It seems we are back to the argument/debate/discussion of whether photography is or isn't art. At the slightest suggestion that maybe there is some room for disagreement, the yes-it-is brigade goes into full attack mode with a take-no-prisoners approach. The no-it's-not group generally doesn't offer anything so as not to keep what they see as pointless fulmination continuing till the end of time. And just to confuse matters a bit more this time, it seems the argument now includes the concept of fine art making the two terms synonymous.
As we get into this please bear in mind that no assumption is being made but...
...remember that the association between photography and art is poorly defined and between photography and fine art is even more poorly defined. They (yes, the unnamed and undefined they) often talk about art or fine art photography as "tweaking the viewer's emotions". They talk about "seeing beyond the reality of what is there". But then they talk about the definition of art or fine art being totally in the hands of the artist-photographer. Under this guise, it seems that if the photographer intended the work to be art then it is. If the photographer intended the work to be fine art then it is. Of course, if the photographer intended the work to be a danish macaroon... well you get the idea...
Here we go with the cat... and it does have relevance to photography. In 1935 Erwin Schrodinger wrote:
"One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts."
He wrote this in response to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. That isn't important here (but if you are really curious, start here).
Here we get back to photography...
We put P1 (P1 = the photography process) in a lead box which is sealed. Since we can't see what is in the box we don't know if it is art photography or not-art photography. Once the box is opened we still won't know if P1 is art or not art because photography is a process and, as stated above, if the photographer intended the resultant work to be art then it is. If the photographer intended the work to be not-art then it is. That is... photography is a process. The question of art or not-art only comes into play when the photographer assigns the intended state to the outcome of the process- the photograph.
Enter entanglement (this is Einstein's "really spooky stuff") see Wang, et al.
We have an exact replica of P1 in another location. We will call this P2 and note that it is linked to or entangled with P1. We put P2 in a lead box at the same time as P1. This box is also sealed. It is interesting to note that while P1 and P2 are encased in their individual sealed boxes they share identical characteristics and properties. As with P1 we will not know if P2 is art or not-art until the photographer assigns the state to the resultant work. It can be assigned art or not-art independently of P1.
And here is where the physics breaks down - P1 and P2 are processes rather than physical entities (i.e. cats) which are being interpreted independently and thus have no effect on each other. Granted they share identical properties and characteristics when sealed in their respective boxes but once the boxes are opened and states assigned to the resultant work it can be either art or not-art.
But does that assignment of state remain intact over the life of the photograph?
Joe Jones takes a photograph of a given tract of land as a fine art landscape photograph and, obviously assigns to the art state. He sells a large print of the photograph to Sammy Smith as a fine art print and Smith displays it on a wall of his home as art. The art state assignment remains. But at some point in the future Jones sells an identical print of the tract to AAA Enterprises for use in their campaign to develop the tract for luxury housing estates. Does the art state assignment hold or is it now not-art commercial? And even later he sells an identical but smaller print to the local newspaper for coverage of the protests over the development. Is the assignment now not-art journalism? Does it matter?
It would certainly seem that if the photographer wants to assign the art state or the not-art to a photograph that is his or her prerogative but holding it out as such becomes irrelevant as the use is able to assign their own state. Moreover it certainly appears the argument/debate/discussion of whether photography is or isn't art and by extension whether it is fine art or not is absolutely reflexive and therefore pointless.
And perhaps more to the point is the experience of one of those who led the photography-as-art charge. In 1902 Alfred Stieglitz and F. Holland Day founded the American Photo-Secession, a group dedicated to promote photography as art. Stieglitz also published Camera Works, a magazine that espoused the photography-as-art gospel.
But just five years later Stieglitz’s view of the medium obviously and visibly changed. In his 1907 photograph The Steerage, which was a straight photograph, he abandoned his previous art approach and began to explore photography as an entity in its own right. This approach followed in all his work from that point. And in 1923, Stieglitz wrote, “My photographs look like photographs and they therefore can’t be considered art.” (Camera Work, A Pictorial Guide, 1978) He never tried to conceal this change in his thinking.
Another consideration here is that we have been arguing this point for more the 100 years. That fact alone probably indicates the problem is not with the answer but with the question.
Some of you may not like this part:
It might just be that the whole modern version of the photography-as-art argument has more to do with the photographers than with the photographs they produce. It is certainly understandable.
In the 1890's a group of professional photographers reacted to the widespread introduction of the hand camera (read: primarily the mass marketed Kodak No. 1) by wrapping themselves in the flag of art and using darkroom techniques well out of the reach of the amateur. Additionally, being in the production of "art" gave a certain stature that photographers had not enjoyed previously.
The photography-as-art movement of today is simply a continuation of what began back then. Much of the discussion in "art" photography has to do with how the photograph was produced, what settings in Photoshop were used, what filters were used, what plugins were used, etc., etc., and not the significance of the image. And as in the past, being involved in "art" allows the photographer to set himself or herself apart from the average camera phone user.