Well, it was fun to make that little academic excursion into terminology yesterday, although today I have a bit of a hangover from it. I like words and write reasonably well, but I have no gift for names and naming.
I concede I didn't think of the problem with "correction" implying that a mistake had been made in the first place—one that needed "correcting"—which might make you look bad to clients. Acknowledging that none of these terms are going to catch on in any event, I think as a result I would prefer the word "finishing" instead of "correction." FER?
And here's a fascinating twist. The king of the name-givers in our field was Sir John Herschel, who probably wouldn't be pleased to know that he is now mostly remembered in Julia Margaret Cameron's photograph of him in old age, in costume (left). He made protean contributions to the invention of photography, including the discovery of fixer and the words "positive," "negative," and "snapshot" (a term imported from hunting, as when a bird is flushed and the hunter makes a quick reactive shot). His greatest contribution to the lexicography, of course, was the word "photography," which, quoting Wikipedia, was "created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), 'light,' and γραφή (graphé) 'representation by means of lines' or 'drawing,' together meaning 'drawing with light.'"
So instead of "reworking" (a word which Ctein supplied to CER, incidentally), shouldn't that be redrawing? (Or rewriting, if you prefer the translation "writing with light" for photos and graphe.
Because no matter how you feel about reworking or modifying or retouching or "photoshopping" a digital image file, all I know is that if you replace 40% of the honest pixels with different ones, the result was no longer "drawn with light." Not entirely. It was drawn by light and the retoucher. And, since there's no way to tell which was which, the viewer coming to it cold can no longer take anything in the picture as honest.
...But we're back in my personal value system, which (of course!) you are under no compulsion to adopt for yourself unless you want to. In any event, my advice to younger and beginning photographers regarding reworking or "photoshopping" is the same as photographer Frank DiPerna's advice on cropping. Frank once said, "I absolutely never, ever crop...except when I want to." Which is part good joke and part deep truth. I think it's generally good advice for reworking as well. My guiding principle is: I absolutely never, ever rework a photo...except when I want to. In other words, when it's really necessary and there's a very good reason to do it, then go ahead, but apply sparingly and use it a crutch. Of course your photography belongs to you, and you should do any tomfool thing you want to.
As the great photojournalist Bruce Haley said to me in a private e-mail (I received his permission to quote him here, but bear in mind he wasn't speaking for public consumption):
If I spell out my personal "rules" of photography then I risk sounding like a sanctimonious pr*ck. However, it's more just a matter of simplicity, of avoiding "tangled web" territory...I have always just used the KISS principle for my photography: I either got it or I didn't...if I got it, I might use/release it; if I didn't get it, it gets tossed in the rubbish bin, never to be seen by anyone else. I don't crop—I either got it right at the moment of the shutter's release or I didn't. If there is a pole or a tree growing out of someone's head, the image gets tossed. If my shadow is in the frame, it gets tossed. If someone is looking at me and smiling (like the now-vanished fellow on McCurry's rickshaw image), that photo gets tossed. Really simple: I "fix" things like that during my edit, by throwing the image out....
This is just how I want to work—I have absolutely no desire to set expectations or guidelines for others.
This is the same sentiment, phrased differently, as my long-held idea that a photograph is either a "yes" or a "no." If it doesn't work 100% for you, then it didn't work; and if it didn't work then it didn't work. It doesn't matter if it came close, or how much you wished it had worked, or how hard you worked to get it, or if you were just positive there was a great photograph somewhere in the vicinity when you shot it. (We all get our heads turned by those things occasionally, I think.) It just either works, and it's a yes, or it's a no. An addiction to reworking/retouching/"photoshopping," to me (we're still in my personal value system, remember), is like an addiction to plastic surgery: the more you try to correct, the more of an unnatural mess you make, until you've created a grotesque. Or perhaps I should choose words that are a little less loaded (!) and simply say that you're no longer drawing with light, so what you've got no longer quite fits John Herschel's fine old 19th-century word.
Bruce Haley's unretouched, unphotoshopped photograph of a wounded Afghan girl in a Médecins Sans Frontières clinic in Pakistan in 1986. Bruce took three photographs and then sat with her for a while until the doctors could see her. A photograph like this one either works or it doesn't, and its
connection to the real is where its power lies.
Of course, the meaning and uses of photography and its culture will change. New ways of understanding it and using it will emerge in the wake of new technologies and peoples' changed experiences, assumptions, and expectations. Our children won't have the same conceptual framework in place that we had. We're all taught to deal with a world that has already changed by the time we're living in it.
At least it's always interesting to watch those changes happen.
(Thanks to Bruce)
P.S. I still have more than 60 comments to add to yesterday's post, so please come back soon to check some of those out.
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Featured Comments from:
Len Kowitz: "Mike, I understand where you're going with this thought and I think you're on the right track but why bother? You reminded me of an exhibition I saw at the Ransom Center in Austin. If my feeble memory serves it was an exhibition in conjunction with the Magnum symposium in 2013. One of the prints in the show was a 'work print' with the photographer's notes indicating the 'adjustments' he wanted in the final print. My first reaction to the picture was this is a piece that MoMA would fall all over itself to hang in a show of 'New Masters.' Dodge this 5%, burn this area 10%, all over the image. Photoshop just gives us a new tool (one that's easier to use) to do what photographers have always done with their prints. Thank you for making me think a little deeper about what I'm doing with my camera."
Mike replies: You answered your own question. Why bother? To make people think a little deeper about they're doing with a camera. Works for me. That is really the whole point of a post like "C-E-R": the goal isn't to change global terminology, it's to encourage thinking about what our own values and principles are and should be. Engaging with such questions helps clarify thinking, and clear thinking makes decisions easier and our practices more forthright.
It doesn't really matter where you fall on the actual issues—whether you conclude that you love photo-illustration and are going to stop looking at straight photography (i.e., disagree with me), or whether you want to stop at enhancement and keep wholesale reworking mostly off limits (agree with me). It's all good. The point is to become more clear about what we're doing and what our own values are.
Michael Perini: "Re Photographs are either a 'yes' or a 'no'...very appropriate for digital...either a 1 or a 0....
"I've always felt that getting it right in the camera (for me) was a very good discipline, and a worthy goal that helped me get more 'keepers.' But I do straighten horizons, and occasionally crop a picture within the 'picture' as I Correct-Enhance-Finish the work. I also tend to take far fewer frames than most others I know. It works for me. When I shot film, I developed and contact printed the roll and never excised bad frames, I just ignored them. I've been going through old negatives and scanning them and have found more than a few overlooked gems—so I'm glad I saved them. I do the same with digital, and occasionally find the same thing. All this is also effected by the kinds of work we do, and who we do it for.
"As you often say, it's a big house with many rooms. However there is value for each of us in deciding where we stand on these issues and then being true to that. Because the trouble always arises when our Implied Disciplines differ from our Actual Disciplines."