“Photoshop is the best darkroom in the world, but I’m careful not to abuse the possibilities of Photoshop. I try to maintain the integrity of the negative. Otherwise, it’s a slippery slope to fabrication.” – Nick Brandt
When is photography…not?
Friends, I have an internal struggle. I should warn you ahead of time that there are no answers at the end of this blog post – no treatise, no definite stand. I wanted to find out your thoughts on it in order to help sort out mine. Cheap online therapy, I suppose!
The basic question: When is photography no longer photography, but some other kind of art?
I grew up in the film era. Film was photography. There were no such things as personal computers, the Internet or Photoshop. Photographers were masters of their craft – they understood films, lighting, flash ratios, and nailing the exposure every time because their livelihood depended on it. So that was my frame of reference and I admired their skill. Taking that knowledge and turning it into art made household names out of Ansel Adams and the like.
Then came the digital revolution. All of a sudden you didn’t have to be as precise in your exposure, you could “fix it in post”. Cameras became computers with lenses attached, and if you weren’t able to get the photos you wanted, you upgraded to the latest version of that photocomputer, which inevitably did a better job.
Low light no longer became an obstacle. No agonizing over the film choice when to adjust the colors all it took was the movement of a few sliders. They had enough megapixels so you could crop severely and still have a presentable photograph.
To me though, those made sense. I could equate them to their film equivalent. Dodging and burning in the darkroom was similar to dodging and burning in Photoshop, saturation was like film choice, etc.
Then came things like HDR, Content Aware Fill in CS5 and programs that did more than anything film could ever do (well, easily anyway). That’s when I started to have this debate in my head.
Was this still photography? Was it still art?
I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the latter is definitely true. It’s most certainly art. The question is where does photography end and graphic artistry begin?
When you can add or remove skies, people, distracting objects, pretty much anything in a photo, change literally anything – is the initial capture then just like an artist’s canvas? A place to start? I remember that Photoshop started out as a program for graphic artists with minimal support for photographers.
I also remember the debate that the magazine Popular Photography had when the digital revolution started – they agonized over the same thing and eventually settled on changing their name to Popular Photography and Imaging (as if it was something separate from photography, but similar).
As I said, there are no clear answers. And with the rapidly approaching 3D revolution, things will change dramatically yet again.
Both are art, but are they both photography? Let me know your thoughts.
I’m excited to share that three of my photos got selected for a show at the Lightbox Photographic Gallery in Oregon! More than 350 photos from around the country were submitted. I submitted 4 and had 3 selected! Now to get them printed and shipped. The show will run June 12th – July 7th.