To What Purpose? Photography as Art and Document

  • Jan 21, 2012 – Apr 8, 2012
  • Gallery 6
elin o'Hara slavick, "Terry Le Blanc and Sherry Puckett, Servers, The
Iberian Restaurant, New Iberia, Louisiana (from the Workers Dreaming
series)", 1999, c-print photograph, 27 1/2 x 26 3/4 in. Museum purchase
with funds from the Joseph R. Morton Acquisition Endowment, 2006.

Did you know?

Early in the 19th century the power of photographs as records was proven when Carleton E. Watkins and William H. Jackson’s images of the Yellowstone and Yosemite landscape persuaded the U.S. Congress to set those territories aside as national parks.


The recognition of photography as an art form has been among the medium's dominant philosophical debates ever since its inception, due in part to its mechanical and chemical nature. Photographs considered documentary have further caused many to question the purpose and artistic merit of such efforts: are documentary photographs art forms or simply straight-forward recordings of the subjects at hand?  

While photographs have served as records since the early 19th century—oftentimes to inform the public of crucial issues as a way to promote social change—the perceived distinctions between fine art and documentary images became murky in the later half of the 20th century. Illustrating varying agendas, the photographs in this exhibition draw our interest and capture our attention in ways that differ greatly from other art forms.  

The exhibition is organized by Elaine D. Gustafson, Curator of Collections.


Related programs:

Art for Lunch • Wed Feb 8 @ 12pm

Art for Lunch • Wed Mar 21 @ 12pm


We have six galleries located on the first and second levels of the museum, view our gallery map.