In keeping with the moral tone that Mike has recently set on The Online Photographer, this week I'm going to write about virtuous photography.
Well, to be truthful, this column came out of a conversation over pizza with David Dyer-Bennet a good month ago, and I'd been planning all along that it should run this week. Perhaps a case of divine coincidence. Perhaps just another example of great minds lying in the same gutter.
I have written in the past about photographers trying to find a moral dimension to their practice, expressing some feeling of superiority that they work with manual cameras, or work in film, or, most especially, work with slide film. Although you do hear more than a bit of it from the digital photographers who photograph in JPEG rather than RAW mode. They suggest that there is something distinctly more virtuous about taking what the camera and the film (or sensor) hands them and having to live with that than being able to massage it endlessly later in the darkroom (or on the computer).
My writing has been, shall we say, less than respectful towards these practitioners. You might even say it has been mocking. You might even be right to say that. I have come to realize the error of my ways. I should not be mocking them.
I should be feeling sorry for them! Because their moral compass is 180° off course.
Slides and JPEGs do not lead to virtuousness and righteousness. They cannot.
They cannot, because they do not allow for choice. Virtuousness comes from choosing to do right (or at least choosing to avoid doing wrong). To demonstrate moral strength, you have to be tempted and to prevail. If you are never exposed to temptation, you are not virtuous; you are simply innocent and naïve. An enviable state, that, but almost axiomatically it is not something one can be proud of as an achievement.
Asserting that having chosen slide film or JPEG demonstrates virtuous choice will not wash. It may be prudent to avoid being put in a position of temptation; the devil is a crafty fellow. Avoiding him is a good survival trait, but it does not demonstrate that one is so virtuous that one can resist him.
You simply cannot be a virtuous, morally superior photographer if you use slide film or make JPEGs in camera. It just isn't possible. No temptation, no virtue.
So there it is. Truly there is a moral imperative for using negative film and for making all digital photographs in RAW mode. How you then deal with the temptation to make a hash of things is where you will demonstrate how virtuous your photography is. I have no doubt you will all rise to the task.
So, when next you hear a photographer crow about the superiority of their slide- or JPEG-only photography, do not mock them, do not deride them, do not castigate them. Show compassion and pity them, for they have yet to realize that they fail to walk the righteous path.
Ctein's weekly sermoncolumn appears on SunWednesdays on TOP.
Note: Interested parties can rent a video of Saturday's retouching seminar for $14.99 at YouTube.
This is an unedited HD 1080p recording of the May 21, 2011, live show. The show is over two hours long, and you can pause, rewind, and watch as many times as you like over the 3-day rental period.
Watch the desktop of Ctein as he shows how he restores color that has faded from old photos.
This show could have just as accurately been called "Scanning," as almost an hour is spent discussing and demonstrating the best scanning technique for old prints and slides, as well as fixes that can be done during scanning. —MJ
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by David Stubbs: "The virtue question posed by Ctein reminds me of the following by Mark Twain: 'A gentleman is a man who can play the banjo but doesn't.' As the post lays out, Practioners of Pure Photography aren't fast tracked to sainthood. Plenty of truth-cheating moves are at their disposal. I know; I've used plenty of them to tune a picture.
"Warpedly, it also makes me think of housebreaking a dog. A puppy that hasn't had an accident indoors hasn't learned anything yet. It has to be shown the approved scheme of things upon committing the unapproved. Then, having learned, the dog that woofs by the door when the time comes shows virtue. The well taught dog that pees in the house is a focus-stacking, cloud-cloner.
"Seriously, make the picture you want to. Just don't call a lie the truth."
Featured Comment by Jed: "I don't know where I fit in: I own and use a Nikon DSLR that I have permantly set to RAW (the only exceptions being when I shoot RAW+jpeg). But my true love is shooting 35mm with vintage SLRs. I dabble in B&W, but I shoot mostly color and when I do, I shoot slides (almost alway Velvia 50!). I love looking at my slides on a lightbox; it's my very favorite way to view photos, even more than holding silver B&W prints or looking at digital files on an excellent computer monitor."
Featured Comment by Ken Norton: "Choice can occur at the production stage or in the post-production stage. Choice still occurs. There is no moral superiority of one stage over another."
Featured Comment by Edward Richards: "Jesuit education, Ctein?"