weddings and portraits. It was no longer fun and I could see the stagnation of my visual interpretations. I even had the experience of my work drying up, mostly because I disengaged. The personal project was never identified as a way out of this and trying to get inspired and to “lift” my photography I purchase Tom Ang’s Masterclass, where he challenged me to do assignments after each section in his book. He also encouraged his reader to do research before carrying out your assignment to look at how other photography masters and students approached the assignment, giving me structure and furthermore encourage you to find your own way to do these assignments. This book became the motivation and syllabus for my courses as I wanted to share this new-found knowledge with amateur photographers that either never got launched or stagnated. My first love and passion for photography returned and put me on a path of rediscovering my creativity and personal language. Scott’s essay brings perspective to that approach and, in conjunction with the MA is guiding me to seek personal assignments/projects to grow myself using my life experience and passions.

The interviews with Yvette Pang in week 1, Gem Thatcher in week 2 and Felicity McCabe this week, reaffirmed the importance of the personal project and its part in getting commissions for professional work that you can feel passionate about. The clients are looking for it! Corporate and domestic.

I am convinced that if I follow this advice I will, in time, no longer need to do menial and repetitive work to earn a living wage from photography. Making the personal project part of my business plan, not merely trying to get me motivated, will open this new avenue of expression I am seeking. I would love it if my personal assignments can become as exciting as my personal projects and culminate in find commissioners that will state: “Just do it your way, its why we commissioned you!”


Scott, G 2014, Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained, Taylor & Francis Group, Abingdon. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [18 October 2019].

Unearthing the Photo Essay

1- The Narrative

Reflecting on my reading of Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s [Story] (Freeman, 2012)

Cover of the Photographer’s story (Andre Nagel, 2019)


In my Work in Progress Portfolio submission for Position and Practice, I perceived a need to take a deeper look at how I need to present my work that it is less repetitive and more engaging. I identified this work by Michel Freeman as a good base to start from before engaging in deep research about the subject. I found a small Gold Mine…


” The camera is only one tool for telling a story” for us, this is our prime interest. This means that as photographers we need to understand the fundamentals of story telling. regardless whether it is  “written or spoken words, theatre film or still images, paintings or a cave wall.”

Freeman defines narrative as ” telling an account of something: how it happened.” He describes in some detail how photography was caught up in narrative since its inception and how the technology development made this more possible through time. Photographs replaced drawings in newspapers and came with a heightened perception of truth. He adds: “it took approximately a century in the form of digital manipulation, to take photography back to the very thing is was to replace!”

Technology such as smaller format cameras, the sprocket film and high-speed lenses with low light capabilities., faster film enabled photojournalism.

But it was not only the technology that drove this: “The camera and 35 mm camera came of age in Europe at the time of social and political upheaval” Photography also synced well with the “liberalism idealism in arts of the democratic and socialist movement in that time. It is not surprising that it led to politically inspired documentary photography seeking to challenge war and social injustice. It also aligned well with modernism that “rejected tradition and the decorative, instead of embracing abstraction and, clean lines, functionality and even mass production” it slowed for a new era, capturing scenes from life and art with spontaneity and conscious realism.

He then proceeds to introduce the classic story structure from literature and screenwriting to set the scene for his exploration of the narrative in Photo-journalistic and documentary photography. He uses three photo stories or essays to illustrate how uses the narrative in photography in his practice. (Freeman, 2012)

The classic Narrative formula (Freeman, 2012, p13)


I believe Freeman has a very clear understanding of the world he saw photography development and his analysis is spot on. His books have been a tutor in my life since the 80’s when I purchased his 35mm Handbook where he while, teaching me the basics of using my camera, introduced me to the professional world.

In this book, he impressed me by how he described the natural alignment and convergence of journalism, photography and it associated technology advancements and the socio-political environment and how photography was able to serve the need of that era which continuous to date.

The narrative approach did three things for me. 1) It gave me a language to describe the purpose of photographs shot in a series. 2) It redirected me and removed the pressure of having to take key photographs all the time opening a world of opportunities. Not all of the photographs in a story need a Barthesian Punctum. A minor photograph may be used to establish the background, open the photographic essay with with a dramatic opening and buildup towards a key photograph that as an climax presentation of the punctum, and end of with a closing photograph leaving you to ponder the series as a whole 3) It allows me to assess how I can approach the way I present the photographs in an order that will reduce repetition and introduce rhythm and pace in terms of composition, angle and point of view, subject type, colour and impact and other visual factors. 4) It enables me to curate my photographs not merely on an intrinsic level but also its contextual importance in a series of photographs.

Of course, a photographic story can be told in one photograph, a small group, what Freeman calls a 3+1 combination, for magazines or a photo essay of 200-300 photographs in the form of a published book. But the ideal narrative form needs at least some a setup, a buildup, a climax and a close to be effective, whether as elements in a photograph or a series of photographs. I will be exploring this in my project work.

The contemporary practise of wedding photography is progressively adopting the story/ narrative approach in the renewed interest in high quality published albums. Some Master wedding photographers such as Roco Ancora, Joe Buisink and Yervant has adopted it within their style. The photo album or presentation is no longer a collection of photographs but a published essay on the most important day in the life of a young couple.

I did a stint in doing wedding videography which informed my photography practice in a major way. When my wife and I curated the thousands of photographs and needed to cull the photographs to about 300 for an album we intuitively broke up the day into chapters with each building up and leading into the next. Our climax was mainly the post-wedding Romantic shoot and we always looked for a “show stopper that will end of the Album. The wedding narrative is generally set but I never considered using the story approach in my personal documentary work until now.

Freeman, as a seasoned travel and documentary photographer has a large repertoire and years of practical skills and is prepared to share his skill in such a simple, pragmatic and delightful way.

Reading this book during week 3, where we discussed the tension between Art and Commercial work and how art is also commercial work, I was continuously seeing how for Freeman’s commercial work, event reportage and essays, is an art form. and it is the narrative within his work that elevates it in the traditional definition of art.

In conclusion,

I have come to realise the huge impact of how understanding narrative and its value within my photographic practice. Photojournalism and Documentary photography has always been underpinned with some form of narrative. For the photographer, the prime objective is the visual narrative, making it an integral tool in the arsenal of a photographer. And if this fails either personally add a literary narrative or collaborate with someone to add it. This has been the practice in many photographic essays I have read.


Freeman, M. (2012). The photographer’s story. Lewes: Ilex, pp.8-39.