Visual versus Visceral


Hi Tracy, and thank you for putting this together. I'm looking forward to sitting toward the back with my ears wide open as the group and the dialogue grow. Thanks, too, to Chester Ng for letting me know about this group.

To my question, Tracy: How would you weight the importance of an image's visual and visceral impact?


Hi Ken.

Welcome, and thanks for signing up. Please don't just sit in the back... one sided discussions are lectures...and frequently boring! :-)

And... good question. I can only supply my own personal take, of course, and hopefully others will chime in on this important topic.

As to "visual impact" in fine art photography - I prefer a strong statement, expressed simply and with no distractions. The more "stuff" an image has in the frame, that is unrelated to what the photographer finds worth expressing, the less effective the image is. In other words, the less distractions, the greater the visual impact. Now, visual impact is not solely the province an uncluttered shot, of course, and composition, lighting, perspective and the other 100 or so "usual suspects" still apply, of course.

But overall, the visual impact is what will draw your viewer in the first place, and will go a long way toward holding him as well. On the other hand, I've seen ghastly over-sharpened, over-saturated images that have "visual impact" that make me cringe. Finding your own personal brand of visual impact will become your signature style, be it color, composition, frame, subject or whatever.

As to "visceral impact" - well, that's what makes it art, eh ? The dictionary says that visceral is "...relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect."  Again, just my take, but as an artist, you're capturing (or trying to capture) your own personal gut-level response to what is before your lens. If you succeed in getting that into an image, then your viewer will experience his or her own internal response in a quite similar fashion. If that communication happens, the piece succeeds. (I stressed your own because anything less makes no contribution, either to the image, or the viewer. In short, a Xerox machine will make a better copy of an Ansel Adams print than you ever will, and it doesn't add anything either.)

The visceral impact of music, literature, dance, sculpture and so on, including photography, is the very heart of what we're doing. It is the Zen of Zen Archery.

So: my importance-weight of both those subjects: visceral and visual, is that they are doing the heavy lifting, and could not be more central to photography.

Does that help, or did I wax too philosophic?

Let's see what others say.

Tracy Valleau, moderator


Rick Verbanec

Hi Tracy,

I, too, am interested in how the discussion on Fine Art Photography progresses.  Having attended several Image Makers and Independent Photographers meetings in the last few years, I appreciate the fine work that has been displayed ... everything from Mary Aui's composites to Will Furman's single exposure Inside Out series, and on to Oliver Klink's HUGE pieces, not to mention numerous other travel photography and abstract works.  Not coming from an artsy background, after 15 years I'm still trying to sort out all the concepts of what constitutes Fine Art.  It does seem a bit presumptuous to me for one to claim one's own photo as Fine Art - the definition is somewhat amorphous, giving rise to a thread such as this.  

If only the maker thinks the product is Fine Art, is it?  If two think so, is that sufficient, or do they need to think it's Fine Art for the same reason?  Without some intrinsic basis, is the definition essentially a commercial or popularity issue?  In other words, what separates Fine Art Photography from general Photographic Art?  Is it one of those 'I can't define it but I know it when I see it' situations?  Or is it just a matter of opinion?

And one last question perhaps worthy of a separate thread, with the rapid advances in display technology, what do you think will be the future trajectory of fine art photography (whatever it is) from print only to print and digital as wall display media?


Hi Rick

Wonderful questions.

I'd suggest that you're confusing "Fine Art" with "Good Art".  "Fine Art" photography is a type, not a quality, of photography. Like wedding photography, advertising photography, street photography and so on, fine art photography is a type of photography, and like any type of art (painting, sculpture, music etc) can be of good, or bad or indifferent quality.

What type, then? If it is your intent, as the photographer, to product a piece for others to hang on their wall, as they would, say, a painting, for long-term enjoyment of your photographic vision, then it's fine art photography  that you are doing. 

One of the other keys to "fine art" is that the finished work stands on its own - the viewer doesn't need an explanation to understand it. This separates "fine art" from "conceptual art" which is yet another type of art.

Is it "art?" That is a contentious subject, with the answers ranging from "Yes, if a total stranger gets out of it what you intended" to "Yes if someone with expertise in art says it is" on to "Yes, if it's hanging in a place that hangs art, such as a gallery or museum." Much of the contention comes from the confusion caused by "Art" having multiple meanings. Yes, "art" can be defined - one must simply pick which definition to use before talking about it, or the discussion turns to a Tower of Babel.

I recently gave a talk about all this at the Center for Photographic Art, and will shortly have the text of that talk available. I'll post here when it is.

As to the question of electronic display of images - of course there have been LCD frames for years now, so both, as you note, are current display methods. Do I think printed art will ever give way to only digital? No, frankly, I don't - the sensory and tactile experience, and the subtlety of tone and nuance of the print are just too different from glowing LEDs.  Paper and painting have weathered the last several thousand years, and I expect they will continue to march into the future.

Tracy Valleau, moderator



Tracy, your reply to Rick V. regarding what, exactly, Fine Art photography is, made more sense to me than anything I've read or heard so far. The shift to considering Fine Art as a type of photography really clarifies it for me. I also appreciate your simple summary of the subject: "If it is your intent, as the photographer, to produce a piece for others to hang on their wall, as they would, say, a painting, for long-term enjoyment of your photographic vision, then it's fine art photography that you are doing."

I look forward to reading the transcript of your CPA talk about this.


Thanks, Ken. The transcript has been posted here.
Tracy Valleau, moderator



I was one of those requesting the take-home that night. Thanks!