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Thursday, 09 August 2007


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If photography's dead, by some purist's definition, then what the heck have I been doing buying all these cameras? And where did all these pictures come from?

The "evidence" article is interesting — now those holiday snaps will return an idealized memory of the occasion. A dream. Like how we'd have liked our holiday to have been. If we could have afforded the "room with a view".

The more digital impacts photography, the more it panics some photographers, the more I want to go look at the discussions that took place during the previous revolutions (35mm displacing medium format, Kodak Brownies, wet plate to dry, on and on that has upset the status quo.)

No, it's not the same, but I'd bet on similarities.

What are the credentials of the person that wrote the original opinion?
The whole thing is based on an utterly false statement:
"Everybody can create technologically perfect images at this moment: the powerful post processing software will take care of all technical hurdles that the film-based photograph had to master."
Is there anything more fundamentally false about good photography than the statement above? Good exposures do not make good photographs, but basically that is what he is saying. Moment, composition, lighting control... never mind... it's exposure that counts.
It sounds like just another Leicaphile purist that can not accept that good photography can be done with anything but his beloved Leica rangefinder. Funny, because some of my most significant photography has been done with a pinhole lens on a cheap MF body to hold the film. And by using digital, I have been able to take photos that would have been impossible to take otherwise with 'standard' photo equipment, manipulated or not. Ever tried to take color photos on film at ISO 1600? Yuck.
The whole premise that film is better than digital just because film is harder to manipulate than digital is about as weak a defense of film as can be made.
I suspect that this same person allows printing of full frame only (that's how the photo was composed originally), and on fiber based paper only (glossy not allowed.. the world is not shiny).
If it wasn't done on film, it isn't photography.
Yeah right. Gimme a f'ing break!

...for certain definitions of photography...

Just not the dictionary definition.

If we extrapolate this trend, in twenty years we'll be able to buy a camera that shoots photos in advance. That is, using this Microsoft-sponsored technological advance, you can shoot all the photos of your holiday to Greece before you actually leave home for the airport.

Another extrapolation suggests that all the images on Flickr could eventually become derivatives of each other, slowly morphing over decades to become one single image that we all took.

Art is to an extent a collaboration between the artist and his tools. The balance varies. Emphasize pure visualization and you get a highly controlled, rather remote presentation that I associate with Ansel Adams. Emphasize emotion and process and you get a rawer sort of art. It is the latter case where the medium has more influence. You can copy Jackson Pollock's style in Photoshop, but I don't think Pollock himself could have done so.

Photography is more amenable to pure visualization than many mediums, and digital photography more so than the wet kind. I think that someone like me, who never really felt completely in control of the process but found that things that happened in the darkroom sometimes gave results I liked but hadn't expected, is less likely to move easily from one form to the other than someone who approaches it from a purer conception-to-execution angle.

Thank you for another quite interesting article that makes me think about my own standpoint.

All in all, I have to object strongly to the opinion expressed in your link. In my point of view, the author falls victim to a missconception about what photography really is and about what it is not.

If I understand correctly, the author makes the following claims about what true photography is:
1) functioning according to the law of physics (interaction of photons with silver halide)
2) depends for its very existence on film
3) Is something of it's own, not just another sort of art
4) limited to an elite, not everybody can take a good picture
5) no post processing, result depends only on location, viewpoint and moment of exposure

Looking at this list, I immediately get the impression, that photography of this kind never ever existed ...

Let's have a close look at the individual statements:
Ad 1): Well, actually digital photography also depends on the laws of physics, maybe even more than traditional photography with it's dependency on chemical processes.

Ad 2): Hmm, a quite arbitrary statement and what exactly is "film"? If you look at the huge difference between the emulsions of the very early photographers who even had to produce their own kind of film with it's very own characteristics on the one side and the high-tech films of our days, they have not much in common. Some of the very early photographers did not even use silver halides and they definitely were not using "film" but glass plates and other media. Within the almost 200 years of photography the substrate for capturing the light was always in a process of change. Mostly these changes were evolutionary by slightly improving the media and making it easier to handle. The switch from film to a digital device is certainly the most revolutionary step in this chain of progress, but this doesn't make it "the end of photography"

Ad 3): That's just another arbitrary claim. What exactly is art and why should photography not be just another kind of art? It sounds like the author thinks it is degrading photography to think of it just as some other kind of art. I do not understand this point of view. For me to make art means to contribute to thousands if not millions of years of human culture. It is something that counts. Somehow you get connected to all those artists in the history of mankind, starting from the early humanoids sitting in their caves and producing their first paintings on those walls. What should be bad about counting photography as a kind of art? I don't get it.

Ad 4) Well, that's what progress is all about. For me the only sense of technological progress is to make life easier and to make usefull techniques accessible to as many people as possible. In some way this is a process of democratization. I do not think that it harms photography in any way, that making technically good pictures is getting easier and easier year by year. Looking through the vast amounts of pictures on flickr or other communities, you can easily see that there still remains enough room for the real artists. Although it is pretty easy ourdays to fly to Yosemite from each and every location on this planet and take a technically correct picture from Half Dome and print it with a professional printer on fine art paper, it will take you a long way to even come close to the results of an Ansel Adams. Is it the end of photography, that plenty of people have fun with their digicams and the resulting pictures? I don't think so. Quite the opposite, actually. If you start making snapshots, you start to think about how to improve. That's the first step into serious artwork photography.

Ad 5) At last, that's an easy one. Never ever has photography been reduced to these points, it's just too simplistic.

Ok, that has become a long post, sorry for that. As a conclusion I am reminded on the famous saying "The message about my death is largely exaggerated". Photography is alive and well, it rocks!

In arguing that photography is dead, the assertion is that photography is a process that yields a specific type of product. In this case, exposure of an emulsified silver halide strip to light via a glass lens.

Of course, that assertion is to be contested. Photography is no longer tied to that particular meaning.

The author has pointed out that popular ideas aren't necessarily true, and calls upon an analogy of the "flat/round world". However this analogy falls short on two factors. First, it is an appeal to scientific legitimation. Second, it's a slippery slope.

What has happened is the author makes you accept the grounds that yes, the world is round. This has a scientific basis. However, "photography" is not round. Nor is it the world. "Photography" is also not "scientific." Yes its definition and origin is "writing with light," but let us ask, what is it to write? Am I writing this paragraph, if I mearly press these keys? Or must the term "writing" only be used when holding a pen (with my chicken scratch symbols)? or for that matter, clay tablets?

If you can't tell, I'm making the analogy that "photography" is similar to "writing." It is a form of communication

"Photography" as "writing with light" has definitely changed with the advent of digital. And a change in definition is definitely in order. "Writing" took a turn with the printing press, and for that matter, digital as well. I'm sure the collective as a whole can come to a somewhat agreeable definition of what "photography" is. Words after all, refer to ideas, and those ideas change over time. I would suggest the author make a new word phrase and apply that limited definition of "photography" they're currently using. May I suggest "old-school-film"? The rest of us can continue on (digital or not) and call it photography.

I concede however, photography can not show us what the written word has, and so my analogy does fall short to some degree. Words are symbols of an ideal world, while photos are of the real world. Editing words, we edit ideas, but editing photos does not edit the real world, but our conception of it. Let us not get carried away, and idealize a medium that is not ideal to begin with.

And to conclude, I'd like to say is thank goodness we have spell check. For these words could not have been my own without it. And soon enough, neither will my photos.

'Photography', n., from ancient Greek photos graphein meaning 'writing with light'.

That either means photography has never been except with copiers and scanners. Or the whole idea of putting an ideological superstructure on top of a perfectly easy to comprhend concept like photography - is nonsense.

Are they photographs or images scot? Are they cameras or image capture machines?

Btw i'm not a purist, i do both digital and analog. One is instant gratification(the modern way) and the other is an exciting surprise(not always good). Maybe photography as we know it is dead but long live photography

another dinosaur... next!

Mike, is this just a troll?

The thesis is fascetious twaddle which IMHO doesn't justify denunciation but no doubt will produce screeds of it.

Paul Mc Cann

Somehow reminds me of the current "Flickr is bad" discussion on several photo blogs.

So why does the author snap away with that lowly Leicas? Photography was dead since mass produced films replaced personally prepared glass plates... NOT!

Photography is dead?
Then, long life to photography!

Only those naive enough to think photography is about objectivity, will mourn and not rejoice.

The incidentals of a particular imaging technology have - understandably - been mistaken for essential features of image recording in general. This category mistake has been exacerbated as the technology in question has been in such widespread use for such a long time. That does not preclude it from being a mistake. Similarly, howls of protest erupted with the advent of sound film; for a generation of film makers, film was _essentially_ a non-spoken visual form.

The author in the first link is frankly either very poorly read, or is willfully ignoring the very real fact that film photography has never been a "pure" art with no manipulation. It's frankly hard to take it seriously; the rant sounds akin to a hardcore British car enthusiast who with a perfectly straight face states that British cars never ever break down even as they stare at the pieces of an exploding gearbox strewn festively on the road behind the ruins of their MG.

Haha, that's great. Somebody just found another way of saying: "Hey, i'm better than you!" Oh, it's a Leica user and he quotes french. Why am i not surprised? ;-)

And well, as said in the column of August 2nd, "those who don´t know history are bound to repeat it". Aren´t they?

It is the old 'analog' versus 'digital' debate again. I have seen that in so many areas. In music for example, when digital sampling keyboards started to arrive (read: became affordable), a big group of acoustic instrumentalists were afraid that they would become extinct, since now you could just play the sample of the violin on a keyboard. Of course things changed, but both digital musical instruments AND acoustical instruments still exist. Its just that ANOTHER way of making music has been added to the possibilities to create music, that's great, isn't it? I think the same is true with digital photography. The treshold (money wise) now has been lowered. Lots of young kids become addicted to this medium, they don't have to spend a fortune on film and developing cost, and once in a while, somebody discovers they want become a photographer as a profession. And of course, at a certain moment they will discover the 'old' craftsmenship of analog photography again and maybe get interested in those techniques as well.....


Cartier-Bresson would make the same masterpieces with an M8 as with an M3.

It's the seeing, stupid.

Everyone can make technically great photo - excellent! Creative people who have difficulties with chemistry & night vision now CAN make a wonderful photo.


I disagree. I think photography ceased being photography long ago when film replaced glass plates. It's been all downhill since then. How can a camera that doesn't require a tripod be a real camera? "Hand-held" exposures? Give me a break! And through-the-lens, in-camera metering? It makes me want to tear my hair out! No, real photography has been dead for quite a while.*

Hmm... I guess 'music' doesn't exist any more either, what with the advent of digital recording studios and compact discs. And I suppose that there's no such thing as 'driving' any more now that embedded computers in our cars sling 1s and 0s around to make us safer, more comfortable, more exhilerated. Not to mention that 'literature' is DEAD I tell you! These cursed word processors and digital printing presses simply suck the soul from what could be words of greatness were they only set to rag paper on an Underwood manual typewriter!

Thanks for posting this, Mike - it's a good and poignant reminder that the world of photography is no more immune to ignorant and outright dangerous thinking than are politics or religion.

I couldn't care less.

I am still using my digital camera when I like to, and using my film camera when I like to, too.

When I see the picture in a piece of paper or in my monitor, I still call it a photograph.

It is easy for a person to construct an argument that is based on a peculiar redefinition of a term that has a commonly accepted meaning. It is not, IMO, worth spending time or effort in addressing such arguments.

I'll spend that time continuing to use my digital cameras to take more photographs!

In spite of what he says, Puts' real thesis is that photography is all process - "the interaction between photons and silver halide grains". So photography didn't exist until photographers started using silver halide. That would certainly surprise a lot of 19th century masters.

Extend his argument and you also have to say that music doesn't exist any more.

This is simply chauvinism.

This viewpoint is not unique to photography. It seems analogous to the situation in other arts, such as in music when mixing from two records developed as a technique to produce new music, in literature when Joyce and then later authors extensively quoted earlier works by other authors, and so on. The core of the debate seems to be whether photographers as artists can accept their form has finally gone post modern.

I agree completely. All readers should send their Leica M8 and related lenses and accessories to me... I'm doing you a favour, I know, but they'll just take up space otherwise.

Is this post supposed to incite conflict and therefore discussion?

Eh, this is just a "film rules, digital suxors!" argument that tries to sound intellectual...

his argument essentially boils down to "digital is not "real" photography because it can be altered, as opposed to a negative which is "fixed" at the moment of capture.

Honestly this is just a silly argument. Film photogoraphy can be altered *plenty* during the darkroom process. and digital photography *does* have "unalterable" negatives - they are called RAW files, which is simply the data that the sensor records, unprocessed and unaltered. just as the negative is the "data" that film records.

Reality-reconstructing software like that will come in really handy for despots of the future. Think how easy it will be to frame people for a crime they didn't commit. It would make for an interesting sci-fi plot: someone who doesn't like you puts you at the scene of a crime; your best bet for an alibi might be that you happen to simultaneously appear in hundreds of other surveillance camera shots. (But which ones are real.) Think how this might alter the work of historians when they interpret war photos.

I can't wait for sophisticated temporal interpolation. Take a picture of a bank at 10:00 then again at 10:30. Then, by clever time interpolation software you can reconstruct who robbed it at 10:15.

Photography does not exist anymore? Well, I guess that takes care of my archiving dilemma. Now I can spend the money on an X-Box.

Here we go again, technology opening the door to the masses and causing fear in the establishment.

Stating the obvious... Good photography will always require the instinct of what makes an image interesting, which even people who've mastered the craft usually lack. Photography didn't kill painting and sculpture, nor will Photoshop kill photography. Even priests managed to keep their jobs after the King James Bible hit the streets, so will landscape photographers (though at a greatly reduced income).

I'm going to use the tools we have now. To make relevant art, if that's your goal, requires living in and understanding the present.

as soon as you get off your high horse and get your nose out of the air, i hope you'll realize that people have been manipulating film images since forever. i remember a raging debate about that in photo school decades ago. combining elements from several images takes greater skill with film than it does with photoshop, but still can be done. (http://www.photographymuseum.com/phofictionsmontages.html)
i would also contend that all the photoshopping in the world will not make a great photograph. adobe does not yet have a cartier-bresson filter. as henri himself said, a camera is only a tool.

if you don't believe that collecting light on a sensor is photography, then make up another name for it, and get over it.

Do we really have to keep this fantasy of film being "real" photography. The negative was never written in stone. You can go back to the days of glass plates and find examples of emulsion scraping, and plate sandwiching. I don't miss film at all digital is a wonderful way to do what I always did without the toxic chemicals in the house.

It began with National Geographic re-arranging the pyramids, and all of it is symptomatic of the path civilization has taken over the past 40 years. I was born 50 years too late...text messaging while driving. Jesus!

When the author of an article in English doesn't translate the most salient quote in his essay from the French, methinks there is pretension afoot.

And what is this about "a final picture that can hardly be altered"?

Where did the terms "burn", "dodge", and "mask" come from, anyway?

Okay...I have to admit, the Microsoft technology is scary. Worldwide collaborative merged photos is a bit over the top. However, I have to completely disagree with the thesis that 'Photography' is dead. Yes, the tools and processes of image creation has changed. But, the point of photography is the meaning in the image; not the process by which it was created.

These types of arguments always seem to be asserted by those who are afraid of change and would prefer to maintain status quo. But, I would suggest, a fundamental element of photography has always been about technological advances in producing 'better' (substitute your own meaning here) images, improving permanance, and developing new ways for the individual to express what's in the mind's eye. Under that criteria, is photography dead? Or, is it simply progressing as it has always done.

My rant is over :)

Oh, goodie! Photography no longer exists, so maybe we can hope the Putz will stop his everlasting speaking from Sinai about it!

Dave Jenkins

Photography has been in transition since 1839 (or earlier by some accounts). Get over it. It has, is and will continue to evolve. It has always been the audience that has lagged behind the medium.

From an extreme position to an extreme solution.

I was never much of film photographer during the earlier full-manual days, but did photograph more and improved at the craft as AE and AF aides were introduced into the equipment. After digital had evolved for a few years I bought a basic P&S. The results eventually pushed the film gear out the door, now completely replaced with a digital system and workflow.

With my early digital ventures it was auto-everything, but gradually I've returned to using manual techniques over the available automation. However, I would not go back to a time where a histogram or image review or camera automation is an available option as I work.

I photograph more now than when using film, my image work is better, and I enjoy the raw workflow and digital printing process much more than the old darkroom environment. Digital's and photography's evolution have been positive for helping me see, and there appear to be many indications of further positive developments.

Some random thoughts...

They said music was dead when digital synthesisers became mainstream.

A similar controversy arose (not claiming that painting as an art was dead, but close) when the super-realism school started to appear.

I'm also reminded of the 100% photoshop rendering of a train - took a couple of thousand hours (if I recall) and was absolutely photo realistic.

If photography is dead, then long live photonography (to paraphrase a previous post).

Debate is good.

Erwin Puts wrote:
> "The best way to understand this difference
> is to take pictures with a film-loading
> camera like the M7 and the sensor-provided
> M8. Handling of both cameras is quite
> similar, but mentally and in the workflow
> there is a world of difference."

I guess he meant: almost that kind of mental and workflow difference you'd get from loading one M7 with Tri-X and another with Velvia 50, right?

-- Olaf

This is the kind of debate that's hard not to get in to, tho' I think it's ultimately pointless. But, as my wife will aver, I was never one to avoid wading in to a pointless debate, so here goes.

I think there are 2 ways to look at any visual art. One says it doesn't matter how the image was created; all that matters is the final image. And I incline to this point of view when I'm using Photoshop to dramatically change my intial RAW capture (and that's a digital word - we never called film exposures "captures"). In this view, success is all a question of the artist's vision, not of his method, which is irrelevant.

The other perspective is, as has been said earlier, that the medium is the message. It does matter what medium and techniques were used - a kind of photographic equivalent of literature's so called "new criticism." In this case the artist's knowledge of composition and the technical mastery of his/her medium are key - and that's why a Jackson Pollack is different from a toddler's similar-looking creation.

I think there can be no doubt that the images that come out of a "digital photography" workflow look like photographs (at least to the layperson). It's equally clear that in addition to understanding apertures and shutter speeds and the zone system and hyperfocal distances, most of which remain relevant, the digital photographer now needs to master curves and layer masks and has replaced spotting with a dye brush with the clone stamp or healing brush. When I started in photography I had to develop a sense of distance for my manual focus Voigtlander; now thankfully the camera focuses (usually) for me.

At some point these changes add up to enough difference in the techniques of the medium that we may call it a new medium, regardless of whether the final images are different or not. I don't doubt that similar debates raged about whether painting with acrylics was the same as painting with real oil paints, or about whether hand mixed oils were the same as paint out of a tube). I'm not sure we can pre-define where the line of crossing into a new medium is though some will surely say we've passed it and others will deny it. Art historians of the future will no doubt decide (or debate) it.

In the meantime, go out and make pictures please, master your craft(s) and let me know where I can look at your work.


Well Mike, you certainly woke up the troops this morning.

Wow, thanks for posting this essay. After reading it I ran outside and pulverized my digital gear with an F4. Thanks for stopping me from looking stupid. Hey wait, my bazillion point meter system broke! Now how do I make fine art?!
This message brought to you by the Northern Wisconsin Department of Tongue In Cheek...

Both funny and scary!

Nice post

Zeno declared motion an absurdity and Diogenes refuted him by walking around the room. Thus I think I'll go take a digital photograph.

Suppose a film based camera was used to take a photograph and the negative was processed chemically but then scanned, adjusted in Photoshop and then printed on an inkjet printer. Is the result half a photograph?

What is this "technologically perfect" picture that everyone can take? If that is the same as "technically perfect," then he clearly hasn't spent much time at flickr. Exposure problems abound, despite the "powerful post processing software" available to all.

Another thought. It must be true as we all know painting died when it changed from cave walls to canvas...

I wonder what he thinks about removing the extra thumb from Dorothea Lang's iconic migrant mother:

Oh why don't we make the guy happy and come up with a new name for the digital side of the aisle?

In honor of Mr. Puts, I suggest we start using
Digital Image Capture or (here it comes)...


Giant Flapping Doodle.
People get so "het up" over Philosophy of Photography.
(As if there actually were such a thing except as a academic construct. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Simply take the base definitions that
Photography = Capturing Light and
Photograph = Display of Captured Light.
It doesn't matter how the light is captured - film, digital, whatever.
It doesn't matter how the light is displayed - prints, monitors, whatever.

Photographs have been manipulatable since forever.
Now we can manipulate them better and more easily.

Some photographs depict Reality close enough for all practical purposes.
Some photographs are Artistic.
Most photographs are Snapshots.
Again, it was ever thus.

Interesting perspective, and to some extent I share his sense of frustration about digital. But I would modify his thesis to be more along the lines of "The CRAFT of photography is dead."

Obviously, we're still making images (now more than ever). With digital, the technology of photography has changed, and one could argue the art has changed too. But the "craft" has largely disappeared.

The craft I'm referring to is the craft of understanding how light and shadow work on film emulsion, and how chemistry can exploit that. Previously, you really couldn't be a "real" photographer if you didn't understand that. (I'm not referring to snapshooters.)

You could argue that Photoshop-type skills have simply replaced the chemical craft, but I would argue that Photoshop is more about understanding computers and graphics than about understanding "photography" in the pure meaning of the word.

Ultimately, this change doesn't really amount to much beyond some high falutin theoretical talk and some pining for the old days by people of the previous photographic generation. But people are still making beautiful images.

Unfortunately, however, much of the new art is lost in the enormous deluge of digital snapshots and advertising imagery that has washed over us like never before. Not only has that deluge made it harder to find finely crafted artistic photography (digital or otherwise), but it has lead to a public perception that "photography is easy." As a result, respect for photographic artistry has diminished. THAT, if you ask me, is the real problem.

Call me a troglodyte, but it does matter to me whether a photo is created through a film-based, darkroom process or a digital process. Understanding the possibilities and challenges for each, I am informed in part by the process. When I see a thoroughly worked up digital print, for example, I tend to wonder about the integrity of its content in a way that I am less likely to apply to a darkroom print. My preference is for photographs that represent the world in a meaningful way. With digital it's just so darn easy to clone, composite, and in other ways create a fake representation.

Do I personally use digital methods? Yes. Am I open to rational arguments as to why digital photography is just as valid as analog photography? Yes. But my gut tells me something different, and that gut feeling isn't going away.

Well, I feel sure I'm no one to argue with you
and Mr. Puts, so I thought to create a word
that might encompass both a photograph and
what some people having less conceptual clarity
might call a photograph.

I thought to first come up with the definition,
and then maybe look at some etymologies and
see if I could find anything that would
sound appropriate.

Lenses are my favorite, but lens & focus
couldn't be in the definition because that
wouldn't include pinholes. I thought about
camera, but that whole light tightness concept
seemed to oppose those valuable artistic
contributions made by Holgas. So, for a
definition I came up with:

An image whose appearance was at least partly
inspired by recording light that has passed
through an aperture

I like that definition. It's fairly short
and seems to do the job.

I spent a little time at www.etymonline.com
"Light" seems to go back to "lucis" or "photos"
I was interested to learn about "aperture"
deriving from "ap" meaning "off" or "away"
and "wer" meaning "cover." So, it has a
sort of built-in suggestion to take the lens
cap off but doesn't seems to refer back to
that spot where material is absent and something
might pass through. I tried "hole," but it
went to "cave." I started to look for simple
one syllable roots that might refer to the
concept of recording (other than writing,
since I didn't want to end up at "photo-graph"
again), and I really like how "record" goes to
"restore heart." In fact, I think I'm going
to leave off there. I'm sure some word will
come along eventually.

So photography is "writing with light"... on what? On wet plates, on dry plates, on sheet film, on roll film, on digital sensors. Do we have a photograph yet? Or does a photograph have to appear on some media like paper? Is an organized collection of bits on a hard drive a photograph or must it first be made visible on a piece of paper or a computer screen?
So it seems photography is writing with light on media which is then transformed onto another media. The processes involved are varied but the results (though hard to define like pornograhy)can all be recognized as photographs. Photography lives.
Concerning the matter of franken digital photos, they are no different than creating altered images with scissors and paste pot, just more efficient.

Well, I'm still having fun doing what I'm doing, but now I don't know what to call it since it's not photography.

I know, I'll call it "Jon-ification." Now I think I'll grab my camera, er, Jon-ifier, and go have some fun.

"The death of photography". Ummm, how ironic. A similar claim appeared with the first photographers in the 1800s when traditional painters proclaimed the death of their art. As it turns out, oil and water color painting survived (obviously no one told Monet or Degas that their medium was passé); the only thing lost was painters' monopoly on the power to create evocative images for public consumption.

Galen Rowell reported as similar incident in the '60s or '70s in one of his books. The all-manual, large format crowd looked down upon his Nikon equipment. Of course, they did not try to take images with their cameras whle swinging from a rope off the face of the Half-Dome at Yosemite.

If a photograph is a picture created with light, does it matter if it's film or digital? Manipulated or straight?

Dear Folks,

Andrea nailed it perfectly. Well done!

Blork, not so. Making GOOD photographs with Photoshop has almost nothing to do with understanding computers and computer graphics. There are some technical matters to learn, like color spaces and management... but they've got as much to do with the real craft of photography as learning how to develop a roll of film does. It's mechanical fundamentals. Once you're done with it, you move on to the REAL craft.

If you don't understand how light and shadow are rendered by the digital sensor as well as you understood how they were with film, you ain't never gonna be* really* good. If you don't understand how to manipulate tone and color, both locally and globally, you won't get any better a print out of Photoshop than you would lacking such knowledge in the wet darkroom.

As for the original essay, logical parsings are always ripe with fallacy. If one insists on this "writing with light" business, then my dye transfer prints aren't photographs any more than a newspaper page is. Conversely, if I take my digital camera file (which was captured with light) and send it out to a photo lab that uses lasers to digitally print it on silver-halide photo paper that is a photograph? But not if I print the same photo on my Epson... or via dye transfer in the darkroom?

That's what we call reductio ad absurdum. The cannonballing logical train runs right into the wall of reality and even uncommon sense.

Reminds me of those elementary school problems where the kids are asked to logically distinguish, say, a cat from a dog. Harder than you'd think. But we know it when we see it.

Remember the definition of a mammal the teachers gave you back then? Has hair? Provides milk? Seems to be adequate.

OK, so a coconut's a mammal?

pax / Ctein

Regarding the 'evidence' link:

a) Figures that Microsoft was involved.

b) This could only 'work' with truly boring photos. I'm not worried.

Regarding the 'thesis' link:


Torn between the pretentious prattle of the first 'thesis' article and the horrific implications of the direction technology is taking with the 'evidence' news piece. It is a little hard to call that kind of blatant photo-collaging "photography" but there's definitely a gray area...and I wouldn't presume to say that combining multiple images can't be art. Funny how it's almost the opposite in moving pictures--the greater respect is paid the master manipulator (the filmmaker).

I'm so glad that photography is dead. Now we can do something else. Excuse me, I'm off to make pictures.

Complete. Waste. Of. Time.

Which explains the several dozen comments, of course.

To Craig Norris, "in twenty years we'll be able to buy a camera that shoots photos in advance.". That's very, very funny.
I began to write a rebuttal yesterday, but suddenly thought it must be a joke, and that the untranslated French said something like "April Fool."

I've read Erwin's article now, and my reaction can be summed up in one word: "What??"

Even assuming he has some kind of point, he hasn't expressed it so I can understand it.

The thing about the progression of the photographic process is that it has trivialized the end product. Images are now so easy to come by that they no longer hold the same value as they once did. Easily reproducible items do not hold the value or respect as those which were more difficult to make. I use digital to play and paladium for the images that feed my soul.

We come here with different interests associated with photography. I still use film, not because its better or purer or more "righteous" than digital but because I like mechanical things. I can understand the function of mechanical things, how they work. At the same time I use electronic doobobs all the time and rely on my cell phone and computer. I just have no feelings toward them, they are just black boxes. But my cameras! They are pretty, they make nice noises, and they feel nice to handle. Heck, the only reason I even have a battery dependent OM2s among my beautiful OM1's is that it came as a back cap for a lens I wanted. In a post a week or so past I called film photography "low tech". But thats not really true is it. Somewhere that roll of film I spool into a cartridge has to be produced in what I would imagine is a complicated and expensive film coating facility. So I guess there is hardly no such thing as low tech anymore. However when I pick up my MMM (manual metal mechanical) camera (credit MJ for MMM definition) it just feels and operates right. When I pick up a DSLR, of any type, it elicits no feelings at all. There is no logic it this, it just is.

Photography dead?
What a load of poppycock.
Here's my take: pretence!

If it can't be said in a haiku then why say it? Poetry is dead, too!
It's all been done before anyway, so we're all wasting photons.

I actually attended the CMU presentation at Siggraph. I noted a couple of things. The automatic portion of their application is essentially a formal search mechanism that depends on and verifies the intensely repetitive nature of most landscape-photo tropes -- in fact they showed one example where their algorithm, in trying to remove a maintenance scaffold on a cathedral, patched the hole using another photo of the exact same cathedral, snapped at a time when there was no scaffold from the same nearby hilltop.

They injected human choices at several points in the process. The sample shown on the BBC page is their favorite from a sample of 20 possible patches -- they picked their favorite 5% of the samples.

Personally, I found the "mistake" pictures to be more interesting but maybe that's just me (they defined success for their project as making pictures that deceptively "real," rather than pictures that are compelling, beautiful, etc -- certainly a quality that's easier to measure). They also preselected their flickr-sliced database, dismissing "pictures of people's cat's birthdays... which is about half of flickr" in advance (Maybe there are so many because people LIKE that kind of picture?).

Tools like this and some of the other projects that degenerate photos into real-estate catalogs are disturbing to me mostly because of the deeply wrong-headed and largely unchallenged notion that enforcing banality is somehow "fixing" pictures.

Just over 90 years ago the Cottingley Fairy photographs were captured and debate has taken place ever since on their authenticty or not ( see http://www.cottingleyconnect.org.uk/index.htm if you are not familiar with them).

The key, for me is contained, within a quote from 1920 on the photographs; "The day we kill our Santa Claus with our statistics we shall have plunged a glorious world into deepest darkness".

Apart from photographic reportage I don't really care about a photographs genesis or the route it took before it reaches my eye.

What I care about is the emotional and physical effects that it has on me in the same way that a great painting or a great sculpture can.

The so-called thesis is too absurd to be of any serious interest.
But the so-called proof is very thoughtprovoking. Personally, I quite agree with Kevin Bjorke about the use of it. However, the interesting thing is not so much what some dedicated photoenthusiasts like us may think about it.
I basically see it as another contribution to an ongoing tendency, where photography becomes much more of a social and collective interaction, than the product of individuals and part of a one-side artist-public relationship. Flickr is of course the major example: what matters most for many participants there, is not necessarily the artistic qualities of the photos, but the social activity of commenting, getting friends and forming groups.
Microsoft has not long ago released a beta-version of a program, that can build panoramas of diffrent photos of the same object, taken from different angels by different persons at different times. This, as well as the technology described in the "proof-link", seems to be evidence, that the "socialization" of photography now has moved beyond building social groups on the net around photosharing and into the very act of making pictures itself.
I'm not completely shure about what to think about this. But I'm very shure that those of us interested in the social and philosophical aspects of photography will have a lot to discuss in the future...

Photography dead, etc.etc. ? Luddites prevail !?

From a Creative and Artistic standpoint: for me, personally, photography only truly ‘came of age’ in 1996 when I purchased my first digital camera (I haven’t bought a roll of film since).

From a ‘Photographic Resolution’ standpoint: (ref: for prints up to A3+ in size) by 1999 digital capture could equal that of 35mm film (be it at a cost of £10,000 Sterling). By 2003 the image quality obtainable via a digital SLR had equalled that of 2¼” square (up to a print size of 20” by 16”).

From a ‘Technical Hurdles’ and ‘Mastery of the Craft’ standpoint: I would much rather try and teach a newcomer, in one single evening, the basics of darkroom technology, than I would the basics of Photoshop, given a full week.

Digital Capture ? Photography ? : call it what you will. As the years go by, it just keeps getting better, and more enjoyable, and flexible, and all-encompassing.

Don’t knock it ~~ enjoy it !!

I bought my first camera in 83 and over a period of 10 to 12 years bought additional cameras and darkroom equipment. Then came a family. The Digital vs. Film debate is not an issue for me. I can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on digital equipment (including printers, RAM, disc space)to replicate what I can currently achieve with 35mm /6x7 negatives and chemistry - I have a family to feed. And besides, I still enjoy film and chemicals,and the quiet time in the darkroom. And God knows, the bucks I would have to invest in digital will keep me in film and chemicals until I'm too senile to care about either film or digital.
I strongly suspect, for those of us lucky enough to have children, that the snapshot we took will long be cherished no matter what the medium, while that "fine art" image we extolled for its superb shadow densities, unblocked highlights and near godlike gray tone graduations will most likely end up in the trash several years after we kick the bucket, no matter what the medium.

Pure sophistry.

Basically the writer makes the assumption that photography began and ended with a Leica.

I wonder what Fox Talbot would think.

While I am in agreement with most of Mike's positions on The Online Photographer, I don't go along with this one at all. It seems to me a case of overpowering nostalgia, complete with enhanced selective memories and a preference for the familiar.

As many other responders have pointed out, the same argument has gone on since the beginnings of photography 168 years ago.

I hear the same kind of thing from Harvard graduates who invariably feel that Harvard Square has "gone to hell" since their own time there, regardless of when that may have been.

Mike, use the healing brush to get rid of some of those old wrinkles.

"While I am in agreement with most of Mike's positions on The Online Photographer, I don't go along with this one at all."

MIKE'S positions?!? What in any of this has got to do with me or my positions?? I just linked to two articles that I thought were interesting and somewhat related. I haven't given my position on this at all. Yet.


It was inevitable that the ease of use and relatively low cost, both analog and now digital, would create a hugely diverse number of camera users who would naturally fall into one or more clearly defined groups. The group that I understand the least is the one that defines itself by elevating the features of the final output defined by the equipment. Many Leicaphiles are members of this subgroup, discussing unique characteristics of sharpness, contrast, and bokeh, as if they really were the whole point of picture taking.

Equally baffling is the newest subgroup, who really seems to think that the original capture has little value, and that the "craft" of photography consists of adding layer upon layer of digital colors and filters. Creating something fanciful, while occasionally done with great imagination and skill, seems odd to those of us who like to go out and find something of interest to bring home and share with others. That's what a camera does best and always has. Sadder still is the group that alters images significantly with the intent of passing off the results as if if were a bonafide capture. Their motives are apparent in their lack of willingness to fess up to their little game.

It is natural that if one subgroup's approach to camera work compromises the work of another, that feathers will get ruffled. I shoot found abstracts, which when projected on a screen in slide format derive a significant part of their interest and value from the knowledge that they are real (within the familiar limits of in-camera manipulation.) I now shoot with a DSLR, but although my style hasn't changed, the credibility of my work is now questioned frequently, including in some peer group venues where I would have thought that people who carry around a camera would be more observant and better able to read light.

When people tell me that it doesn't matter whether something is real or not, meaning they don't care if they've been lied to, then that really is the road to the end of photography. I don't think we're there yet because while virtually everyone owns a camera, the percentage of them who use all these features of Photoshop with some proficiency is quite small. The communal approach to photography, while interesting, is a red herring, since it will remain a very small niche for quite some time, I expect. People shoot to create their own memories. If you want someone else's generic version, buy a postcard.

Puts' article is 'provocative' only in the sense that it offers a provocatively overstated opinion supported by provocatively weak reasoning.

Contrast the Puts link to the article right below it, where Rob Reiter illustrates significant contrasts between digital & traditional BW techniques, pointing out that the world of traditional BW rested on some limiting conditions that we can now transcend - especially with regard to retention of shadow & highlight detail.

Which article is hot air, & which gives substantive information supported by photographs (of course they're photographs!) of quality?

I have no empathy for this nostalgic reasoning. The change to digital simplified image manipulation but did not start it. One can be as faithful to image capturing with digital as with silver halide.

I think that one of the main ideas of the article is basically BS - photography in the old days was truly photography because it was harder to do. Since it's so easy now, it's not photography. Simplistic and, well...dumb.

I think a much more interesting topic is the relationship between the ever accelerating ease and accessibility of photography to its standing as a "fine art". Practically anyone with a modern cell phone is a "photographer" nowadays. Museums have exhibitions consisting of nothing more than "found photos".

Photographs have always sold for less than paintings - far less. The most expensive painting ever sold (Vincent Van Gogh, "L'Arlesienne, Madame Ginoux") went for $40M as opposed to $2.9M for a photograph (Edward Steichen, "The Pond-Moonlight") - a difference of 1,300%! [As of May and February, 2006, respectively]. Why is this so, and why have these kinds of price disparities always been so?

I think part of the answer lies in the nefarious world of "art" and the politics and economics that define "fine art". But I also think that part of the answer lies in how "hard" it is to produce - whether that "hardness" is real or imagined. In this (admittedly limited) sense, I do feel that the "hardness" level has real impacts on how seriously the art work is judged. And again, whether real or imagined, works of photography will always be viewed as easier to do than comparable paintings.

And as it gets easier and easier to make photographs, and the digitized ones require fewer and fewer mouse clicks to "enhance", the perceived value of fine art photography will decline.

To say this is the end of photography is, again, BS. But to say this is the end of how highly photography is valued as a fine art may very well not be BS at all.

The digital images that we capture / create are different only in the underlying recording and editing medium. Photography always was and will be the display of an edited image.

A larger and more severe change to the meaning of the art form of photography is the Internet. We no longer have to rely on the printed form of a photography.

It's funny that the article didn't show problems with the algorithm that was developed. I would say we're a long way from automatically making the perfect shot. There is some great research into making our photos more appealing as memories, but not much to make them good, beautiful or artistic (All depends on one's personal definition...).

The thesis can be found at: http://graphics.cs.cmu.edu/projects/scene-completion/

If anyone is still interested, and actually made it this far down in the posts, here's a translation of the French quotation in Erwin's article:

"We will demonstrate that the so-called "digital photography" has little to do with photography with regard to its materials, circulation mode and the way it works. Only a limited number of uses have a link with photography strictly speaking."

And my French friend who provided the translation added his own comment:

"By the way, it smacks of French "anti avant-garde" attitude: against anything new, because it is more "chic"... "

Ctein, point taken about Photoshop. However, the "craft" I'm referring to is, I suppose, the physical, "material" craft in the old fashioned way of getting your hands dirty.

Perhaps a bad example would be something like stone sculpture -- knowing how to bang away with hammers and chisels and scrapers is a real physical craft as well as an art. But one could probably create a computer-assisted sculpturing machine that does the physical work and all you had to do was learn the interface. Assuming you understood the materials and understood the program's interface, you could then make a sculpture without getting your hands dirty. But you would also lose that physical connection with the materials, which is the craft I'm referring to.

That's not to say the CA sculpture is invalid. And I admit that the physical craft I'm talking about is a bit of a romantic notion. But there it is.

Oh, another example: I know some people who work in the film industry. They love video for it's convenience and affordability, it's easy manipulation, etc. But despite that, some of these people miss the act of physically handling film and cutting it on the old Steinbeck. It's slow, tedious, and limited, but there's a whole other dimension to it that is lost in the switch to digital -- however, it's a loss that only the artist feels, not the viewer.

They really should take a close look at that wonderful medium known as television, and give it's belated obituary before reporting prematurely on the death of photography.

Stupid professional photography is as dead as a doornail, but smart amateur snappers are more alive than ever. The stupid professional photography market is toast but the corporate wallpapering business has never been better.

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