Using photos for reference and sheer copying are two different things. Especially if an artist copies photos someone else has taken. Not only it's pointless, but also wrong ethically. IMHO.
yes but youre missing an important point. you only look at the image as in its composition and whats in it. this is your sole base of valuing someones work obviously. imho if an artist is able to copy something 1:1 his art is the craft itself. like his art is forever linked to the original creator of the composition ( and some decide to not give credit at all and some just flat out steal and pretend they do it by hand ). to some - it is some kind of the ultimate skill to achieve.
you can also debate if you can claim copyright for a photo in general. since with photos one happy accident will almost finish the whole piece with one push on a button. and this is also true but then a good photograph would argue about how much is involved to get good equipment to location x. how to tell people where you want them to be etc. then i would ask if there is a special technique involved on how to push the button concluding in how it is not and what not
wikipedia quote about art :
Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. In their most general form these activities include the production of works of art, the criticism of art, the study of the history of art, and the aesthetic dissemination of art.
also i would go a step further into the opposite direction saying the artist who is able to reproduce a photo with a pencil should get much more credit than the photograph him/herself in most of the cases. like with everything there is exceptions but after all - if that isnt art photographic works aint either. like a picture of the eiffel tower. alot of people are selling their pictures of it. did they build it ? no. do they credit the creators? no. did they arrange the scenery? no. so what gives? the pushed a button and nurish off of something famous and no one minds.
i do see where you are coming from since imaginative and hyper-realism requires a much bigger thinking process ( and understanding o/c ) and if people knew more about the dedication required to get past school doodeling level i believe hyper realism wouldnt have the hype it has gotten recently maybe. no one knows. and itll stay that way. 4ever ^^