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Monday, 10 December 2007


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"There's a term I personally detest, and that's 'digital photograph.' No such thing. Either be brave and call it a photograph, or be precise and call it a digital image, I say. However, I don't get to say."

I'll tell you what really annoys me: the treatment of digitally created photographs as something alternate and special to film created photographs. I just bailed out of a local camera club because I became totally frustrated and pissed at the "special" treatment of digital photography.

It had its own section (for classifying photos), and within that section there were subsections to handle the amount of processing ("Photoshopping") used to create the photo. If you applied limited and global processing to an image, then it was in category A. If you got creative and say, blended two exposures to make one image, then you were in category B.

I think the vast majority of us photographers just want our photographs to look like we want them to. We want our photos to show the scene as we've envisaged it. We don't want it to look fake or unnatural.

I have absolutely no problems cloning out a bird "streak" across the sky in a landscape photo that I've made. But to do so, the photo is now "altered" and is put into that evil category of "digitally manipulated photograph".

We have such wonderful and easy to use tools available to us (digital cameras & Photoshop). Why am I punished or specially labeled because I used these great tools to their potential? Why should my one perfect exposure of a difficult scene created from a blend of several different exposures be outcast?

We should all strive to gain enjoyment out of photographs and not waste time worrying about how the photos were made.

This form of categorization reminds me somewhat of that used in climbing -- it's not necessarily what you've climbed, but rather the manner in which you've climbed it. Indeed this often makes all the difference in the public's eye.

If you want to see "digitally manipulated photograph" as an "evil category," that's on you. Why is it evil? Why do you resist the distinction? Obviously I don't know the whole history of the chip on your shoulder (and I don't want to...), but just from what you've written here it strikes me that you're hauling at least as much baggage to the fight as your former club's rules are.

Mike J.

TJ: "I just bailed out of a local camera club because I became totally frustrated and pissed at the "special" treatment of digital photography."

Ahhhh, camera clubs :) I attended one meeting of the local camera club some years back, and that was only because they were featuring Joseph Meehan (of PDN) talking about the state of digital printing. I suspect that club embraces digital photography (given the cliquish nature and the fact that at least one of the members of the core clique shoots DSLRs). Anyway, your comment reminded me of the various ways in which photo contests at local fairs handle digital photography - if it's allowed, it's lumped into a special category. But I suppose that's to be expected at a agricultural fair when the photos are displayed next to the homemade jams & jellies, pies and homegrown turnips. "When you can grow turnips like these with a robot, then we'll let you take pitchers with a computer !"

I wouldn't go so far to call these distinctions as "evil," but they are limiting, and degrading. It's like trying to put someone in his place, or some sort of a place.

The same thing occurs in music. Instead of just "Rock," for example, we have Folk Rock, Fusion Rock, Heavy Rock, Soft Rock, Acid Rock. It's not musicians that coin these terms, but intellectuals/ critics who make these distinctions because the mind is not comfortable unless it can place something in a neat little box. The artists hate it.

Consider Bob Dylan who fought his entire career to avoid being placed in a box. Especially the "protest singer" box. It's society trying to absorb what it doesn't understand, or what it feels threatened by.

These terms have nothing to do with art, music, or photography. It's intellectuals doing what intellectuals do: sorting, categorizing, listing, and limiting. It really is irrelevant.

This seems to be the perfect opportuntity to seek clarification on an issue that is sometimes contentious on photo forums - the use of 'digtal negatives', enlarged from film and digitally printed for the purpose of contact printing. By your definition of straight photography (which I am in agreement) the insertion of a digital step, if it is not a pixel-manipulated image, would qualify the final product - film to analog print - as straight photography. This is so logical (to me, at least) that I can only hope it becomes part of the accepted vocabulary. It might help eliminate a term that I think has caused more grief than good -'hybrid' photography.

Hear ye, hear ye.

For me a source of image doesn't matter, but I know two reasons why probably digital capturers are treated differently.

1. They mostly never came with prints, and want to show something on monitor.

2. They quite often show graphics painted in Photoshop, not what was captured in the scene.

Above were general statements, but think if you qualify for any of them.

I believe the only photograph that is not manipulated in some way is a photograph not taken. Everything that is done, be it traditional silver or digital is in some way altered. I have yet to see a truly black & white area on Earth. A mile long landscape presented as an 8X10 B&W print has in truth been manipulated. To manipulate to deceive, as in 90% of advertising photos and TV I think is wrong but to enhance a visual image for a more meaningful and powerful visual impression is a must for great artistic photography. If you like and enjoy the image, how it was made is irrelevant to to the final visual image.
Break the rules, experiment and have fun.

True what you are saying, Dennis. But that is just the way of the world, we have to categorize things to understand each other. And please remember, Bob Dylan is still fighting :)

It's not hybrid *photography*, but rather a hybrid method or methodology. Seems like a fine point, but still, very different ideas.

Mike J.

This subtle sub-topic (not sure what to call it) keeps coming up every month or so. The good thing is that there actually appears to be progress. Clearly, Mike is getting closer to "the answer" (my opinion only).

I also suspect that there is a problem with words and terms in "photography". However, I believe it is not the actual choice of words but the fact that every word we attempt to use has a history. They have "baggage". They have connotations.

Look at the term "straight photography". Boy is that a loaded phrase! I would suspect the majority of us realize that it not discriminatory toward gays and lesbians. But there is still a connotation beyond the simple intent of the person who coined the term (and it is different for different people). Even at a more basic level, I suspect the first person who uttered the word "photograph" would probably be disturbed to see how the word is used today.

Perhaps we need to start fresh. Invent new words (like the technology industry) that removes the linguistic bindings of the past.

Perhaps we could go even further and instead use symbols without pronunciation information to free the ideas from auditory issues (like Prince did).

Ooh, ooh... Mr. Kotter, Mr. Kotter.... Maybe we could use what were formerly known as photographs to represent these ideas...

Ok, but seriously, care must be taken to define terms that do not have significant biases. The core problem is that too many times "common" words are used in combination to form a term. Common words tend to gain subtle connotations very quickly (more use, more baggage).

If instead of "straight photography" we used the term "invariant visible electromagnetic spectrum collection and display" and for "photo illustration" we used the term "visible electromagnetic spectrum collection and display using a filtered, discrete, numerical representation", I think there would be greater clarity and considerably less ruffled feathers!

"We have such wonderful and easy to use tools available to us (digital cameras & Photoshop). Why am I punished or specially labeled because I used these great tools to their potential? Why should my one perfect exposure of a difficult scene created from a blend of several different exposures be outcast?"

Outcast is a little strong, but the reason why they're not fully accepted is because the scene didn't happen. One of the old guarantees of cameras was that in some sense, the "scene" was out there -- NOT only in the artist's mind. If you can't get a straight shot of it, for some reason, then (in straight photography) it didn't exist. I've mentioned somewhere else the LA Times faked photo of an American soldier in Iraq who seemed to be menacing an Iraqi and his small child. The scene was composited of two photographs taken at about the same time, but the composited photo presented a radically different view of the situation than the straight photos, and might have had a powerful political effect if the fakery hadn't been detected. So that's the problem -- if a scene doesn't exist, but has to be composited, then it didn't exist -- and to present it as if it did, as a straight photo, is a form of lying.

Artists compose artificial scenes, and in fact somewhere in the US right now there is an art show of "multiples," which are variations on a scene which slightly change the arrangements of people, horses, etc. (The ones I saw in a review were by Degas, at a race track.) But paintings, by their nature, advertise their artificiality -- nobody believes that the horses and the jockeys stood absolutely still and posed for the eight or ten hours -- or six or eight months -- it took to do the painting. Manipulated photos, presented as straight, don't have this built-in check. So you get National Geographic moving pyramids to get a better (but impossible) view, etc. People argue that Adams manipulated photos with filters, with dodging and burning, etc., and he did, but what he was doing was changing the conditions of the machine (with filters) or the light (with dodging) but usually he was not attempting to change the conditions of the scene itself (though he apparently did in the example cited by Mike.) IMHO, that photograph is also a lie.

The problem is not so much with the image itself, as the presentation of the image. If you present it as straight, and it isn't, then you're not telling the truth.

"The core problem is that..."

Jeff Hartge,
Very nice, thoughtful (and funny) comment, but I think the core problem is actually that "we" where you write "Perhaps we need to start fresh." Who's "we," and what makes we think that us can pull off such a thing? There's no authority on Earth that can dictate language usage, to the everlasting exasperation of the French government and various Esperanto societies (g). I'd probably be for it, but it would take a vast and concerted authority to launch such an effort, and even then, it would be very dicey as to whether the eternally fickle zeitgeist would accept it or not.

Note that the definitions I listed are standard ones, not new coinages or idiosyncratic definitions of my own devising.

Mike J.

Mike said: "Incidentally, my own interest and allegiance is mainly to straight photography. If a picture doesn't respect the medium's potential connection to the real world, why not go be a watercolorist?"

Potential connection to the real world? C'mon, Mike you're just lobbing grenades here. 'Course I like it when you lob them....

Speaking of that; since your a writer, why don't you go back to chisel and stone or quill and scroll?

Your online scribbling is certainly no more a connection to the 'real' world anymore than a Digital Image.

Should we petition Adobe about the dng - digital negative format? Perhaps it should be re-named digital positive for political correctness?

Actually, I'm a cyborg. There is no "Mike Johnston"....

Mike J.

Okay, perhaps that didn't come off just as I'd intended :-) I don't see the categorization of photographic methods as the problem, but rather how those methods are viewed.

I don't resist the distinction, but I accept with caution. Telling someone about how you edited a photo in Photoshop could possibly turn them off of your photography, or maybe cause them to label you.

I've experienced this when showing prints to friends and co-workers. It's because they don't understand the intent and the process that they fall back on that label. And that label, for some, has been assigned negative meanings (i.e. the photo's a fake).

Those of us who practice digital photography and digitally edit (or manipulate... choose your terms carefully :-) are in a tricky spot. Do we disclose our methods and potentially get labeled by some people as making photos that lie? Or do we lie and have photos that people perceive as true?

Or are we screwed no matter what? :-) I think it's time for lunch...

Actually, I'm a cyborg. There is no "Mike Johnston"....

Mike J.

Aren't we all........?


Model # 254t689wf (With similar likeness to hominid Charlie D)


"One of the old guarantees of cameras was that in some sense, the 'scene' was out there—not only in the artist's mind...."

People have been drastically manipulating images and combining exposures for a very long time. What's really changed is the public is now aware of it.

That old guarantee is just another old lie.

Journalistic deception is an evil lie, because it intends to deceive when purporting the truth.

Beyond that,"The camera never lies" is a joke, and always has been a joke. I'm not even talking about gross manipulation, that changes content or context. The camera always lies because a photograph reveals only the position and point of view of the photographer, and the more control one has, the more advanced in practice one becomes, and the more taste one has, the more subtle and more effective the deception becomes. The art of photography is founded on interpretation, and control. My black skies are a "lie", the buttery smoothness of my Heliar at f4.5 is a "lie", the sharpness and DOF of my 210 G-Claron at f64 is a "lie". In the purest sense, just choosing an aperture, emulsion, or developer is a manipulation of reality, so it's time to get over that, and embrace the power.

I couldn't care less how someone else goes about making images. If you are happy doing something, more power and happiness to you.

My little panties do bunch up when persons make prints, and then obfuscate about what kind of prints they are. Sometimes it is innocent ignorance, and sometimes it is intentional, but in the end it is a huge disservice to the entire art and craft, and hurts the advancement of the art.

RE: John Camp - I think you mis-interpreted what was meant by "blend of multiple exposures". It wasn't (for instance) a sky from one location with foreground from another. I read it as the technique whereby you overcome the cameras limitations by making multiple exposures of the exact same scene, then combine them to better show what was actually there.

So in this case, you have the reverse of most of this controversy - you're using digital manipulation/processing to make a more realistic scene (meaning closer to what your eye is capable of seeing). Kind of turns things on their heads, doesn't it?

The other problem with images like this being excluded (from what I've seen), is that typically the same people have no problem with GND filters on the camera, but do have a problem with someone doing the same thing in Photoshop.

I think the problem is sort of a trust issue - if X wasn't done in camera, then how do I know ANY of it was done in camera; What else might have changed?
Some would answer, "who cares?" But I agree that in many cases, not knowing that the scene as presented really exists, lessens the impact of the photo.

I'm sure I remember seeing a cow jump out of the way of my Impala right outside of Sun Prairie. Well that was in the sixties, I was probably pre-visualizing digital illustrations back then.

In 1957 I turned 8 and my stern, imperious great aunt thought her country bumpkin grand nephew needed his horizons expanded. So what should arrive shortly in the mail box but a subscription to National Geographic. WOW! I could read fairly well by that age but...the pictures! Ah the pictures. They transported me all oner the world. I think that's when my interest in photography started. In my imagination I walked where the photographer walked, stood where he stood, saw what he saw! Whatever you call it, it was great photography and I think, as close as reasonably can be to what Mike calls "straight" photography. Now please don't everyone jump on me and cite year/month/page number where Nat Geo put the fooly on me. No matter the label, that's the type of photography I enjoy the most.


I am very much against dictating language upon anyone. That is a great thing about the "American" use of the english language, anyone can create a new word or term (or "coin a phrase") anytime they wish.

With respect to "we"...forgive my presumptuousness...
You have created a unique and great community here at TOP. As such it is completely free to adopt its own "language" to communicate. Perhaps an excercise in words and terms could be a fun experiment (who knows, maybe the rest of the world might adopt the phrases that spring from these "pages").

(I obviously have too much time on my hands.)

I was thinking about "straight photography" further and realized that we could call it "anselography" (or "64-ography" if you feel that it neglects other significant contributors to that form) and have a term that more clearly conveys its meaning. Further, it is somewhat insulated from gaining non-photographic connotations.

For "traditional photography" is it possible that "opto-chemography" might be more appropriate? (I realize that "chemography" is taken, but who says we can't re-define it?)

The rest of the terms above are perhaps ok. For the "digital illustrations" and "photo illustrations" maybe we distinguish manipulations on the basis of what they do to the subject of the image and not the actual manipulation process.

Images that are manipulated to alter the situation or subject captured could be called examples of "chirapsography" (massaged photograph?). No connotation. Just the idea that the final image does not represent what was captured.


Enough from me for now. It is someone else's turn.

It's funny how these arguments can last forever without enlightning the matter much.

It's photography as an artist's tool vs. photography as an art in itself, or something like that.

I tend to favor and enjoy straight photography over other types, it's a matter of taste and education, I guess. But I am not so sure about it's relation with reality and would never believe that I could perceive the scenes some photographer captured with his "straight" tools as he did, and since I do not see them, is that reality? I would never really see like Friedlander, or Danny Lyons or whoever, even if I was at the same street corner in the same precise moment. And then the whole argument recedes into the meaning of perception, reality, fiction, etc. Which in turns takes us back to the concept of art and artist.

Photography is not a piece of reality but a construct from it. In fact, reality is not an important concept. Each individual sees and perceives different realities. It depends on his culture, education, capacities, etc. I go to the country and I see nothing but grass where a trained eye would discern and enjoy a diversity of flora, animals, etc.
I enjoy straight photography precisely because of its mechanical nature, which gives me a particular relationship with reality, but I am perfectly aware of the fact that I am seeing through somebody else's eyes, and most of the time I am enjoying a vision I would not be able to "see" otherwise. As "straight" as Ansel Adams photography may be, it's still a fabrication, an idealized vision of nature, with drama, poetry etc. added by the artist.

I don't care if Stephen Shore gets his colours by standing in the beach for hours or working at his computer. What's the difference? A straight photo is still an illusion, fabricated: he uses Velvia or Portra, filters it in some way, tricks it into being colder or warmer when printing, etc.
A completely different matter is when somebody forges a photo like the picture of the Iraq war cited. But only if you consider it in its context of photojournalism and honest reporting. Had it been done by an artist and hung in a gallery, it would be completely acceptable. It has already happened.

Obviously, some types of photography are indeed close to watercolours. To me it's clear that some photographers try to do with a camera what Turner did with his brushes. I prefer to look at the watercolour in those cases, but it's just my taste, no hierarchy or judgement implied in that.
Reading all the thread, I ended up remembering my father. He loved jazz and made me hear it from an early age, and I am particularly grateful to him for that, but he thought that "real" jazz ended in the forties. He accepted Dixie and big bands, etc. as jazz. Up to the Hot Club de France, etc. Cool jazz, bebop, free jazz, etc. were anathema, not to be considered jazz. It may be an acceptable music style for many, but it was not jazz. It's a similar argument here. Is it or is it not photography?

Dear Folks,

Ah, history in the (re)making.

For what it's worth, prior to widespread photography, painting WAS considered a medium of record (vis the film, The Draftman's Contract). And not two months ago, I saw a great exhibit of Natura Morta from the Medici's collections. The artists were free to take liberties with the nonessentials, and part of their skill was doing so in an interesting and entertaining manner, but the core purpose of the painting had to be rendered accurately, whether it was painted in hours or years.

As for the involiacy of news and record photography, I'm a fervent (even fanatical) proponent of that. But that was only honored post 1920's (and maybe not until post WWII-- I'm a bit hazy on journalism in those twenty years). The Golden Age of news reporting is a postwar phenomenon that started dying in the 1980's and is pretty well deceased.

As for terminology, I don't have any problem with 'digital photography,' 'cept I don't ever use it (grin). Other than in a comparison to analog photography. I just make photographs.

But this, too, shall pass. No one talks about "electronic computers" today. "Computer" automatically means "electronic." In fact, it automatically means "digital." If you want to refer to human or analog computers, you have to specify them.

Much the same way that "phone" means "touch-key phone" unless you say "dial phone."

Reverse neologism is what that's called. And eventually, in not very many years, it'll simply be "photography" with the reverse neologism of "silver" or "trad" or whatever to specify what used to simply be what everyone did.

Patience. All these tempests will settle.

Meanwhile, just keep making pitchurs, hokay?

pax / Ctein

"People have been drastically manipulating images and combining exposures for a very long time. What's really changed is the public is now aware of it."

I'm sorry, but I really find this to be a red herring. In the film-only days, 99.99% of photographs were *not* manipulated and certainly not "combined." And like my unfortunate flying cow from Madison, in earlier times manipulations were much easier to detect. No photograph *is* reality, but there is a *connection* to reality that makes sense as long as you understand how the equipment--cheifly but not exclusively the lens--distorts and deceives. Even expert darkroom craftsmen had trouble making relatively simple changes skillfully enough to be undetectable.

What's changed now is that much more radical changes in the image are possible, small changes are much more routinely applied, and manipulations to the scene (the pretext, technically) are orders of magnitude harder to detect. This DOES have a very real effect on the perceived veracity of the medium. It places more of the burden of accurate disclosure on the operator--and we don't yet have a tradition of regulating such disclosure (although the photojournalistic community is striving mightily to establish standards). As I'm trying to point out here, we don't even really have a terminology to talk about it accurately.

Just because people did make heavily manipulated and collaged and fraudulent images in the old pre-digital days does ***NOT*** mean there has not been a change. There's been a BIG change. It's a change in degree, granted, but it's still a big difference.

Mike J.

"Actually, I'm a cyborg. There is no "Mike Johnston"...."

Did this happen before or after 'you' measured the bear's foot?

If you can make everybody call un-straight photographs something else, will it change anything beyond the words?

John Robison,
Same, except I was born the year you were 8 and for me it was LIFE magazine and book after book after book of photographs from the Civil War.

Mike J.

"(For a good example of a guy who's very good at photo-illustration, in his case of the commercial variety, check this link.)"

I'd like to quibble here and say that Mark Tucker's work just crosses the line into photo-illustration.

Out of all the digital manipulation arsenal he could use, he uses mostly that "old film" or "old print" look. And more on his landscapes than on his portraits.

No, it's not Ansel Adams "cloning out" unwanted features from a photo, but when you compare Tucker's work with some examples of photo illustration I've seen, you could almost say he doesn't do anything.

So yes, it is a change in degree, but in degree of acceptance. :-)

BTW, on the previous incarnation of his wweb site, he said that his photos of landscapes (that I admire as images greatly) were taken as a personal project. He took a camera and drove around Tennessee. There are some examples of his commercial work in Portraits, like the guy with the barrels, which, I believe was taken during Tucker's photo shoot in Lynchburg and Jack Daniels distillery. (Yeah, I've got a pretty good memory.)

Straight Photography can also be called Modernist Photography. From a brochure for Harn Museum, Gainesville, photography exhibit: "One of the basic principles of Modernism throughout the 20th century has been the emphasis on the basic character of an artist's chosen medium. The challenge for the Modernist photographer has been to embrace, rather than avoid, the often awkward but uniquely photographic characteristics of creating an image through use of optics and light sensitivity chemistry resulting in a final image that is distinctly photographic"
The challenge for those who pursue digital imagery is to also embrace its unique qualities, which I think is far more than just emualtion of other media.

The Ansel Adams examples that always come up make it clear that it helps to separate B&W from color. Burning the white rocks into oblivion or the bright sky in "Moonrise" produce altered images and actually do fool viewers who have never seen a straight print of either. Disclosure is part of the discussion, but so is the knowledge, sophistication, and assumptions of the viewer.

I have never heard the term "expressive photographs" but think they are very much an integral part of the debate. Camera clubs love them because they are familiar with grad filters, long exposures, and such. I don't understand how anyone can then fail to see the similarities that should (and often do) allow HDR and stitched images. The idea is to present a reasonable facsimile of reality or it isn't. . . or the idea is to preserve a laundry list of traditional capture and processing procedures.

If you put this one up for discussion, all hell will break loose.


Mark Tucker's also a pretty hands on manipulator in the field, both film and digital. Take a look at his "Plungercam" if you haven't seen it--


No software required.

I remember some long thread either on the LF forum or photo.net where he was discussing his adventures with large format, which involved a very expensive Ebony 4x5" field camera and a lot of gaffer's tape.

Slightly tangential and Mike J. has seen some of these, but I would love to have a name to describe what I do:

Buddha's Attendants

Zen Koan

Flying Over the Mists

Chinese calligraphy done on photo images (sometimes slightly digitally modified) printed on traditional rice paper.

Photo-calligraphy? Sume-E-photo? Ugh.

// richard

Hey Mike, remember that What the Duck cartoon wherein the editor is chastising the duck for manipulating his "news" photos? Something to do with Lindsay Lohan and Ted Kennedy on a unicorn.

I enjoyed Alain Briot's essay, "Just Say Yes", http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/just-say-yes.shtml regarding the editing process.

I appreciate this post, in particular for addressing two simultaneous, and apparently overlapping, discussions: one regarding ethics and aesthetics, the other regarding techniques and technologies.

Of course I have quibbles, the strongest being with the term "traditional photography". IMO, "analog photography" better suits the definition and avoids the social and cultural connotations.

I have less objection to "straight photography", because I think it succeeds in defining a particular ethic and aesthetic. The term would have greatly clarified the earlier "naming game" post, I think.

Again, thanks for a wonderfully thought-provoking line of inquiry.

On a related note - movie-making is dead, apparently, it's all CGI. But then look at the great work ILM (and others) used to do with miniatures & mattes.

Technology moves on as do the practitioners.

Unless we are talking reporting (which is a specific case) why should one care how the final product is achieved as long as it is pleasing?

This and similar discussions have been ongoing ever since 'photography killed painting.' It didn't, of course, it merely caused painters to adapt and change.
Photography is a mechanized art, and historically each innovation in mechanical, optical or chemical parameters resulted in making the practice of photography more accessable to the untrained 'common person.'
A partial list of these innovations would include dry plates, film, roll film, miniature cameras (originally applied to Rollei's) color film, built in light meters, auto exposure, auto focus, zoom lenses and now digital.
At each juncture the old line photographers cried 'photography is dead!'
It wasn't, of course.
And it isn't now.
Styles will change, as they did with every other innovation. And the ivory tower pundits will devise the proper pigeon hole for whatever we do.
So, as Ctein said above, relax. Enjoy what you do. And what others do as well.

Yawn...has this subject not been covered over and over again going back further than H. P. Robinson? Excrement is "art" these days, why are we trying to prove something?

It's all too pedantic.

Your tweaking is fun Mike, and you have played in Pandora's box.

"What is it and how can we define it?"

It's more than that.


It seems to me that reality and photographic truth only matter in reportage/journalism.

When I see a portrait of a CEO, I don't think truth matters all that much. So what if everything on the CEO's desk has been digitally removed? So what if he has undereye circles that have been digitally smoothed? Those things would have been whisked away by a stylist and a makeup artist during the film days.

When I see a photo of a sunset, I don't think truth matters all that much. I've seen sunsets. I know that I can see the sand clearly and the sky clearly and that my film will only be able to expose one of them well at a time. So I could take two exposures and digitally make it closer to the truth that my eyes see, which would make it farther from the truth that film would record. Is one of these choices really more meaningful than the other?

When I see a photo of someone's kid playing in the sandbox, I don't think truth matters all that much. Did the kid choose to play there that day? Does he do so often? Or did the photographer ask him to sit there for 10 seconds so that grandma could receive a photo of her gift being enjoyed? There is no way to discern reality from the photograph.

"Once viewers begin to doubt whether what they see is a close representation of what was happening in front of the camera at the moment of exposure, then the game is over. "

And once viewers begin to believe that what they see is a close representation of what was happening in front of the camera at the moment of exposure, then the game BEGINS.

Stop living in the past.

"I don't think truth matters all that much."

Yeah, but how do I know you're not lying when you say that? (g)

Mike J.

RE: Dirk and the game beginning...

The problem there is that once you lose trust that photos are a close representation of reality (whatever "close" means to you), there's very little you can do to gain it back. Everything is suspect, everything is assumed to be a trick done with Photoshop.

As an example, I got in a "discussion" with my roommate over this, and was pretty much told that if you put something through Photoshop, then it's "fake". I tried to explain a few simple points - like the camera's inability to record what your eye sees, and how even when you get film developed, they are essentially messing with the color/contrast/etc.

It didn't matter - unless the original was side by side with the final image, my roommate still thought anything Photoshopped was "fake".

"my roommate still thought anything Photoshopped was "fake""

Fortunately, it doesn't matter what most people think. Either you do your art to your own satisfaction or you go become a bean counter somewhere.

Besides, the same people will browse through magazines and believe the ad images they see there wholeheartedly.

Take your view camera to the high Sierra on a day with Interesting Weather. Point your one degree spot meter around -- what's that? Only three stops of difference anywhere you point it? Oh well, we want to make a straight photograph.
OK. expose normally, develop the sheet normally, print without burning and dodging on grade two paper in plain dektol. OK, there's your straight print. Gray Oatmeal.

Ansel and Weston and the rest of them could do what they did, which was pushing their medium to its limit, and it's still "straight." But if they did it with a digital camera, photoshop, and a printer it's something else.

I just don't understand.

Well, here's Happy Holidays to all the straight photographers, and ethical jounalists, our honest politicians, and our enlightened citizenry, in the humble land of reason.

May the fingerprint of time gently smear your best soft-focus lens.

Bron :)


And to all you potatochoppers, under image;adjustments; Holiday/Happiness, give yourselves 100% on that slider.


Mike, you missed a key definition…

Photoshop (verb), as in to photoshop out that telegraph pole. the manipulation of a image using any one of many image editing applications.

As has been said before gifted photographers and retouchers have been making images that are beyond the scope of the ‘straight’ photographer for most of the life of the medium. However the availability of technology has expanded the possibilities for the casual photographer. The term ‘photoshopped’ is already pejorative. The easy availability of digital is being used in all sorts of ways and has been for some time, even 10 years ago I was dropping CGI buildings into street scenes, you can change the colours of curtains & walls to see what your house will look like with new décor…

I would contend that this is the corrosive aspect of digital; because to get from sensor to final image the photographer has almost certainly used photoshop or similar and because everyone has seen digital manipulations that change reality and once that is understood there’s really no way of knowing exactly how much has been done to get to the final image, and while it may be very little the viewer doesn’t know that. Often with a really powerful image the natural tendancy will be to assume that it’s quite a lot.

I guess it’s the new version of ‘you must have a really good camera to get a shot like that…’

As an aside, if TJ Avery feels the categorisation going on in his former club is a new, or exclusively digital thing he may be surprised how anal and over-classified things used to be. There used to be categories for slide and print, home processed and trade, seperate B&W classes and often the most prestigious prizes were only open to home printed images.

Ctein said,
"Ah, history in the (re)making...For what it's worth, prior to widespread photography, painting WAS considered a medium of record (vis the film, The Draftman's Contract). And not two months ago, I saw a great exhibit of Natura Morta from the Medici's collections. The artists were free to take liberties with the nonessentials, and part of their skill was doing so in an interesting and entertaining manner, but the core purpose of the painting had to be rendered accurately, whether it was painted in hours or years."

Ah, but they also distinguished between art and draftsmanship. What we take as art now was not necessarily taken as art then -- the gorgeous engineering and anatomical drawings of Leonardo, for example. People who did this for a living were not considered artists, but technicians; and, in fact, this view continues today, when sometimes-beautiful architectural drawings are pretty much viewed as functional works as opposed to art.

Not to go all post-modern on you, but most people view photographs as they would a window -- it is a view on a reality that once existed for them. Even if the reality itself was manipulated (people in costumes, models posing as the Christ child, etc.) the bodies were once there, in the same place; the mountains were there, the still-lifes were there. That assumption was not made with record-drawings; even the very best art, even when in recording-type mode, as with portraits, there was a general acceptance of the fact of the artist's hand and style: John Singer Sargent, a great portrait artist, once defined a portrait as a "painting in which there is something not quite right about the mouth."

Straight photography, however, was always different and has always been seen as essentially different. It was a window. The phrase "ceci n'est pas une pipe" did not apply as it did to paintings.

I maintain that a composite photo, that is not detectable as composite on its surface, and is presented as straight, is a form of lying; and that the continued manufacture of these photos is having a seriously unfortunate effect on the acceptance of all straight photos.

Photographers are sometimes present when magic takes place. But who would now believe Galen Rowell's photo of the rainbow over the Tibetan palace. If he produced that now, you'd be able to hear people sneering all the way across the Internet...


Remember James Frey, the writer whose book "A Million Little Pieces" won accolades from Oprah Winfrey? What impressed Oprah was his incredible story of surviving the excesses of his life. When she discovered that the reason it was incredible was that much of it was untrue, she was outraged and invited him back on her show to tell him so.

His defenders may debate whether his misrepresentations had anything to do with whether his book was a good read or not. This doesn't change the fact that he made a conscious decision to present his work as non-fiction when in fact it was mostly fictional. That's what got him into hot water and that's why the authors of similar tales will be greeted with much greater skepticism.

So tell me, how it this any different from photographers who expend effort to make photographs that appear authentic but are not? If authenticity is so overrated, then why strive for it at all?

Truth *always* matters.

Mike J.

Ahh, and who shall be the arbiter of this truthiness that "matters"?

MJ: "Truth *always* matters."

True. Even in fiction. "Photo fiction", perhaps?

Are the good books or stories based fact or fiction (given the season, take the bible)? Does it really matter? The best books and stories succeed when they are full of imagination, yet we can somehow relate to them 'as if they were true'.

Why lay on photography this implicit reality/truth/authenticity claim? You are bound to be disappointed, just like as if you would expect (desperately hope?) every written word to be 'The Truth'.

Dear JC,

Preaching to the choir! I'm behind you on every word.

I *think* it was Art Wolfe who was the first major name to start messing up the line, when he started doing constructions from his nature photos. I recall him arguing that so long as he clearly labeled them "illustrations" as opposed to realistic photos and marketed them thru different channels, there'd be no harm/confusion.

I didn't agree then. I'd assert history since has backed me up.

It's an aggravation, but one deals. People ask me if me "Jewels of Kilauea" photos are real color-- I say, "yes, that's more or less what you could see with the naked eye." They accept that. Should the day come when they don't, I shall be seriously pissed.

I'd summarize your comments thus: regardless of the specific use, photography has had a reputation for verisimilitude. This is inarguable. It's not about the counterexample; it's all about the rep. Painting/drawing may be (and are) used for that purpose as well, but it doesn't have that innate reputation.

If/when it loses that reputation, it's a profound sea-change in how the world views photography. And all the meaningless and senseless platitudes about "everything is a lie" and "what is truth" don't change that one bit. Nor do counterexamples. It's the rep that matters... and photographic content fraud (I mean real fraud) wouldn't even be worth doing if it weren't for the rep. (How many folk try to commit drawing content fraud any more?)

pax / Ctein

I gotta say I completely agree with Mike here. Heavy digital manipulation can be an art in its own right, but great Photoshop/Corel Paintshop Pro skills are not photography. It's no longer capture of the light.

I have also noticed a strong correlation (this doesn't mean *always*) of photography skills inversely proportional to the time spent with Photoshop manipulating images to the extreme.

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