What is usually consudered visual "fine art" is art using materials and equipment no longer used for the commercial production of images, i.e., art produced using outdated technology. Etching, aquatint, woodcuts, stone (or recently metal) based lithographs, silk screen...all of these were reproduction methods at one time used commercially for newspapers, books, posters, fabrics. Film based photographs were seldom exhibited as fine art before the advent of highly automated film cameras, and the new technology of digital cameras.
Maybe the older technology is considered an art medium because it requires more physical and mental involvement than newer technology. But then why was it not considered an art medium when it first evolved.? Perhaps the less appealing reason is, that at least in the past, fine artists and fine art collectors were terribly retarded in accepting new methods. Contributed by a trained fine artist
As each step in automation takes us toward higher speeds in generating and reproducing images we lose the human touch. To a society accustomed to etchings and lithographs a photo was cheap and unimpressive. Now that etchings and lithographs are a great rarity and most of the images we encounter are video (on TV) even a well printed photo seems like fine craft. Meanwhile etchings, lithographs, and silk screens continue to appreciate due to their scarceness.
I'm not opposed in principle to new methods. My issue with digital cameras is they are being touted as a total replacement for film by people with a profit to make. So I'm presenting another point of view.
I have some concerns about where digital is leading us, but I don't agree with a lot of your arguments.
If the value of a work of art is determined by how much effort went into it, then perhaps film photographers should go back to smearing emulsions on glass plates instead of buying pre-fabricated film, or ditch their Leicas, Hasselblads, and Nikons and use homemade pinhole cameras exclusively instead. Or better yet, maybe they should stop snapping photos altogether and learn to sketch or paint what they see. After all, there's more thought, skill, and effort involved in a painting than in twisting a few dials on a camera and pressing the shutter release button.
I don't see what difference it makes whether you're pressing the button on a DSLR or a film camera during that "creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture." All that matters is that you're pressing it at the right time. You're not any less of an artist for capturing the image to digital.
I agree that digital cameras have too many bells and whistles, but having auto-this and auto-that and auto-everything is something that started in the film era with SLR and point-and-shoot cameras and is not new or specific to digital.
The overwhelming majority of people who use cameras (including professional photographers) are not artists and are far more interested in convenience, expediency, and cost-effectiveness than anything else.