« Rare Opportunity | Main | Reality and Photography »

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I think we have a winner!

Charlie H.

I like photoplast better that the other suggested terms. I'll note that ironically, if one were to watermark the circled G on a photograph to indicate that it hasn't been altered, it would automatically become a photoplast.

Uh oh...seems that Damon has hit on the problem. Add adding the "circled G" is NOT the problem. The actual problem is that we disagree that adding the "circled G" would make it a photoplast. If any obvious modification that isn't meant to alter the content in a meaningful way makes is a photoplast, then what's the point of the term? Everything published online just about anywhere anymore has a signature or copyright on it. How would you then differetiate this from the images that actually fit the intent of the word?

I like the terms a lot, but feel that there is still the problem of what falls within the bounds of "respecting the lens image". Obviously this will always be a grey area, but in the example Damon gave, I don't think it's really grey. I think adding a copyright, signature, or watermark still respects the lens image.

"I think adding a copyright, signature, or watermark still respects the lens image."

I think so too.

Mike J.

I respect the logic supporting "photoplast" but the term is a little too biological for me. If I "presented" with a photoplast, I'd want my doc to biopsy...and I'd definately find time for church on Sunday...

"restoring the integrity of photography as a documentary medium."

Photography is no longer a documentary medium?
I really missed something here. If film and sensor are not documenting "respecting the lens image", then what is it, a dream or flight of fantasy and imagination.
Mystical thoughts, and plastic dreams.
I need to go and lurk on photo sites. and maybe forget that I can READ. PBurs. serious............

Yuck. I hate the term. Sounds like a band-aid. You know like Elastoplast... you won't catch me saying I'm a photoplaster either. Too much like photobastard. Which now that I hear it, seems like another good term for those images we don't like and are not really pure photography. Photoplaster - sounds like I should be doing drywall.

I think we are losing sight of what photography is (and always has been), or we are trying to make it something it is not.

All photography is an interpretation of reality, a representation that varies to some degree from the actual scene.

Documentary photography only attests or certifies that the image produced (initially by film) has not been modified from that recorded on the film as it was in the camera. In forensics it has been common to have problems with this when standard b&w film didn't show something that color film or infrared film would show.......or when the representation of the item varied to the point of questionability (requiring professional INTERPRETATION of the photograph by an expert witness).

All photography is essentially art, as it is representative of our vision, not of some ill-defined and subjectively biased concept of "reality." How it is manipulated in the camera, in the darkroom, or in the computer simply adds to the artistic interpretation, which is why it can be copyrighted to start with.....it is an original work.

Bravo! Dr. Hansen-Flaschen gets to the heart of the matter (no pun intended): whether photography is a plastic art, and finds there at least a pertinent etymological solution.

But the underlying issue (dilemma? itch?) remains. Pre-digital photography was inherently not plastic. It was essentially a mechanical recording medium. Some managed to defy that nature with effort and ingenuity. But that nature dictated how photography developed as a medium and an art, and also changed how we treated other graphic arts.

Digital photography, on the other hand, is inherently plastic. The difficulty is that digital technology today does not just give us a new way to photograph: it fundamentally changes the nature of the medium. It changed the game. There's no going back. There is now no sure, objective way to know that a photographic image has not ever had plastic form.* We must resort to personal or institutional witness and testimony.

It's good to understand, and to have words to distinguish, one kind from another, but I think there is no "reclaiming" of "photography" the term, the medium or the art, at least in the broad cultural context, from such a profound change. Unfortunately, it is too late to give a name to the new thing to try and keep it from devouring and transforming the old thing in the public mind.

Which is not to say that anything has necessarily changed as far as anyone's personal relationship to the medium or art. It is not too late to coin a word, dignify a place, for the old way, and celebrate its new role. Like many, I still prefer straight photography produced strictly with optics, mechanics and chemistry. Analog photography obviously still has a place, but that place is a very different one in the new world.

*Ironically, I suspect that experts could to some extent authenticate a RAW file, but I have no idea to what degree.

Too similar to protoplast (via Wikipedia): ...is a plant, bacterial or fungal cell that had its cell wall completely or partially removed using either mechanical or enzymatic means.

The line of demarcation is too, uh, plastic. Even those who care about this distinction - and most don't - will disagree on what should or should not be included or excluded, defending their own practices, no doubt.

I wish this mattered more in the real world and that there was a practical way to enforce those who lie, but there isn't.

For the record, my line is between altering the subject and altering the lighting (or equivalent) . . . except that I can also think of a few self-serving additions.

I wasn't being entirely serious about the circled G making it less of a photograph. Nevertheless, if we did go so far as to invent a mark of certification guaranteeing an image's 'respect for the lens image' then of course we'd need universally understood guidelines to define a 'straight' photograph.

Beyond obvious issues of falsification (what would the repercussions be?) I'd throw up my hands in despair at even imagining such a clear-cut set of rules. For example, what if I used that circled G mark to obscure the one discarded chocolate bar wrapper in the otherwise idyllic scene, or the politician who's fallen from favour with the party? More honest than using the clone tool, but still not showing the viewer what the lens saw.

I know publications prohibit retouched images when they're presented as photojournalism, but I wouldn't seriously want to declare that any manipulated photo was not an actual photograph. I'm just not that hardcore. I've always thought of photography, whether chemical or digital, as an inherently plastic art - otherwise we'd be displaying only slides and negatives rather than prints and scans.

Some readers may not be aware that my message above responds to the challenge posted by Mike on December 7th in his entry "Photography and__?"

I agree with Mike that there is pressing need for a new term with the features he stipulated to apply to a still image that has been modified by addition or removal or selective distortion of visual elements such that it no longer reasonably documents a place and a time.

My proposed term meets Mike's specifications. Photoplasty is also easily pronounced and spelled, is entymologically sound, and is not currently used with any regularity to mean something else.

As a relatively new medium of visual communication (as new as photography), photoplasty possesses enormous potential for creative expression. Like photography, photoplasty can rise to the level of fine art. However, unlike photography, photoplasty is not a documentary medium.

Photography isn't inherently a prettier word than photoplasty; it is just a more familiar one.

If there is a need for a new word, photoplasty is surely a contender.


The trouble is that photoplastic already means something. Photoplastic materials have a molecular structure that changes when exposed to light. Like film for instance. There is lot work using photoplastic materials for holographic storage. UV curing plastics are another type of photoplastic material.

Now this I have agonised over many time as I made the move from darkroom to computer.
Where does one draw a line.
Instead of giving many examples here are two.
1. Large format rising front for vertical alignment.
2. Swing for enhanced D.O.F.
Can a (G) be applied ?. Note at no time have we yet entered the darkroom or used PS/CS etc in the pc


"If there is a need for a new word, photoplasty is surely a contender."

I don't see that there is a need for a new word. As mentioned above - there is no going back. Digital cameras have so neatly sidestepped the traditional dictionary definition of photography as having to do with film and chemicals that I can't see any general acceptance of the idea that someone using a DSLR is not being a photographer. Similarly I can't see the public at large caring one way or another about whether you call something a "digitally altered photograph", a "photograph", a "photoplast", a "digital collage", or whatever.

The only people one seems to see actually getting upset about these definitions are those who get all high horsey about the fact that anything altered at all is "a lie", or start ranting about how "it is not photography" or similar in online forums where a simple comment can turn into a three month flame war over whether nikon beats canon or film beats digital or who really is the truest photographer in the mold of Ansel Adams or whomever else they care to cite.

The Walls and the Gurskys and the Loretta Luxes of this world certainly don't seem to be using any sleep over it.


What if take a picture that for some reason is technically deficient, eg "washed-out"?

i then adjust levels, making it more like the original image i saw with my eye.

this document is then closer to the truth, but less authentic??

same as an audio recording that has to be digitally enhanced to allow the listener to hear something that was originally present (perhaps like Armstrongs' moon recording), is this moving away from, or closer to the reality?

Photoplasty is a redundant word. Light (photo) is plastic already. All photographs are photoplasts, the very moment you choose shooter speed, ISO, aperture, position, frame ratio, and so on. Even our brain is a photoplasty machine.

"To thine own self be true".
There is no such thing as a "non-plasticized" photo in any medium.
Well said Clara.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007