In the 21st century, when many of us live our lives through the lens of a camera and Instagram filter, photography can sometimes get a bad rep. Naysayers would argue that having a camera in our phones has made photography intrusive. And, to be fair, we’ve been at many dinners where we’ve had to politely wait for others to finish documenting their meals for posterity before digging into a dish. But - and we may be a bit biased here - we would argue that true photography art is simply art for the modern world.
Bamboo Scenes Photography Art Exhibition, California Tower - Hong Kong (June, 2021)
Let’s just think for a minute about what photography actually is. On its widest scale, photography is a democratic process of making art, where anyone with access to a camera - or smartphone - can capture a version of what they see. So far, so art. After all, isn’t that exactly what Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” or Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lillies” series are? These famous paintings capture the artists’ lived experiences and daily lives, just as modern-day photographs do.
These famous paintings capture the artists’ lived experiences and daily lives, just as modern-day photographs do.
And what about commissioned or commercial photography? Many major magazines, newspapers, and digital publications commission photographers around the world to take photos that breathe life into their written stories. Even more brands commission famous photographers to take photos that can be used as advertisements—just think of Mario Testino’s work for Gucci, Chanel, and Versace or perhaps Steve McCurry’s eye-opening work for National Geographic. These are all examples of commissioned photography art in the 21st century. But, back in the day, you had the Vatican commissioning Michaelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Medici family asking da Vinci, Boticelli, and Brunescelli to create spectacular works of art that can still be seen in Florence today.
Steve McCurry's "Shaolin monks training" Zhengzhou, China (2004)
Then we get to home furnishings. Once upon a time, paintings were one of the few types of art that people could use as home decor (for the purposes of this article, we’re going to leave statues and other types of art for another day). Whether they were portraits in oil or landscapes in watercolors, this is what adorned their walls (at least in the homes of those that could afford it). These days, though, while some people may still turn to paintings, most homes will have some sort of “photography art” as part of their home decor. You probably have photos of your travels dotted across your home, don’t you? In capturing landscapes and scenes of foreign places and displaying them in your home, it might be said that this is a style of 21st century art.
Wall art: Kelvin Yuen's "An Island" & Sharon Liu's "Old Fashion"
And what about technique? Throughout history, painters, sculptors, and other artists were absolute masters of their craft. They knew exactly how to wield a paintbrush—or perhaps a chisel—to capture a portrait or scene on canvas, or craft detailed statuary from a hunk of rock. Impressionists like Degas, Monet, and Renoir were able to not just copy real-life scenes in their paintings but managed to paint them in exquisite detail, capturing the nuances of lighting, architecture, and emotion. And, somehow, from a plain block of marble, Rodin was able to create the incredibly detailed “Doors of Hell'' and Michaelangelo created his “David” and “Pietà.”
Photographers have to learn the ins and outs of using a camera, composing an image to photograph, and so much more.
In a similar way, 21st century photographers build an impressive array of skills and techniques to capture photography art. Like artists through history had to learn to use a brush and understand lighting and composition, photographers have to learn the ins and outs of using a camera, composing an image to photograph, and so much more.
Bamboo Scenes Photography Artist Jeremy Cheung, Hong Kong
Consider, too, that there’s a difference between film and digital photography and that artists may need different skills for both styles. For example, with film photography, it’s important for artists to have well-honed technical skills that allow them to use the right settings to capture a wealth of different scenes. They have to manipulate their camera to make good photographs, choosing the right lens for a particular shot, figuring out how to properly light and compose an image, and even setting an intention for their photo, deciding what it is they’re trying to create and using the right moods and colors to facilitate this.
Consider, too, that there’s a difference between film and digital photography and that artists may need different skills for both styles.
And, with digital photography in the mainstream, modern-day artists will also need all these skills, and more. For example, they may need to be able to digitally fine-tune their art on a computer, using programs like PhotoShop and LightRoom to sharpen images, balance colors, and or perhaps remove that one person that strayed into the frame of an otherwise perfect shot. If that’s not a finely-honed skill that deserves to be labeled art, we don’t know what is!
Street and Film Photographer Gideon de Kock, Bamboo Scenes Hong Kong
For all these reasons - and more - we at Bamboo Scenes firmly believe that photography should be considered an art in its own right, and one that, in the 21st century, fills the functions that were once held by paintings and sculptures throughout history. We like to think our art prints are a small part of the living history of art. Our Hong Kong street photography captures the captivating dynamics of our home city and the lived reality of our artists. And, of course, our photography prints are perfect home decor, birthday presents, and corporate or farewell gifts.
Bedroom wall art: Vivien Liu's "Pink Matter"