Conceptual Photography

© Richard Long (1967) - A Line Made By Walking

After watching the 3 very interesting videos on What is Conceptual Photography? found at:, I feel more informed to answer the question but my opinion hasn’t changed, rather it has been reinforced.

Conceptual art for me means where the idea behind the art takes precedence over the aesthetics and outward appearance of the art. Conceptual art in my mind is a premeditated act of creating art where the artist is in some way aware of how the art is going to turn out. Conceptual art tends traditionally to have banal or muted aesthetics in the final work, presumably because the idea is deemed more important than how the artwork looks. The aesthetics could also be muted so as not to overly detract from the idea.

© Keith Arnatt (1969) - Self-Burial (Television Interference Project)
Fig. 1 © Keith Arnatt – ‘Self-Burial (Television Interference Project)’ (1969)

It would follow that conceptual photography is a camera-based version of conceptual art. However, since the camera was used to document a lot of conceptual art in the 1960/70s, (for example Keith Arnatt’s Self-Burial (1969) and Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking (1967), I think conceptual photography takes a more complex role within conceptual art. With conceptual art, the art is a kind of performance with the camera becoming the incidental way of recording what went on. I had come across John Hilliard’s work before and I feel he recognised the camera recorded something indexical to its subject and used this within his conceptual photography. With conceptual photography, the idea comes first but is incorporated into what the camera sees so it is often quite illusion based.

© Richard Long (1967) - A Line Made By Walking
Fig. 2 © Richard Long – ‘A Line Made By Walking’ (1967)

My main problem with conceptual photography has been that arguably all photography is conceptual in some way although the degree to which it is conceptual differs. With the typical aesthetic of conceptual art being black and white, I feel like the artist sometimes forgets that the final work is to be looked at rather than the text showing its working beside it. In my opinion conceptual photography should ideally be something about the idea and also something of the execution of the idea. Therefore for me conceptual photography or photography for that matter is most interesting when the concept and the way the concept is executed are both paid attention to.


Fig. 1 Arnatt, K. (1969) Self Burial (Television Interference Project). [Photograph] Retrieved from: (Accessed 11/04/2019).

Fig. 2 Long, R. (1967) A Line Made By Walking. [Photograph] Retrieved from: (Accessed 11/04/2019).

Source. (2012) What is Conceptual Photography?. At: (Accessed 11/04/2019).

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