How Harvey made me think

Half a tree

Fine art photography had a troubled youth. 

It was ridiculed and belittled for about 150 years before people finally let it leave the kids table. I’m a young man compared to many older people and I remember the endless discussion in photo classes about the validity of photography as a fine art. 

“When will people finally accept photography as a fine art?” My teacher would bemoan. 

This notion of the rejection of photography as fine art has been tumbling around in my head the last couple of days because I recently watched several minutes of the 1950 film “Harvey” and Veta, (Elwoods Mother) said this: 

VETA – Now, Dr. Chumley — you brought
this up – you might as well learn
something quickly. I took a course in art
last winter. I learned the difference
between a fine oil painting and a
mechanical thing – like a photograph. The
photograph shows only the reality. The
painting shows not only the reality, but
the dream behind it. It’s our dreams,
Doctor, that carry us on. They separate
us from the beasts – I wouldn’t want to
go on living if I thought it was all just
eating and sleeping and taking my clothes
off – I mean putting them on. Oh – oo-oo!
Oh, Doctor! 

I remember feeling sad and pitiful that my images will be dismissed as documents of fact and nothing more. Well, those discussions have ended. Photographers won the argument and photography is a widely accepted as fine art. It’s the most popular form of fine art. Don’t believe me? Go to any museum where there are many disciplines on display. The photography display is the most popular. 

Why did this acceptance take so long? Art is everywhere. We’re immersed in art up to our hair-do’s. People drive impeccably designed cars. They purchase whichever car is most appealing to them. The colors of the walls in your home, the cut of the grass in the yard, the shoes you are wearing and the watch on your wrist are works of art. Making a balanced business deal, the heft and size and look of the words in a favorite book that please your eyes, the fragrance of cooking food, football uniforms, a nice fitting garment. It’s all art! 

I don’t know why I’ve never thought about this but art is in everything we do. The impulse to create art is as common in humanity as the impulse to reproduce. 

The image above was taken with my old friend, a 5×7 speed graphic camera. It’s a work of art too.


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