Back to Film with the Nikon F3

V and A Museum Knight's TombIt’s been a while…

Before I went back to film with a Nikon F3 in 2016,  my previous film camera was a Canon IXUS, 20 years ago.  This was a point and shoot compact which took APS film, a short lived film format from the nineties. My photos from that time date from before I actively studied photography and the shots aren’t the best.  My APS films were developed on standard machines, not the specialist ones they had been designed for, which further compromised the results.  This then, is the real start of the story of my film photography journey.

A Fortunate Find

Whilst staying with friends in Stockholm in 2016, I came across an Aladdin’s cave of a camera shop, which had a number of film cameras for sale, including Kodak Instamatics, Rolleiflex TLRs and Nikon SLRs, including several F3 models, some fitted with external motor drives.

The Nikon F3 model I picked out showed signs of wear and had a hole in the bottom of the body (which I later discovered was due to a missing motor drive coupling cover) but I was quite taken with it and bought it on impulse.

An Early Model

This was my first Nikon film SLR. A bit of research revealed that the F3, the successor to the legendary F and F2, was the last of the manual-focus, pro 35mm SLR cameras. It was introduced in 1980 and stayed in production until 2001, despite being superseded by the autofocus  F4 in 1988.

That’s a long run – especially as according to the MIR site, work on the F3 started back in 1974, barely three years after the debut of the Nikon F2!  The formal design process started in 1977 and a prototype was ready by late 1978, which is when NASA came knocking for an automatic exposure control camera for the Space Shuttle.

A check on the serial number showed my F3 was an early model from 1981, not the more common HP (High Eyepoint) variant introduced in 1982. The HP model is identical to its predecessor except for the finder (DE-3), which allowed those wearing glasses a better view of the entire frame. This became standard on the F3, which became known as the F3HP.

Finder Tradeofs

I don’t wear glasses when shooting, preferring to use a diopter, and in this case that’s an advantage, as the trade off the HP model makes to make the whole viewfinder visible from slightly further back is fractionally lower magnification (0.75X compared to 0.8X). The F3 is also slightly lighter than the HP variant as the finder HP finder weighs a little more, though the HP finder has slightly improved rubber sealing. Unless you wear glasses, there isn’t much in it.

Five Finders

The F3 has five finders (all interchangeable) to choose from: eye-level (DE-2), eye-level HP (DE-3) waist-level (DW-3), sport (DA-2), and high-magnification (DW-4). The F3 also offered a right-angle viewing attachment (DR-3) and an Eyepiece Magnifier (DG-2). I’ve stuck with the DE-2 my F3 came with.

F3 Exotics

Beyond models based on finder variants there are several more exotic models of the F3. The best known, and probably the most desirable, is the F3/T titanium model, which is a similar in weight to the regular F3 but will no doubt take knocks even better.

There was also a ruggedised F3P Press/Professional model, the F3 AF autofocus model and the weighty F3H F3 High Speed, a motorised speed demon that could shoot at 13 frames per second.

The autofocus Nikon F3 AF, which became available in 1983 with 2 autofocus lenses, was Nikon’s first entry in the world of AF technology. The Nikon F-501 arrived in1986, and the Nikon F4 in 1988. 

The F3 Electronics Controversy

Unlike its predecessors, which had always been entirely mechanical, the F3 uses an electronically controlled shutter which requires batteries.  Electronic shutters and dependence on battery power for anything more than a light meter was initially resisted amongst Nikon professional shooters. Their initial response was to remain loyal to their fully mechanical F2s and eschew the F3.

This controversy apparently continued for years and may still continue. As one blogger wryly commented as recently as 2019: “I mean, what could possibly go wrong in attempting a dispassionate, objective analysis of two excellent SLRs made by Nikon? Oh…right…we are dealing with two groups of people: 1) those that believe that the SLR reached perfection in 1971 and everything since is an abomination against the laws of nature, aka “Knights of the Order of F2″ (referred to henceforth as KOTOOF2), and 2) everyone else.”

The fears of Nikon pros at launch turned out to be unfounded as the F3 was demonstrated itself to be just as bulletproof as as the F and F2. Nikon was committed to increasing reliability – as an example the F3’s shutter was designed to last an incredible 150K actuations, increased from 100K for the F and F2. However, to give photographers more confidence in the new technology Nikon built in a backup mechanical shutter into the F3 that operates at 1/60 sec.

In practice, the F3’s batteries last a very long time (compared to my Leica M6 TTL for example) and the tiny LR44s are easy to carry as spares. I also have an F2 with a Photomic head, and it is excellent, but my F3 gets used more.

The F3’s Horizontal Shutter

There was one other issue that had he Pros using other Nikon cameras, at least for some shoots, was the slow flash sync speed. The F3 has a horizontal travel shutter which, given the 3:2 aspect ratio of film, takes longer to operate than a vertical travel shutter. The 1/80 second maximum sync speed was the same as that of the F2, but well below the semi pro models (FA, FM2, FE2) with vertical travel shutters, which offered 1/250 second. The F3 was the last of the Nikon Pro cameras with a horizontal shutter – the F4’s went the other way.

Longevity versus Mechanical Cameras

Over time electronic components can be the Achilles heel of older film cameras and initially I thought the Nikon F3’s LCD which displays the shutter speed might be a weak spot. The display in the viewfinder, the Aperture Direct Readout (ADR), is just a display window so is not subject to deterioration, but LCDs don’t always age well. They can become harder to read over time and eventually stop working entirely. Nikon predicted they would only last about seven years or so with pro usage! 35 years after leaving the factory my well used F3’s LCD is holding up perfectly well. The F3’s manual controls also mean that the camera can still be used without the LCD display, although not with automation.

The last point to consider in the electronic vs mechanical Nikon stakes are that electronic shutters usually maintain their accuracy over time better than mechanical shutters.

F3 Surprises

One surprise to me about the F3 was that it was styled by an Italian design legend: Giorgetto Giugiaro, the man who styled the Ferrari 250 GT Bertone, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Bertone, and much else. 

Another surprise was that there were Space Shuttle versions of the F3. These had large magazine backs of different capacities and various other modifications for use in space. It wasn’t the first Nikon in space however, as modified Fs were used aboard Apollo 15 and Skylab.

Upgrades and Repairs

Before I could shoot with my new purchase I needed to get it serviced and replace the missing motor drive coupling cover.  Reading a little more, I learned that my camera was fitted with an unusual focusing screen, a plain matte screen which lacked the usual split image rangefinder spot.

The F3 is highly modular. It’s 5 interchangeable viewfinders could be paired with 15 interchangeable focusing screens. These vary from the standard central split-image microprism rangefinder screen to those for very specific use cases such as close ups, astro and architectural photography.

Mine was fitted with a Type D, which is used for close ups and with long lenses.  I called Greys of Westminster and ordered the more usual Type K type rangefinder screen, a new coupling cover and a -2 diopter.

It’s easy enough to remove the F3’s finder to change the screen. Sliding the grooved buttons on each side of the finder back towards the eye piece releases the front of the finder which can then be lifted out and removed.

All that remained was to take the body into my local camera shop, imagex, who sent it away for a much needed service, at a very reasonable cost of £69.

Adjusting to the F3

It wasn’t difficult to get used to the controls of the F3.  They are simple and the dials on the top plate of were familiar looking, as I was shooting with the  retro styled digital Nikon Df at the time, and the F3 only offers aperture-priority automation and manual operation.

I did fire the shutter accidently with the backup mechanical release lever (‘what does this lever do? doh!’) to the right of the lens beneath the ‘exposure memory lock’ button (AE-L on modern cameras).

The only adjustment I thought I might need to make was to get used to the heavily centre-weighted metering system, apparently a request from Nikon Pros looking for greater precision.  Metering is TTL and reads the light over the whole focusing screen, but nearly all (80%) of metering sensitivity is set to the central 12mm, whilst the rest of the screen gets the remaining 20%.  The F4 flipped to 60/40, though it’s not clear why. In practice the heavy centre weighting hasn’t presented a problem, even when I forgot about it, but that maybe because I shoot with very forgiving black and white negative film.

The F3 was the first in the F series to put the meter in the camera body. Previous models, which had the meter in the prism, featured 60/40 centre-weighted metering. This is also the case with the last of Nikon’s film cameras, the rather wonderful FM3A.

One little control that isn’t at all obvious is the Multiple Exposure Lever on the far right of the top plate. This enables you re-cock the shutter without advancing the film.

The Wind On Wind Up

Something I came across though reading, rather than a problem I encountered, is that the F3 metering and shutter operates differently during wind on. By design, the F3 fires the wind on frames of the film at 1/80th second using the mechanical backup shutter. I have read that this is to speed up loading a film in low light or if the lens cap is on. I’ve also seen this attributed to preventing needless long exposures in A mode. Some photographers have experienced this beyond frame 1, perhaps as the result or a mis-indexed starting point or mechanical slippage of some kind. This feature has caused me no problems, but has been the source of some aggravation in the forums.

The Nikon F3 in Use

Once the camera was back I bought some Ilford HP5 400 film and headed for the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I shot some of the statues in various galleries, whilst I also visited the excellent Paul Strand photographic exhibition.  Initially I kept looking at the back of the camera to see what I had shot, only to be greeted by cardboard film type insert on the camera back.   My first keeper is shown above – I really liked the grain and the tone of film and I was hooked.

From the Nikon F3 onwards…and backwards

Since I bought the F3 I have acquired several other Nikon film cameras – most notably the mighty F6 and the hybrid mechanical/electronic marvel that is the FM3A, both of which you can read about in detail on this site from the preceding links.

I’ve also gone back to the start of the F series with a late F from 1970 and an F2 from 1975, both of which are excellent cameras. I particularly like the way you can see rangefinder DNA in the F’s baseplate, which evolved from the Nikon SP rangefinder. The prototype for the F was built on an SP model, adding the distinctive mirror box and pentaprism of the SLR, and a new lens mount, the F mount. The letter F comes from re-F-lex.

F3 Film Nikon
A scene from the Faroe Islands, shot with the Nikon F3

Though some of my photographer friends love the later Nikon F4 and F5, I have never taken to either of them – preferring either the earlier F, F2 or F3 manual focus cameras or the final F6 pro model. 

I’ve taken the Nikon F3 with me when I’ve travelled, including some fairly harsh environments like the Faroe Islands, and it performed very well. I thought about taking my FM2n on that trip, as it is lighter, but the more rugged F3 inspired more confidence.

The Go Anywhere F3

The Nikon F3 remains one of favourite manual Nikon film cameras. Unlike other more expensive classics, such as Leica M6 or Nikon FM3A, which most photographers (including me) fret about in use, my F3 presents no worries at all. It is extremely rugged, affordable to service (or replace), and easy to use.

I bought it slightly beaten up and it’s so tough I am comfortable taking it anywhere. I have 50mm and 28mm (Voigtländer) pancake lenses to keep the form factor to a minimum – the F3 and both pancake lenses easily fit into a small camera bag. It is versatile: the shutter is fast (up to 1/2000 second), and though I haven’t needed them to date, there is a PC connection (but no hotshoe) for flash, and it will take a standard cable release. It takes great pictures. What more could you ask for?

When Photos Looked Like Paintings – Pictorialism

What is Pictorialism?
Waterloo Place by Leonard Misonne (1899)

There is something magical to me about  pictorialist photography, particularly urban pictorialism, as shown here in Leonard Misonne’s accomplished example from 1899.  In addition to having the skill to take photographs with the cumbersome and slow equipment of the time, the pictorialist’s vision was realised through a complex end-to-end process that required yet more skill and talent. They had to be skilled in dark room manipulation, often made their own emulsions and embraced alternative printing methods.  Some even made their own paper.  So, there is much to admire about these photographers, but what exactly is pictorialism?

But is it Art?

To explore the much asked question ‘what is pictorialism?’  we need to ask a more fundamental question that is central to the movement and its development.  That is, ‘is photography art’?

From its inception, when it took a mastery of optics, chemistry, and an arcane workflow to take and process a photograph there had been a debate about the nature of photography.   Was this new invention only capable of reproduction or could it transcend its machine origins and produce art?   In the early years of its development, photography was sometimes looked down upon as purely mechanical, but as early as 1853 the English miniaturist Sir William John Newton was championing the cause of photography as art.  Newton also suggested that photographers could make their pictures more like works of art by throwing the subject slightly out of focus and using retouching techniques.

Influences – Hill and Adamson

Photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson had a strong influence on the development of Pictorialism. The partnership was formed in Edinburgh in July 1843, just four years after the invention of photography was announced. In the four years that followed they produced an extraordinary body of work that included portraits, landscapes and social documentary using the Calotype process. The strong sunlight needed to produce a successful calotype meant that Hill & Adamson were required to work outdoors and one of their most important achievements was the portrayal of The Fishermen and Women of the Firth of Forth, shot at Newhaven, a  small fishing village on the outskirts of Edinburgh.  The portraits are considered to be the first social documentary photographs and were compared by some critics of the time to those of Rembrandt.  Alfred Stieglitz would later describe Hill as “the father of pictorial photography” and would featured the duo’s photographs in his publications  and the galleries of the Photo-Secession.

Influences – Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron was also an important pictorialist influence whose pictures would be championed by Stieglitz in CameraWork (volume 41, 1913). Cameron’s photographs had a romantic and expressionist style and often used slightly blurred focus.  She considered her pictures art well before the pictorialist movement got underway and took inspiration from artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo.

When Cameron received the gift of a camera in December 1863 her husband was in Ceylon attending to the family’s coffee plantations, and her children were no longer at home. Photography became her focus and a link to the writers, artists, and scientists of her well-connected circle. Although she took up photography as an amateur with no knowledge and she worked at it with great energy and once she had developed her technique started to vigorously copyright, exhibit, publish, and market her work.  She developed close links to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).  IT was home to her first  exhibition in 1865 and home to her portrait studio in 1868.

Cameron was an outstanding portraitist, producing brooding head and shoulders shots of the famous men of her acquaintance including English poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson and mathematician, scientist and photography pioneer Sir John Herschel.  Her work also consisted of theatrical tableaux from myth, the Bible, Shakespeare, and  the works of Coleridge and Tennyson.  Today, she is considered one of the most important and innovative photographers of the 19th century.

Influences – Oscar Gustav Rejlander

Oscar Gustav Rejlander was one of the fathers of art photography, and a pioneer of photomontage.  Originally a painter, he rejected the contemporary view of photography as a scientific or technical medium and made photographs that imitated painting, inspired by the Old Masters.

It was a visit to Rome in 1852 that was the catalyst for his interest in photography. Shortly after his return, Rejlander took photography lessons with Nicolaas Henneman, previously an assistant of William Henry Fox Talbot, after which he adapted his artist’s studio in Wolverhampton for photography.  In 1857 Rejlander produced his masterpiece, a 31-by-16-inch image, by joining 30 negatives together. The Two Ways of Life was both technically ambitious and controversial, depicting an elaborate and moralising allegory of the choice between vice and virtue.  Rejlander photographed each model and background section separately, using more than thirty negatives.  These were then combined into a single large print which demonstrated the aesthetic possibilities of photography.

The picture caused a sensation initially but became the lead example in a polarised public debate on art, photography and whether combining images was acceptable.

Influences – Lady Clementia Hawarden

Rejlander admired the work of another photographic pioneer, Lady Clementina Hawarden, whose work is sometimes compared to Julia Margaret Cameron’s, though to my mind it is very different.  Rejlander observed that ‘she aimed at elegant and if possible, idealised truth’.

As a Victorian woman, coming to photography in the late 1850s, Hawarden’s work was confined to her first-floor studio in her elegant Kensington home.  Her images pushed the boundaries of art and photography using a careful selection of props, clothing, and model poses using her daughters as her subjects were her daughters.  Their likenesses in her work were often reminiscent of the pre-Raphaelite artists.

Hawarden’s photographs demonstrated technical excellence as well as innovation and she became an expert in indoor photography.  This expertise was recognised by two silver medals the Photographic Society of London.

Peach Robertson’s Pictorial Effect

Rejlander’s work also inspired Henry Peach Robinson, a British photographer who, like Rejlander, had previously trained as an artist.  He achieved fame with his five-negative print of 1859, Fading Away, depicting a young consumptive dying in her bed surrounded by her family.  Like Rejlander’s work, the tableau caused controversy due to the photograph’s artificial technique and morbid subject matter, with critics questioning whether a single picture from multiple negatives made photography untruthful.

Robinson, a member of the Photographic Society, published his manifesto Pictorial Effect in Photography in 1869.  The work, which gave the movement its name, included compositional formulas taken from a handbook on painting and made the case that rules created for one art form could apply to another.

Emerson and Naturalistic Photography

In the 1880s the British photographer Peter Henry Emerson proposed an alternative artistic vision for photography. He was a dedicated student of the arts, influenced and inspired by the naturalist school of painters, which included Jean-François Millet.  Millet’s rendered his landscapes and peasant scenes in low tones and with a softened atmosphere, but they were realistic enough for him to periodically face the charge of being a socialist.

Emerson’s vision was that photographs should reflect nature and be produced without artificial means. He believed that the tone, texture, and light of the scene were enough to make photography an art form.  This point of view became known as naturalistic photography after the publication of his treatise Naturalistic Photography in 1889, in which he outlined a system of aesthetics.  This treatise insisted that photography should show real people in their own environment, and avoid costumes, posed models  or backdrops.

Emerson embraced the photogravure process which was refined by Karl Klíc, a painter living in Vienna, who patented an improvement on William Henry Fox Talbot’s earlier process .  The Talbot-Klíc process allowed for deeper etched shadows and the transfer of the negative image to a copper plate using gelatin-coated carbon paper.  It was published in 1886.

Pictorialist Steichen
Wind, Fire, Therese Duncan on the Acropolis, Athens by Edward Steichen (1921)

In 1888, the introduction of the point-and-shoot Kodak camera, together with printing as a service, greatly accelerated the popularisation of photography.  This only intensified the public debate about the role of the medium, which reached its peak by the end of the century.

As photography became popular serious amateurs, many inspired by Emerson’s ideas and images, began to explore the medium’s expressive potential.  This resulted in the first truly international photographic movement – The Pictorialism Movement.  The movement represented a shift of focus from Emerson’s Naturalism to the broader expression of photographers as artists.

What is Pictorialism?

The pictorialist photographers produced pictures that were the polar opposite of the output of point-and shoot.  They used soft focus techniques, a  range of darkroom techniques and alternative printing processes to produce beautifully rendered, skilfully composed, highly picturesque, atmospheric and often otherworldly images.  These were hand printed (usually on hand-coated artist papers) using artisan emulsions and pigments, making the production of an image much closer to the creation of a painting.

The movement sometimes goes under other names including “art photography”, “Impressionist photography”, “new vision, and “subjective photography.

Pictorialism was closely linked to influential artistic movements such as Tonalism and Impressionism, and the Pictorialists took inspiration from popular art, adopting its styles and ideas to demonstrate that photography was an artistic process.

The emergence of Pictorialism was also the product of the meeting of photography and art in practical terms.  Artists started to use photographs to capture images that would be rendered as paintings later, whilst some Pictorialists had been trained as painters.

There is no accepted definition of Pictorialism.  The Britannica definition is “an approach to photography that emphasizes beauty of subject matter, tonality, and composition rather than the documentation of reality.”  This is helpful, though in addition to an approach it is also variously defined as a style, particularly of fine art photography, and as an aesthetic or international movement, including an art movement.   The Alfred Stieglitz Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago captures much of this in this description:

“The international movement known as Pictorialism represented both a photographic aesthetic and a set of principles about photography’s role as art. Pictorialists believed that photography should be understood as a vehicle for personal expression on par with the other fine arts. Responding to both the new Kodak camera “snapshooters” and formulaic commercial photographers, the Pictorialists proudly defined themselves as true amateurs—those who pursued photography out of a love for the art.”

To understand Pictorialism it’s worth reviewing what Pictorialist pictures have in common.  Landscape photographer Sandy King (who still works with 19th century hand made photographic processes) offers an excellent description of its characteristics:

  • Only images which show the personality of the maker, generally through hand manipulation, can be considered works of art
  • An interest in the effect and patterns of natural lighting in the outdoor landscape
  • An impressionistic rendering of the scene, in which overall effect is more important than detail
  • The use of symbolism or allegory to reveal a message
  • The use of alternative printing processes: carbon and carbro, gum bichromate, oil and bromoil, direct carbon, and platinum.

A review of the techniques Pictorialists used to convert the camera into something closer to a paint brush is also enlightening.  These included dark room manipulation; the combining of multiple negatives; the use of artisan emulsions; alternative printing methods using gum bichromate and gum bromoil; the use of paint brushes and hand made paper.  In addition to giving the pictures their unique look, these techniques also ensured that no two prints looked identical, even if they came from the same negative.

Who were the Pictorialists?

Some of the most notable Pictorialists are Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946); Edward Steichen (1879-1973); Edward Weston (1886-1958); Paul Strand (1890-1976);  Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79); Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901); Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936); Robert Demachy. (1859-1936);  Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943); Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934) and Leonard Misonne (1870-1943).  It was Leonard Misonne who produced  the image which inspired me to write this post, Waterloo Place (1899).

Pictorialist Clubs and Organisations

These photographers, who considered themselves artists, formed clubs and salons such as The Linked Ring, The Royal Photographic Society, The Photo-Club of Paris and The Trifolium of Austria all of which promoted photography as fine art.  As part of the advocacy for the expressive power of the photograph these clubs and organizations produced lavish journals and exhibition catalogues featuring beautiful hand-made photogravures.

The Photo Secession

In 1902 Alfred Stieglitz formed the Photo-Secession, a society with the stated aim of seceding from the accepted idea of what constitutes a photograph.  It was inspired by art movements in Europe, such as the Linked Ring.  Stieglitz described the aim of Photo-Secession as “to hold together those Americans devoted to pictorial photography in their endeavor to compel its recognition, not as the handmaiden of art, but as a distinctive medium of individual expression.”  He described its attitude as “one of rebellion against the insincere attitude of the unbeliever, of the Philistine, and largely of exhibition authorities”.   The “membership” of the Photo-Secession was largely set by Stieglitz’s predilections.  The core members were Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, Gertrude Käsebier, Frank Eugene, F. Holland Day, and later Alvin Langdon Coburn.

The Photo-Secession actively promoted its pictorialist ideas through the influential quarterly Camera Work and the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (also known as the 291) which provided a place for the members to exhibit their work. Painter and photographer Edward Steichen and other notable artists were instrumental in developing the program of exhibitions at the gallery, which featured exhibitions by important European artists such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, and the Cubist works of Pablo Picasso that would influence artists across media around the world.

By 1910 Photo-Secession had become divided over the degree of manipulation of negatives and prints that was appropriate and divided.  In 1916 Käsebier, White, Coburn and others formed the Pictorial Photographers of America (PPA) to continue promotion of the pictorialism. A year later Stieglitz formally dissolved the Photo-Secession, although it had not been active for some time.

The Decline of Pictorialism

The heyday of Pictorialism was from the 1880s to 1915.  Unsurprisingly for such a romantic movement it lost momentum after the World War I and was a spent force by the end of World War II.  It was superseded by the sharp focus of Modernism in Europe and the West Coast or Straight photography movement in the USA, the greatest exponents of which were Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

Later Pictorialists and Neo Pictorialism

Pictorialism had all but disappeared by the 1920s, but some photographers persisted with it. Adolf Fassbender, for example, kept making pictorial photographs into the late 1960s.  In the 1990s the label neo pictorialist was applied to some photographers influenced by the original movement.  An article in Vice describes the emergence of neo pictorialism well:

“A century after the fight for legitimacy, photography is now cycling back to its beginnings with a rise in traditional and alternative processes through companies such as the Impossible Project and Lomography seeking to reclaim analog photography and leave behind the freneticism and immediate gratification of a digital photograph—much in the same way that Pictorialists sought to slow down the photography of their time with an eye to the myriad possibilities of the medium.”

Photography as Art

The ideas of Newton, Rejlander, Robinson, and Emerson’s were not the same, but they were all pioneers for photography to be considered a legitimate art form.  This is a question that rarely crops up today, but for those who wish to ponder it I’ll take a proof point from many possible options.  In 2011 a grey image of the Rhine by German artist Andreas Gursky sold for $4.3m (£2.7m) at auction, setting a new record at the time.  The grey and featureless landscape was described by the artist as an allegorical picture about the meaning of life.  That sounds like art to me.

More About Early Photography

If you are interested in the history of photography, you might also might these articles interesting:

Nineteenth Century Camera Timeline

Fox Talbot and Early Photography

Brassaï’s Dark and Beautiful Realm

Alcohol, Ether and Gun Cotton