Art, Field Trips, Lessons, Melbourne, Photography

Photographing Things That Are Considered Art

On the field trip we went to Hosier Lane.  This laneway is well known for its Graffiti.  It is covered in it.  Some of it is amazing, while other bits are just the same boring graffiti you find everywhere.  So, when is it art, and when is it crap that you find everywhere?  It isn’t a question I really wanted to answer here, but it did get me to thinking about photography and when you photograph things like this.

As photographers we take photos of the mundane, and the beautiful and then we transform that into something even better.  It isn’t often that you look at photo and then see the real thing and think they are the same.  They usually look completely different.  We try to enhance what we see to something amazing.

What happens when you are photographing something that is already beautiful, or something that is considered art?

Do we have the right to change it and make it something else, or should our role, in this instance, be just to make it look good, but be true to the artist that first created it?  Are we breaching some copyright laws if we try to make it into something elset?

If I take a photo and someone buys it and then tries to change it, then they are breaching my copyright, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with graffiti.  A woman here photographs the graffiti and then puts the images on cards to sell.  She sells lots of them.  So the question remains, is that photographer breaching copyright?  She is making money from someone else’s art.  Though with the work is in a public space, it would be hard to prove ownership.

Is our responsibility to just record this art form, or is it okay to photograph it and then turn it into something else?  I don’t know the answers, though, if a graffiti work looked fantastic, like the first image, then I would try to highlight the work and not try to make it something else.  However, if the graffiti seemed random and not to conform to anything other than tagging, and the person who had done it, had done it over the top of other works, then I would be reluctant to give it the same respect.

I have, with the image above, done more processing than I had with the first one.

This image, for me, is more about the laneway, than any graffiti in particular.  I wanted to give an overall look at what the laneways look like.  Every surface is covered, even the road.  It is quite amazing to look at.   I did push this image with the processing as well.  It is a HDR image, processed in Photomatix, with post editing in CS5.

This image is done the same as the previous image.  I haven’t pushed it as far as the previous image, but it is important to make the graffiti stand out.

Again, this is done in a similar way, only I blurred the image, but made the mirror clear and sharp. There are people photographing the laneway as well.  There were a lot of people in the lane taking photos, it is a popular tourist destination.

This piece of graffiti was actually in another lane but I thought it great and wanted to show it to you.  It is not done in the usual way, that is by spray cans on the walls, but rather it has been done on paper and then stuck on the wall.  I would imagine that makes it even more like a piece of art, shame another graffiti artist has put paint on one of the faces.

This pair of shoes was over a power line.  Everywhere we went in the south part of the city, we saw shoes like this.  Quite funny.  I had to show you.  This image is quite amazing, don’t you think. I can’t work out whether the background is a drawing, or whether I photographed it badly and it ended up looking like a drawing.  I really like it.

Some interesting questions, I hope you think.  I would be interested to know what you think.


  1. Where to start – first I didn’t realise that if someone bought your image and then altered it it breached your copyright. I don’t quite understand that but perhaps I am being a bit thick. Its interesting what you say about photographing art. In the first photo I find the graffiti fabulous – I must go and look for it, but as a photograph I don’t find it anywhere near as arresting as images 4,5,6 & 7. I really like 4 & 5 for how they place the art in a context whilst being well composed photos as well. 6 the art is fascinating and the last one is a really fun photo. Great series Leanne.

    • Yes, it is true, you can’t alter another photographers work, it is breach of copyright. You can ask permission, and if they say yes, then you can. It is the same as buying a painting, then deciding you didn’t like part of it and then changing it or painting over it.
      There is some amazing stuff in that laneway. I couldn’t believe how covered in graffit it was, it was almost organic.
      Thanks Liz, good to hear which ones you liked.

      • Interesting about the copyright stuff. From that starting point then the difficulty with graffiti would be proving who owns the copyright especially as many of the images are an amalgm of different individuals work. You could see the lane as being a constantly evolving art work in its own right and what makes it special is how people adapt each others work to make a whole. You could see the photos as an extension of that whole….or not.

  2. Thought provoking… You touch on a few issues here, and some of them do not have straight forward answers. If I find a piece of graffiti really beautiful, I would try and reproduce it to be as close to the original as possible. The scribbles can only be made into something special by editing or showing it in contrast to something else, etc. I think those ‘artists’ do it more for reaction or out of some kind of rebelliousness anyway, not because they consider themselves to be artists. BUT, one could argue about these points ad infinitum, so, at this point in time, it seems as if anybody can do anything they like!
    Beautiful pictures, I enjoyed this. :)

    • I totally agree with everything you say. It isn’t straight forward and it is something that people are starting to think about. What is art and what isn’t. I think if it is in a public arena, then you probably wouldn’t have any trouble photographing it, it is when it is in private places you might.
      I know that here we have several “graffiti artists” who are gaining in reputation and do some really good stuff. it is becoming a recognised form of art, I would imagine as it becomes more recognised, then this area will become grayer.

  3. Wow… big grey area!!! I do love and enjoy the colours of graffiti!!! Have never thought about it as breaching copyright (although I have never photographed it myself)… But as you say… it is out in the public & ownership would be hard to prove!!! Loved these photos!!! (&your watermark!!!) :) **

    • Thanks for noticing the watermark, I probably need to work on it some more. I wanted it to look like I had actually signed them.
      There is some amazing graffiti out there. People hire graffiti artists these days to do special projects. I think they do it hoping to have good graffiti rather than just the tags. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

    • Thank Bonnie. It is an interesting question, and I agree with you, until someone says we can’t we will continue to do it.
      Thanks for the link, looks like a good site.

  4. vibhuti photography says

    such good stuff to photograph, vibrant, bold, energised, just wonderful, i love it, number 5’s composition has to be my best ;-)

    • It is really good, you can make the tagging and other things come out so well. Really pushing it. It was good fun, and I might try again another time. You should try it as well. I thought I was being a bit different with that image, good to see that someone else liked it. Thanks

  5. Tricia's Journals says

    What about photographers who photograph nature, buildings, people, and sell their images as prints? Same thing, I think it’s public domain, and available to make an income from, right? But once we do create the image, then our own work is copyrighted.

    But let’s say you painted a mural on a building and another photographer took pictures and published them… I think it’s the same as if they took pics of the building and published those. Their work is copyrighted, but not the public display of art.

    I like this post Leanne, great photos of amazing art.

    • Thanks Tricia, I thought this post would get people talking, it is an interesting topic. would be great to have it come up in a tutorial or somewhere like that. It is the whole public space thing, I suppose. What constitutes art and what doesn’t. I think we will begin to see a lot of this in the future.

  6. This whole thing about art and photography is a fuzzy area with me. As a collagist I am keenly aware that the images I use come from somewhere and I have to be careful that I don’t steal the idea behind the image, that I am reshaping that image into something new. But this is so subjective.

  7. The question of responsibility and ownership is a tricky one… as photographers, we are always using something existing to create our art – the photo is not the same thing as the original, regardless of how ‘true’ we may be in the way we take the image. Thanks for sharing these great photos of the city lanes- they change so quickly I think it’s fair to capture the graffiti while it lasts. I especially like your use of the mirror to capture one wall in the background and the rest of the lane in the reflection.

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