Pushing the Boundaries of Art or Decency?

Photographers, like all artists, are looking for ways to expand their art. Where painters had Picasso with his cubism, sculptors had Auguste Rodin, and musicians had Elvis Presley, photographers more or less stuck to the limitations of their field, notable exceptions being Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams. However, in more modern times, some celebrity photographers have been trying to push the boundaries of their portrait photography in ways that often leave viewers more scandalized than supportive. Most everyone can recall the kerfuffle over Miley Cyrus’s photoshoot with Annie Leibovitz, the argument there is less “is this edgy and new?” and more “is this creepy?”

And, sometimes, photographers might go over the line by participating in their shoots in a way that, if the facts of the case are true, is definitely unethical. Terry Richardson currently stands accused of abusing his position as a celebrity photographer in order to coerce several women into compromising situations.

Now, both Richardson and Leibovitz will defend themselves with the argument that they are “pushing the boundaries of their art.” While I am no photographer myself, I can say that the argument is fairly weak in both cases. Taking racy photos is hardly innovative. Chances are it’s been being done since the first camera was invented. While every generation likes to tell itself that it “discovered” all of these “new” things when it comes to sex and nudity, that’s not the truth. Pushing the art of photography isn’t happening because a couple of celebrity photographers can convince people to take off their clothes. Photography is growing as an art and a field by both technological innovations (like smartphones), ways of playing with lights and colors during processing, people figuring out new ways and techniques to use in photography to create new optical illusions — all things that generally encourage people to stay fully clothed and use their cerebrums instead of their hindbrains.

But that’s just the opinion of a bird who works for a photography retailer. What do you think? Who’s really pushing the boundaries of photography as an art? Let us know in the comments below!

— da Bird