Conceptual photography is a type of photographic art that is initially envisioned by the photographer and then staged to realize that vision. Images are often designed to depict certain aspects of society or life. Photographs might also be digitally manipulated to achieve the final effect desired by the photographer. Conceptual photography might also be referred to as avant-garde photography.
This type of photography is the opposite of journalism style photography, in which the photographer captures real-life images as they happen. Conceptual photography is much more deliberate and has a specific outcome in mind, much like a painted portrait. Modern technology has enabled this type of photography to become more surreal, allowing the photographer to join together images or objects that would otherwise be impossible to juxtapose. Digital photography programs also allow the artist to add effects and filters to an image to achieve a certain look or feel.
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Often, conceptual photography is used to convey an emotion or to imply something about a person or society. The images may be jarring, as objects not normally photographed together may be combined to create a memorable scene. For example, one notable conceptual photograph by the American photographer, Man Ray, shows the openings on a violin on a nude woman's back. The photograph’s meaning is open to interpretation, but it shows the synergies between the human form and the beauty of music.
Images in conceptual photography are often used in advertising or public service announcements. A gun with its chamber loaded with cigarettes instead of bullets conveys the idea that smoking is deadly. A picture of a half-eaten apple reflected in a mirror as a full, fat apple might symbolize the thought process of those with eating disorders. A woman’s body comprised of sushi might be an advertisement for a Japanese restaurant. Advertisers often turn to photography to help them showcase their products in ways that are eye-catching.
Some photographers specialize in conceptual photography and use the style both for artistic and commercial purposes. Fashion photography is especially well-suited to the use of the conceptual style, creating cutting-edge, attention-grabbing photo spreads for magazines and advertisements. Some photographers may do more traditional work, such as photographing weddings or newborns, to earn money while showcasing their conceptual work at galleries or exhibitions. This type of photography is a relatively new form of expression, compared to music or painting, as film cameras did not become popularly available until the 1900s.