It appears from the response to the previous post that photographers have strong feelings on the subject of image manipulation. I knew that, or should have known that, from past experience. It still catches me by surprise, each time.
First of all, I wasn't really taking a position myself in the original post, at least not until I wrote my little addendum—I was just passing the news along with a link, like I do dozens of times a month. I meant neither to condemn nor condone the actions of the Danish Press Photography Union in the original post—and in fact, I couldn't even report their concerns very well, since I don't read Danish (or understand spoken Danish) and I'm not willing to base close textual analysis on auto-translator gobbledegook.
That post drew more than 60 comments, some of them long, within eight hours. Most of those, you can read. It also drew some extremely insecure, ranting diatribes (well, actually only three), which I did not post. A couple of those attacked me, as if I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Danish contest judges and all of us speak with one common voice in persecution of the poor disqualified photojournalist, never mind our lack of a common language!
For the record, I regret to report that I wasn't consulted. In fact, I only first heard of the whole issue yesterday.
One hysterical screed attacked me as a "film purist." Now, how is that supposed to work, given that I've barely exposed any film at all this decade? I'm a digital photographer, folks, for better or worse. Not that that matters in the current discussion; it's entirely beside the point, as most of you are capable of discerning. This isn't a matter of film vs. digital, as it's not a question of whether Photoshop is good or bad. It's just a question of how different kinds of photographers ought to make their pictures look—not how they get them to look like that.
But since you asked, and since it's my blog...
First, my usual qualifying round: It's not for me to tell any individual photographer how to enjoy photography. If you like the wretched excess of the overhyped, overcooked style, go for it—it's your hobby; you own it. They're your pictures.
In point of fact, however, I do applaud the Danish Press Photography Union judges. When journalism is at issue, you have to draw a line somewhere, and Hr. Christensen (Eolake, who's a Dane, tells me that "Hr." is Danish for "Mr.") blundered across that line in no uncertain terms. This wasn't a toe-on-the-chalk, double-angle-replay judgment call; this was the receiver vaulting the bench and climbing into the stands to catch the pass. Out of bounds is out of bounds.
As for HDR-to-XS, etc., I don't care to look at that stuff, it's true, but that preference has nothing to do with a) how Timmy did worse things yesterday or b) whether Johnny started it, or c) the fact that Mom's being unfair because there is no clear technical path to 100% dependable, purely mechanical neutrality; my problem is the pictures. My problem is merely that the pictures don't look like Earth.
Take this, for example. Earth never looked like this. At least, not during the time I've been alive, and probably not for the past several million years. What the Wretched-Excess Style does remind me of are those fanciful illustrations (some of them cartoons) showing what things supposedly looked like in the time of the dinosaurs. You know the pictures I'm talking about? Lurid hues to signify exoticism, bizarrely-colored plant life, pasturing Stegasaurii in bright Amazon-lizard stripes and fades, festive volcanos spewing oranges and reds in the distance, all under a pink or yellow or violet sky. All very saturated with color, and wonder.
That's what the Wretched Excess, overcooked, dial-at-11, "HDR" (not that there's anything wrong with that) style looks like to me: another planet—or this one during the Pleistocene, in the minds of illustrators with full palettes of bright paints.
I look at Earth a lot more than I look at pictures, and I happen to think pictures taken on Earth should sorta look like Earth. But "that's just me" as they say. If you happen to disagree—if you're into a different look, up to and including the dinosaur-planet look—then knock yourself out. That's the nice thing about this hobby—everybody gets to do it their own way. I don't have anything to say about that one way or t'other. Other peoples' pictures aren't my pictures, and I'm not a Danish contest judge—all of which is probably just as well.
Featured Comment by David Comdico: "The fact that one has to argue that the photo reproduced above has taken liberties with reality in its reproduction goes to show just how far the limits of credulity have been stretched. I'm not sure if it is the inevitable result of technology's trajectory or if rigor has simply gone out of fashion.
"Take for example, the straw man that has been made of the raw file. Because a raw file must be rendered via 'some' curve does not mean that any given 'interpretation' of that raw file is equal. Such an argument is patently silly.
"Digital photography has not suddenly superseded reasonable verisimilitude—and anyone who shoots film, or has a preference for it, is by definition not a Luddite. End stop.
"Journalistic standards are, like any standard, subject to the dictum of contemporary taste and preferences (even downright biases) but it doesn't follow that standards are useless or 'untrue' as truth itself is subject to the same preconditions. And given the current environment, where propaganda has become synonymous with reportage, we need these standards more than ever."
Featured Comment by Chris: "While this won't be the first time it's pointed out here, I think it bears repeating that 'looks like Earth' is not a meaningful single reference standard. Pictures, and the world too, look different to different people. Very different. Enough so that we frequently cannot even agree what we are all looking at in the first place.
"This shouldn't be that hard to appreciate, but perhaps because I am a teacher (of visual anthropology, among other subjects) it stands out particularly starkly. Students in general tend to think that the way they saw a picture, or a film, is both the correct way, and the same way everyone else did. (This is after all the great claim of photography—its objectivity.) When they subsequently describe what they saw in writing, and I get 40 essays which all seem to be about completely different materials, yet all couched in the same perfect assurance that there was nothing else to be seen... Well it is a dramatic illustration of the point. The same thing happens every day in photo critiques: people see the same photo, but can't agree what they're looking at.
"This is a bigger issue than can easily be dismissed by the common-sense approach of 'I know realism when I see it' (even though that will probably take most of us pretty far). Frankly I think the question of exactly what different people see in the 'same' material is quite an interesting one.
"In the raw/processed examples from the Danish contest, the raw pictures look unrealistically flat to me. the processed ones look, well, heavily processed. To me, the most interesting thing which could come out of looking at the two would be a refinement of terms for explaining exactly what's wrong, and how, with the pictures for photojournalistic use (any such discussion of course has to take ends into account), and doing so with some degree of precision. To say 'I know it when I see it' may be a practical solution that works for oneself much of the time, but it doesn't help much in communicating what 'it' is to others."
Mike replies: Just for the record, I never said, and I hope never implied, that the flat, unprocessed pictures presented in the article are some sort of standard to be aimed for. Naturally, those files needed processing to be presentable. Perhaps just not as much as they received.
Your larger point, Chris, is a valid one, and as a more subtle topic would be a fruitful one for discussion. But what I meant to imply, rhetorically, by using the phrase "looks like Earth" is that a very basic standard has been breached here, one that doesn't require subtlety to perceive. You can argue relativism all you want, but when something is extreme, genuine disagreement tends to be eviscerated. Show of hands—how many people think the picture in this post is likely an accurate and objective portrayal of the scene, with no subjective interpretation superadded? I don't think we'll see one hand raised, unless someone is just trying to be contentious.