Now, I know full well that I don't get to dictate terminology. Nobody asked me and nobody cares what I think. And I'm fully aware that I don't have the power to change anyone else's usage of language—don't worry, I'm not laboring under any delusions.
And I am not worked up about this, so those whose knee-jerk response is derision can kindly keep that to themselves, please. I am copacetic, chilled, laid-back (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind...sorry, Snoop Dogg lyric).
But still, I think I'm going to start using a new term. When a picture is captured all at once in one exposure and the representation of it essentially respects the lens image (with color and tonal correction, or B&W conversion, or slight cleanup allowed), I'm going to call it a photograph; and if it's a combination of different exposures, or has special effects applied, or corrections applied to excess to make them prominent or stylish or decorative, and especially if there are changes made to the lens image in terms of adding, subtracting, or changing elements, then I'm going to call it photoart.
...With no prejudice. That is, one ain't better than the other. Just a different way of looking is all, a different way of seeing, different way of creating.
Where exactly the line is will always be debatable, and that's okay. Not everything is cut-and-dried, black-and-white, a binary this-and-not-that or that-and-not-this. Being a B&W photographer with a passion for midtones, I am comfortable with gray areas!
And I am not a mindless ideologue: I like some photoartists and not others, just as I like some photographers and not others.
Conceptually...well, that's a much longer discussion. Thou hast been forewarned. :-)
Oh, and by the way: anyone who says such things don't matter is fighting progress and the evolution of culture. Because of course, in time, needed distinctions will enter the language because it will make sense for them to do so. Eventually, if it lasts long enough, culture will sort out and make sense of digital imaging and its nature and properties, and linguistic distinctions will follow. All I'm doing is taking one little step in that direction on my own.
So Steve McCurry, Julie Blackmon, and Jerry Uelsmann might be photographers, but what they are known for creating is photoart.
No one has to go along with any of this. I'm aware that I'm kinda eccentric. :-)
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Featured Comments from:
Speed: "Photograph >>>>>>>>>> Photoart.
"It's a continuum and our view depends on where we sit. I get it."
Tom Halfhill: "some newspapers are using similar terminology already. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle uses the term 'photo illustration' to describe manipulated photographs. The term appears in the mouse-type photo byline, such as 'Photo illustration by John Doe,' etc."
Dennis (partial comment): "What do you say about someone who produces photographs much of the time and photoart some of the time ? (Therein lies the controversy; McCurry's lack of forthrightness means you can't trust whether or not a given photograph is straight). But, gray areas aside, it seems fine to label each work as one thing or the other, but if the person produces both, it's unfair/inaccurate to label him or her."
Mike replies: Very fair point, and one I didn't think of. I modified the post to take your objection into account.
Howard Brunner: "Photoart is fine by me. Under the terms of your definition, 96% of my creative output would qualify. Photoart also happens to be the name of my website."
Mike replies: If you say so, Howard, but a lot of your work looks pretty straight to me.
Ctein (partial comment): "So, are you going to say that my stitched panoramas or entirely realistic HDR photographs are 'photoart?' How about if I take a bit of a power line out of the corner of a landscape photo, because I couldn't levitate three feet to get exactly the right composition (yup, I've done that). Or that distant airplane or tiny bird that flew into the scene that I didn't notice when I was pressing the shutter, that I erased (instead of bleaching it out in a print) because not only not-wanted but the tiny damn thing looks like a data flaw in the file or dirt on the sensor, yet it sure grabs the eye. Done that, too."
Mike replies: This is a controversy, defined as a dispute that is ongoing and that doesn't admit of simple solution. But look, I'm only describing, or trying to describe, the broad differences that interest me, not defining or dictating them. People are consistently picking technical nits as if it matters. Of course it doesn't. The camera doesn't make the statement or determine the aims of the image. You do. That is, the artist/creator/operator does. The basic thing I think people should think about is what kind of statement they're making with their image. (You defined this perfectly well to me a couple of weeks ago, but I can't find it now.) How was it made weighed against how it is likely to be received. Is it naturalistic, or invented? Is is a "straight" report of the scene, or your personal interpretation? Does it reveal more about the visible world, or more about your imagination, how you wish the world looked?
I don't care about how anyone wants to define it because that doesn't matter. I'm not being legalistic. Just trying to get my meaning across.
And people consistently mistake technical parameters as being definitive. They're not. What you're talking about are just solutions to technical problems, like color correction or tonal corrections such as gradient or software HDR (either of which can be used to make a particular image more or less accurate—the creator's choice). If you stitch a panorama, the important thing is not that it's not a single exposure. The important thing is, what problem does it solve, and does it say anything about the intentions of its creator? You've printed a stitched panorama of mine that is a perfectly straightforward, naturalistic photograph—it was only stitched from separate exposures because that's the only way I could include that much arc of the compass. But a reader posted a link to a photoartist (again, can't find it now) who uses dozens or hundreds of exposures to represent all the times of a 24-hour cycle in one image. That's not a straightforward, naturalistic photograph of a scene, in the sense that someone else who was at the scene might have witnessed it at any given time. It's an artistic interpretation of something that didn't exist. An impression. Photoart. If you don't like that term or any other, then just say how the photo was made...if it's not obvious.
As for the bit of powerline—you're the author, you decide. If you think it's a pointless distraction and removing it doesn't affect the integrity of the image, then fine. What do I have to do with that? We all make our own decisions about things like that and we always will. Nobody else gets to say.
My motives here are entirely compassionate from both angles. First, I sympathize with the viewer, who would like to know what she is looking at. Is it a report of something real? Can it be taken as evidence so far as it goes? If you're going to be adding things that didn't exist in the world and subtracting things that did, such that your image doesn't represent anything real, then at least some viewers would like to know. Otherwise they might justifiably feel deceived.
From the other direction, a creator (you'll notice I'm avoiding the words, "photoartist," "artist," "photographer" etc., which are loaded in the context of the present discussion) might find it useful to be able to indicate that a picture that might appear to be one thing is in fact another, without the possibility of being accused of deceptiveness or dishonesty. Take the controversy over Robert Doisneau's "Le baiser de l'hotel de ville." Doisneau hired two people to model for him and wandered around the city with them taking different pictures of them in various situations. The result was a wonderful photograph that has been widely admired. He didn't consider that he had done anything wrong. But when it was discovered (from court testimony, in 1993) what he had done, he came under widespread condemnation...just this very month, A.D. Coleman said the discovery affected Doisneau's credibility, saying that by "allowing its frequent republication as a perceptive cultural insider’s documentation of spontaneous public behavior, that forced confession calls into question not just this one image but all of Doisneau’s purportedly sociological observation of French life. (Certainly it forever changed the way I experience that photograph, converting it instantly and irrevocably from reportage into theater.)" Doisneau was upset and troubled by the effect it was having on his reputation up until his death the next year.
Wouldn't it have been better if there had been an easy and conventional way for Doisneau to indicate that it was not a naturalistic, "found," candid documentary photograph right from the start? By, perhaps, using some label for it like photoart? Then no one would have been surprised to learn that it had been staged.
As I said in this post, I don't get to determine terminology, and no one cares what I think. But the fact remains, I do think it would be handy if we had an easy, widely accepted way to distinguish broadly how camera-creations are operating, in the absence of more precise information and when they fall outside of specific genres with accepted norms. What should the terms be? I don't know. I'm not good at coining words. Photograph/photoart; straight/created; naturalistic/inventive; accurate/modified; whatever. Whatever they might be, I wish such conventional terms existed and that they would become widely accepted.