Blurring the lines between art and commerce

You hear and read a lot about how the lines between the worlds of art photography and commercial photography are continually being blurred. In most ways that is good.  I recently lived through a particularly interesting experience that shows just how much these once distinctive realms are blurring.

First, if you go to: you will see a magazine’s website. If you look further, the link is to an article on call center workers in India.

Since 1996, I have enjoyed doing number of assignments for that magazine, Saudi Aramco World. The magazine’s mission according to its website is: … “to increase cross-cultural understanding and broaden knowledge of the cultures, history and geography of the Arab and Muslim worlds and their connections with the West.” That is an important mission, especially these days. Another recent piece I did for them is found at:

In December of 2007 I photographed in the Indian call centers for the magazine.  The editor had me do that work, envisioning my documentary photographs presented along with more artistic work on the call center workers by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. See her web site here: My work is the more documentary portrayal of the call center business while Annu’s work is a more personal and subjective expression of the experience of the call center workers, which she empathizes with as an immigrant herself.

I tell my students often that there are a dozen (or more) different ways to tell the same story, photographically.  No single one is “better” than the other, but each leaves the viewer with a different experience of the subject and of the author’s interpretation of that subject.

The very astute picture editor at the magazine, Dick Doughty, built on that idea. He had me, a documentary/commercial photographer explore the same subject that a more personally interpretive/fine-art photographer, my wife, had also explored in her previous work. Together, both of our work tells a story that really is more than the sum of its parts. In this case, the blurring between the two realms, art and commerce, gave the viewers of the photographs a more complete experience and two different perspectives. If you ask me that is definitely a plus.

One response to “Blurring the lines between art and commerce”

  1. That’s interesting. I often think of art as the creator putting a bit of themselves into the subject and the documentary, though it too may have a perspective, is created to be more objective. Reading this will make me think more about what the photographer intends for me to grasp from the photo, as well as the impression that just comes to me when I look at it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.