Finding the “Fine Art” in Photography

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By Katrina Wilson / Photos by Mark Gilvey

Mark Gilvey is a commercial photographer in Woodbridge who uses his photographic talents to help businesses increase their profits. In addition, he is also a fine art photographer, or as he prefers to call himself, “a photographic artist.”

“I think that when someone hears the word ‘artist,’ they associate that more with painting, sculpting or another art form,” Gilvey said. “Architects are artists by all accounts, but do you think of them as artists when you hear the word architect? Do you consider them sculptors? I would. I’ve always felt they should be
called ‘artchitects.’”

Gilvey says being a photographic artist allows him to manipulate how light falls on the subject. He can make the viewer’s eye go where he wants it to during the editing process. He can even bring out aspects that add to the story that he may not have seen during capture without restrictions typically in place in commercial photography.

“I may make it look painted. I may composite other images into one; this is more than just photography,” Gilvey said. “Like painting or sculpting, fine art photography has some very hands-on aspects that help guide or influence the viewer’s impression. Most people have felt that it’s just taking ‘pictures,’ yet when they see a really stunning image, they think it was just shot with a better camera. What they don’t realize is that the moment the shutter clicks, the moment of capture is not even the beginning of the journey.”

According to Gilvey, the process of fine art photography does not begin at the moment of capture. There is planning that occurs first: the plan to be somewhere at a specific time of the year, day and hour; the plan of how a photographer will photograph; the plan of which camera, lens and exposure the photographer uses. It’s all deliberate, calculated and forms “thebrush” the photographer will paint with.

“Next, you plan how to process the image. In this step, you really are a painter, because you have the ability to control so many different aspects of the image. It’s like creating something from nothing. You plan how to present it, where to present it, what it /looks like in that presentation and so on,” Gilvey said.

In regard to his history with photography, Gilvey shared, “I’ve been manipulating and compositing images since before computers. I’ve done it in the darkroom (Jerry Uelsmann’s work was a big influence.) and in-camera using an optical printer since 1986, but I’ve only considered myself a photographic artist for the last 10 years.”

Mark Gilvey, high note 0620

An example of Mark GIlvey’s in the street photography.

He added that the 1971 movie Le Mans got him excited about endurance car racing and photographing it. He purchased his first camera, a Minolta SRT-201, and has not been able to save a dime since. The film Star Wars piqued his interest in optical special effects that sent him into the world of multimedia slide production, where the same processes were used to create onscreen graphics.

While those two movies initially influenced his photographic career, what he has photographed in recent years is a bit different.

“For the past few years, I have been going minimalist and shooting in the street photography genre,” Gilvey said. “What I would like to do is capture more elements I can use for surreal photographs.”

Surrealism in photography is quite similar to surreal painting. He said it is a culmination of assorted elements combined and juxtaposed that form an overall meaning, theme or story. Doing a quick search on Jerry Uelsmann or Dominic Rouse will help you “get the picture.”

“The hard part, before any of that, is figuring out what you want to say and after … figuring out what you said,” Gilvey said.

Mark Gilvey, high note 0620

Surrealism in photography is very similar to painting.

“They’re not always the same. It requires a lot of me time to do surrealism. Street photography is just the opposite; it’s quick to capture and quick to process, but you have to think of it like planting seeds in very infertile soil. Most of them won’t grow into anything.”

Gilvey said that what makes photography a fine art is more than the simple act of taking a photo at the right moment — sometimes, there isn’t a moment. It’s how the photographer interprets that image with the post-work they do on it. You can get everything right in-camera and still miss the target.

Gilvey recognizes when others view fine art photography, they only know how it affects them, how they connect to it or how much they can sell it for in the future. What he gets out of fine art photography is different.

“What I get out of it is satisfaction knowing it had the power to move someone,” Gilvey said. “It’s even better if it moved them enough to want to pay for it. In a click-n-swipe society, I don’t think we spend enough time immersing ourselves into just a single image — this is why art galleries are so important. You can take as much time as you need to fall into the print on the wall.”

He added, “I think fine art is something you need to immerse yourself into to discover all of its intricacies. There might even be elements the artist didn’t intend [for you to notice].”

To experience Gilvey’s fine art photography, visit his website at His painted photography is available for sale at

Katrina Wilson ( calls herself a Carolina girl, because she was born and raised in South Carolina and is still learning Northern Virginia. Writing is her outlet; she has two published books. 


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