With pencil and paint, the artist may express his understanding of and feelings about the world surrounding him. He crafts an image that, no matter the level of realism or amateurism, betrays the workings of his mind and heart. Not so in photography.
With a lens and computer chip, the artist merely captures the material and motion of what surrounds. He does not create in the sense that the painter creates. He does not render an emotion on paper.
Pins and Pith Helmets
Photography is the art of capturing, not of creating. The photographer enslaves time and light. He is a hunter stalking the most elusive elements of the universe. Like some grand entomologist stumbling through the rainforest, he searches the verdant canopy and rotting floor to net a specimen—that moment of blazing glory—and affix its brilliance permanently upon a nail.
Though an artist, it would be difficult, if not near impossible, for even the greatest of photographers to stand beside the greatest of painters in the artistic pantheon. The reason has already been stated. The painter expresses the world within; the photographer captures the world without. The one creates; the other enslaves.
The Artistic Ape?
In the end, Man is always a creator and his every work an expression of this divine quality within him. So, while a photograph is certainly a creation, and even a beautiful and emotional one, it is markedly different from a painting. From prehistoric times, Man has fused his mind and his arms to make. A painting contains the fullest expression of the strengths and weaknesses of both of these parts. The photograph does not.
Of course a photograph can and does express a great deal of the creative capacity of the artist. It will be carefully composed and lit. There may be great thought invested and skill learned leading up to the moment the shutter is opened. Yet this does not compare to that fusion of the mind and hand to trace lines, shade, and color upon a canvas. There is something in a painting, and sculpture too, that becomes the fullest expression of the magnitude of Man’s own visual creativity.
The Cosmology of Photography
So from where then does photography glean its artistic merit?
From none other than God Himself.
Where painting reveals the buried depths of Man, photography extols the masked depths of God. If the goal of Science is to unravel the mysteries of the universe, then photography, as her child, celebrates the beauty of the One who created it. The photographer praises the Lord of Time and Light by catching the smallest fleeting elements of both, mere slivers of His grandeur and wisdom, and reflecting them in the permanence of paper and pixels.