John Enman photo

John Enman photo

Photographers artists in their own right

Making pictures with professional photographer John Enman

Ever since I became interested in photography there has been this discussion that photography isn’t really a true art. Sure, everyone thinks photographers are creative, but is a photographer an artist in the same way as a painter or sculptor?

Some years ago I was asked to give a talk on “Photography as Art” to the local chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists. I had been talking with a couple of chapter members and had “aggressively” vocalized my displeasure when someone said they didn’t think anyone but painters were serious artists. A few days later I got a call asking me to speak at their meeting.

There used to be an arts organization that held a yearly “Festival of the Arts.” They said the festival was for all types of artists, but the judges usually thought little of photographers and showed it in the way they gave out their ribbons for excellence.

For years it was usually painters that I would argue with when they said that because photographers relied on technology photography wasn’t true art. And if that isn’t enough to bother those of us dedicated to the art of photography, this week I was told by a photographer that only used film say that those using digital cameras weren’t true photographers (I have heard that before).

I suppose there will always be those who will be quick to criticize anything new. I can imagine some ancient Egyptian that grew up carving figures into stone thinking that young guy with those newfangled finger paints shouldn’t be decorating pyramids.

When I discovered the enjoyment of photography I was hooked. During my college years, I had taken all sorts of courses in fine arts. But when I took my first classes in photography everything changed for me. There was the technology of the camera and lenses. There were all the different types of film and chemicals and there were enlargers and printmaking. It was all so new.

I had learned about light and shadow in painting classes, but with photography understanding and using light was so much more real. There was natural light and there was flash. Flash excited me the most (and still does).

Then after about 40 years of using film photography equipment, digital cameras appeared and photography again changed for me as my creative opportunities exploded far beyond anything I could imagine.

When I would explain photography as an art to a painter I would discuss techniques that relate to making an image that would make sense to someone who applied paint to a canvas. I remember a fellow saying, “Painters don’t talk about the equipment they use like photographers do.” My response to that is, “so what?” and “gosh, that’s too bad it’s so much fun.”

With regards to that, the photographer who thinks film is the true way to create a photograph, I began by saying that most of the time I use my digital camera the same way he would use his old film camera. However, he must choose different kinds of film, paper and chemicals to create some special effect, whereas I not only have an amazing sensor that can record more information than his film, I also have a computer and specialized programs that allow me way more control over detail and subject tonality than his film and chemicals ever will.

I mentioned that if he wanted to make a print to sell or if he wanted a photograph that his grandchildren could enjoy he would be limited to a black and white image so he could “double fix” it for preservation. A colour print would need to be handled carefully and kept out of direct sunlight or it will fade. I use a pigment printer that is not uncommon and so much more environmentally friendly than film and film chemicals – it will also allow me to display the photography in direct sunlight for close to a hundred years.

Digital technology has made photography much more available for those who want to document their world. (Without damaging the environment I might add) And for those of us who enjoy creating personal statement photography and love the opportunity of the growth this exciting technology offers, Photography is the perfect medium.

Stay safe and be creative. These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at or