In many photo clubs and professional fine art photography, is very common to show "conceptual" photo essays or photo series.

That is, there is a unifying idea behind a compilation of images, and often artists do not give any clues at all to reveal their artistic concept(s) by not assigning any (meaningful) titles to photos, publishing confusing statements, etc.

As a result, often these series of pictures appear incomprehensible, boring, or uninformative. This holds in particular, when spectators do not know (or have no chance to get to know) the concept behind the unifying idea of the series.

Can you provide a good general introduction for conceptual work in fine-art photography? How to recognize it, how make it accessible for a lay audience?

  • I too often find "conceptual photo series" to be a collection of un-imaginative shots of rotting boats and corners of things, with a completely un-related title. I personally think its more to do with the "artist" THINKING they are being creative, but actually just taking shots of twigs... Apr 23, 2013 at 15:58

1 Answer 1


In general there are two basic usages: as a methodology or as an art form.

As a methodology it is about creating images that fit a concept. A lot of advertising and stock photography would fit in this category. "Bananas" or "Bicycling" or "Nurses" might be three concepts that a photographer expresses through as series of photos, often in the hope they might be used in advertising related to the concept. Other concepts might be more abstract: "Peace", "Harmony", or "Lonesome" are examples that would probably not be as commercially viable but are still intended to communicate a primary idea.

As an art form or genre it has never been very well defined. The usage in art began in the 1960s as a way to describe photographers documenting the production of other types of (non-photographic) conceptual art such as performance art. By the 1970s there were a few conceptual artists who were using the photography as the purpose for staging the events they were photographing. Today, just about any Fine-art photography could be described as conceptual under the broadest definition. Some seem to use the term as a way to look down their nose at documentary photography or photojournalism. Anything but those are considered conceptual. Which is kind of ironic since the term was coined to describe photography that documented another art form.






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