I look back and only feel immense gratitude for my stubbornness for learning. In my younger days (yes I am still young so spare me the "says you" comment), I admittedly battled to heed advise from anyone when it came to learning anything. It might have stemmed from a deep seated hatred for school and the forced fed, high frequency "knowledge" that we had to consume and regurgitate day after day, week after week and year after year. I have no doubt of my cerebral capacity but as you might have gathered I was no academic all those years ago.
My heuristic approach to learning certainly did not do me any favours back then as learning out of a book one must must have a realist approach. "what you see written down is what is. It is all it can be." When it came to picking up a camera for the first time I hadn't yet respected fully the knowledge of others but years later I would come to suspect this as a distinct advantage. Lets explain why.
In the first years of this trial and error approach to photography I do admit to fucking up countless opportunities to capture remarkable images out of once-in-a-lifetime scenarios where wildlife just puts on a perfect show for you in perfect light. I still wrench at the thought of some of them. However I accepted no tuition from anyone (it simply was not available) nor did I blame those missed opportunities on anyone but myself so was forced to dissect my methods completely subjectively. I , thankfully, was far from the nomophobic (fear of being without a cellphone) millennial that is the societal norm of today and so only posted the odd photo of me getting shit-faced at the local pub on my rare visits home on Instagram or Facebook. Without a persons or social medias often twisted perspective on what art really is, shepherding my imagination into the comforts of naturalism I judged my work purely on the instinctual satisfaction it gave the first moment I looked at it. I either peppered up a photo I took as best I could through post processing or ripped all I could out of the mediocre camera gear I owned at the time. I looked at my work deeply, subjectively and patiently to see why I didn't like it or why i absolutely loved it. To this day those early photos that i eventually did post online I felt were worthy of being called "fine art" and no lack of "likes" was ever going to change my point of view.
In todays world, unfortunately, the legitimacy or talent of a creator of "art" is sometimes directly related to the numbers of online followers they have which can mean one of two things. Firstly it could mean they have no more created beautiful work than they have revved an algorithm for years on end or it means their work is genuinely and truly beautiful. The later is much harder to do.
I did, admittedly, sway from my artistic instincts in order to please the masses. Capturing and posting endless close up portraits of leopard and lion as it seemed that many online viewers have no control over their thumbs as it reflexes itself onto the "like" button next to these boring images. At least thats the excuse I would tell myself when I looked back on the scenes of the day and regretted not respecting the "big picture". Not striving to create art and instead creating nothing more than a "mechanical copy" of what was happening in front of me. I had to feel that satisfaction again. That feeling that everyone has felt wether professional or amateur photographer when they have created something special. I had to create "fine art" again and to do so i had to know what it was exactly and what in it made you stop and stare inwards.
The dictionary will describe fine art as "creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content"
Now I wont say that a portrait of a leopard or a lion is not "aesthetic". However these images have probably been seen a little too many times and too much of a good thing unfortunately usually ends the same way. Maybe in the beginning it was considered fine art but certainly in present times...only to the deprived eye will it seem so. The above quote may also be confusing as a simple picture of a lion in his natural habitat could be perceived as "intellectual" but is far from pleasing to look at or worth hanging on a wall as "art".
There is, certainly, an element of perspective when we decide how high in the hierarchy of genres (a formalisation which ranks different genres of art in terms of their prestige and cultural value) we put on a piece of art and you and i will certainly disagree from one piece to another for your perspective and mine is based on our life experiences and circumstances and no two lives are the same. However we must try work together to differentiate between two pictures. One being art and the other nothing more than a documentation of a scene. Consider the below quote...
"The hierarchy was based on a distinction between art that made an intellectual effort to render visible the universal essence of things and that which merely consisted of mechanical copying of particular appearances."
Lying in this sentence may just be the answer we are looking for, "the essence of things". Maybe the issue with many images that we can all agree are not "art", the creator of such an image was considering the essence of his subject, ie the lions existence and his habitat, and instead should be looking at the essence of the image itself. What in the image does its "artistic" nature hang onto, what can it not do without...
Is it the negative space in the picture, its simplicity or its complicated story. Is it how the image confronts you, calms you or transports you to a place you want or don’t want to be. Does it introduce you to a unique character in an unexpected way or does it connect you back to a dream buried deep inside your forgotten memory. The answer is yes...to all of the above. All works of art have one or more of the impacts like or similar to the above mentioned ones. The trick is seeing it in the wild or creating it in post processing in accordance to your own instinctual satisfaction that only the creator can hone and learn to trust.
I sometimes would hear clients of mine or fellow professionals remark on another photographers work with the sentence "she has an artistic approach to her work", and my response has always been the same and I stand by it not from what i have been told but from what i have experienced. "Every photographer should have an artistic approach to their work for if they can accomplish "fine art" then everything else outside of this will be easy."