You May Be a Photographer, but Are You an Artist?

New York City born photographer/artist Roger Ballen spent the better part of the last four decades in Johannesburg, South Africa. In that time he has produced a body of work that has been described as a fictionalized visual dialogued between individuals, their architectural space, found objects, and domesticated animals. His approach has been hailed as among the most unusual and exciting developments in contemporary photography.

There is no doubt that Ballen has mastered the art of capturing images that stick with you, and he has a question for us all: "When you push the shutter, take a photo, you are a photographer, but are you an artist?" So what are some of the things that make a photographer an artist? Here are seven thoughts from Ballen to help you answer that question and to become a more artistic shooter.

1. The Purpose of Art:

"Why do some works stick? Why are some works fleeting? If you ponder this then you may be an artist."

2. Redefine Your World:

"If you redefine your understanding of words then you may be an artist."

3. Visual Relationships:

"When you learn to see strong, complex visual relationships beyond words then you may be an artist."

4. A Vision Is Unique:

"When you learn every moment is crucial and that no picture can be repeated than you may be an artist."

5. Search Within:

"Every time you push the button of the camera you create a new reality. You need to travel deep inside yourself to create a good picture."

6. Break Through Your Mind:

"If you can let go and break through your mind than you may be an artist."

7. Face Your Fears:

"If you confront your fears this will certainly assist your artistic endeavors."

All images are © Roger Ballen. Snippets from Roger Ballen's "Asylum of the Birds" and "Outland" videos were used in this video. You can find these videos on Roger Ballen's YouTube channel.

If you are as impressed by Ballen's work as I am then you can keep up with his virtual self on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

[via COOPH]

Kenn Tam's picture

Been holding this damn camera in my hand since 1991.
Toronto / New York City

Log in or register to post comments

"Something becomes art when someone else pays for it."

I literally lol on that one. What a incredibly uneducated quote. Too funny. Who said? Wouldn't that just be the saddest, most limited and ultimately, inaccurate definition of art ever?

I was being cheeky. Ha. I agree with you. I actually read it in an interview with a hotshot photographer last week. Can't remember who.

I totally want to know who so I can go troll this "hotshot photographer". :)

It's true. If no one buys your work, you're just a poseur:

An art is like a gravitation. Everyone can analyze its effects but nobody really knows what it is.

Am I the only one who finds these photos not nice?

It's not supposed to be "nice". Is it all about to be pretty all the time?

I didn't mean nice in a way that there should be a rainbow and a unicorn in every picture, I meant nice in a photography way. Kinda like not being nicely done, or not equaly for him to make him tell quotes to us.

Maybe it's a bad use of words, but I don't know how to describe it...

I understand what you mean - technique, lightning, framing. But in this case it's his "licentia poetcia" and it's all about perception of the world and thinking about storytelling. Sometimes you can get something fot yourself even if you don't admire photos.

I personally define art as creating with intention. Whether you are trying to convey something, elicit something or evoking an emotional response of some kind.

If I make something with the intention of conveying beauty or ugliness or boredom, etc and some see that, then it's art. If I make something to make people think or argue or question, etc and some do, then it's art. If I make something to make people cry or laugh or feel disgust, etc and some do, then it's art.

Intention is the key to my definition of art.