We are looking for a good photographer. We need to take a picture and it should be good. Our wedding picture should be fairy-tale good; our yearbook picture should be most-popular-in-class good; our passport picture should be this-country-is-proud-of-you good.  We want the picture to be gorgeous and somehow recognizable. We want to show it to our children 10 years from now and say “that’s how I looked. See what you did to me?”

Our picture should be flawless. We want plastic surgery, acne treatment, hair restoration and weight loss program – all for the price of a retouched photo. And yet we want to recognize ourselves.

If a picture turns out bad, we always blame the photographer. What did this jerk do to me? How could he turn me into this ugly creature? I just wanted a fun photo with that circus monkey. Even the monkey came out better than me. And why is the monkey wearing my shirt?

Photographer should know how to enhance the beauty. And how to make the reality look more realistic. Anyone can push the camera button, even that circus monkey, but a photographer can manipulate the picture. That’s what they do since the invention of photography.

- The iconic portrait of Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln’s head and the Southern politician John Calhoun’s body.

- The picture of General Ulysses S. Grant on the horse in front of his troops at City Point, Virginia, is a three-photo medley.  The head is Grant’s. The horse and body belong to Major General Alexander McCook. And the background is of Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher’s Hill, VA.

-  Joseph Stalin routinely air-brushed his enemies out of photographs. As routinely as he physically removed them from the big picture.

- In order to create a more heroic portrait of himself, Benito Mussolini had the horse handler removed from the original photograph. You can do it, IL Duce!

- German leader Willy Brandt meets with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The two smoke and drink, and it is reported that the atmosphere is cordial and that they are drunk. The German press publishes a photograph that shows the beer bottles on the table. The Soviet press, however, removes the bottles from the original photograph. Russian leaders don’t drink. Yeah right.

- The original copy of the Beatles Abbey Road album cover shows Paul McCartney holding a cigarette. United States poster companies airbrushed this image to remove the cigarette. That was an easy way to make McCartney quit smoking.

- A 1979 Oprah Winfrey’s picture on the cover of TV Guide was created by splicing the head of Winfrey onto the body of actress Ann-Margret. The composite was created without permission of Winfrey or Ann-Margret, and was detected by Ann-Margret’s fashion designer, who recognized the dress.

- A 2002 Redbook cover of Julia Roberts carries a composite of Roberts’ head taken at the 2002 People’s Choice award, and her body taken at the Notting Hill movie premiere several years earlier. At least both parts were Julia’s.

- An image of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “How the Right Went Wrong”. The image was doctored to include a tear on Reagan’s face. That’s what they call “conceptual covers.”

That is the art of photography. Is it actually art? This discussion is running forever. Is photography art? Or craft? Or science? Or operating light machinery? Is a picture produced by chemicals rather than human sensibility?

Painting is art – that’s for sure. An intuitive artistic expression of an artist's inner self. What about photography? How the photographer’s inner self can be expressed by the outside light entering the camera and producing a still moment of life? Is it his intuition that predicted that perfect moment, or is it a lucky shot?

A circus monkey can accidentally take a great picture. And a five-year-old can draw a perfect black square. The monkey will not make a good photographer, and the five-year-old should not proclaim his drawing a piece of art. Not anymore, since Malevich already did. He called his black square “the supremacy of pure feeling.” The square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling. That was his artistic vision. You may have the same exact feelings about the black square, but it’s too late. The patent is already claimed and the painting is considered one of the greatest art pieces of the last century. By the way, the square is much more famous than the Malevich’ black circle, that is much harder to draw.

So what is real visual art and how does photography measure up?

Photography is blamed to be too technical. Especially today with all these auto-focusing, auto-metering, easy-to-use cameras with reflective sensors. And also Photoshop, computer graphics, advanced printers and digital effects. At the same time the art of painting incorporates technical advances like Alla prima, alligatoring and craquelure (whatever it means). And can we imagine contemporary music without microphones, amplifiers, electronic instruments, mixers, recorders, reverb machines, etc.?

So what is art? Is it in the eye of the consumer? When a picture makes us feel good, should we care if it is the artist’s creativity or a great technique?

When we are looking for a good photographer, we want to create a memory. Maybe not everything that’s ugly will come out beautiful.  Maybe we will not even recognize ourselves. But we’ll remember the day the picture was taken, and that ridiculous tie, and that photographer who promised to be good. We’ll remember that one still moment of constantly moving time. And this is art.