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Wednesday, 18 May 2016


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Hi Mike,
That hunting thing, you sure on that? I've spent a fair amt. of time walking around fields with friends and shotguns, never saw anybody (while actually hunting) carrying a loaded gun broken open. Why would you do that? Broken open when not actually hunting, yes, always! Shows it's empty and of course, can't be fired that way. But stepping out into the field, close the gun.
Just saying..

Ray H.

I vote for a cessation of the current terminology debates. Let's get on to some other conversations.

Because of my photojournalistic bias, I agree almost entirely with Haley when I'm shooting "documentary." But not quite: I have never understood the cropping thing. When you adopt that attitude, what you're saying (with most cameras) is that because somebody a hundred years ago adopted motion picture film to still cameras, we won't accept anything that doesn't fit perfectly in 3:2. That just doesn't make sense to me -- I don't even think 3:2 is a very good aspect ratio. I much prefer 4:3, but that's just me and other people may have their preferences. Anyway, if there's a tree branch or a light pole or an electric line at the edge of a photo AND it's distracting, I'll crop it (but I won't erase it in Photoshop.) I'll also adjust exposure, but that's just a practical matter. When you're shooting documentary stuff, I find that you often have extremes of lighting and you sometimes just have to let some stuff blow so that you can see other stuff, and if you're working fast, you don't always get that right in camera.

I thinking my cropping attitude came because most of my published photography was done for newspapers (I was a pencil reporter, but often carried a camera.) In that case, I didn't even see the film after I delivered it to the lab. The lab punched out a print and sent it to the copy desk and the copy editor did the crop, depending on what kind of space he had. Most times I was okay with the crop, sometimes it was a horror show, but that was just the newspaper business.

When I'm shooting "art" -- in my case, mostly portraits -- I'll make adjustments, but even then, I try to keep them minimal, because I find that if you do more than that, they look less and less "right."

Is there a place for photography that does not try to depict reality, and draws its strenght from being as disconnected from it as possible?
Check out this project for example: https://vimeo.com/138176383
She calls herself "artist with camera" more than a photographer, to reflect the amount of work that goes into making the final effect. There seems to be a prevailing theme of photojournalism being superior to art photography (as in real hardcore art photography, with all the stops pulled all the way, staging, Photoshop, and whatnot) on TOP lately. I am not entirely convinced this kind of sentiment can be easily defended. Or defended at all.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Sadly, technically, processing a raw file in any way changes the values of all of the pixels stored by the camera's software anyway. It's the modification of the viewer's perception of what the camera saw in one instant that seems to be the bugaboo here. I shoot primes, and will often grab coverage around an image framing of interest so that I can recompose by compositing and re-cropping during "reworking". I suppose if I shot zooms I could be without sin.

Don Craig

I didn't know about this Herschel; I knew of his father and mother, and their work in astronomy, mostly. Thanks for educating me!

With regard to your 40% remark...if I "develop" my image from the RAW file, there is not one single pixel in the final result that came directly from the camera, and yet often I do feel that my image relates quite directly to the image "drawn by light" in the camera.

If my final image is another size (pixel dimensions), again no single pixel came directly from the camera, even if I started with a jpeg.

If I do an overall curves adjustment, which I usually do, it's quite unlikely that as many as 40% of the pixels will retain the value they came out of the camera with.

If I do any sort of sharpening, few of the pixels will retain their camera value.

I'm sure you're thinking really only of pixels I "draw over" as not "drawn with light"; but if that's the case, you need a different statement of the position.

[C'mon, David, you're splitting hairs (pixels) with me. In writing a short article the size of a blog post, I can't stop to exhaustively define every locution or the project would very quickly get bogged down terminally. You know what I meant. --Mike]

My aphorism about plastic surgery:
If you can see it, it's gone too far.

Interesting ideas from you and Bruce on the minimum level of "keeper".

As has been mentioned here before, I shoot photos for a roller derby team (the Chippewa Valley Roller Girls), and my "special stunt" (that none of the other regional photographers seem to do) is to run a slide show at the "after party" with my photos from the bout. (The after party is held in a bar, and we have managed to take over big-screen TVs for the slideshow most nights.)

I shoot 700 or so, often 1000, and in the case of the rare double- or quadruple-header bouts, sometimes as many as 1500 photos.

In the very quick-and-dirty editing for the slideshow (that's the old-style use of "editing" -- selecting the photos to show) I sort into basically four categories:

1. Obviously worthless, delete
2. Not obviously worthless, but not an obvious one to show. (Sometimes these end up part of a sequence showing a play unfold, or something.)
3. Probably of interest to the players involved.
4. This one has at least some "spark"; it might be of interest to people not involved in this game. It might have a trace of being an actual photograph.

(One of the hard things is when I have multiple candidate images at that fourth level for one moment in the bout; but since that's past the point of deleting, it doesn't matter hugely which one I choose for the slideshow, and I can consider final dispositions later at more leisure.)

I do mostly automated density and contrast adjustments, and I do a mass color adjustment (the lighting being of uniform color, at least, throughout the playing field). I do manage to do some cropping on 1/4 or so of the photos, even for the slideshow that night.

Any "rules" I state are my synthesis or rationalizations to explain how I sort. What I actually do is much more driven by my immediate emotional reaction to an image.

When I go out to "cover" an event (I'm not a professional photojournalist, remember), I'll often keep and show not very good photos that do document bits of what happened. My experience is that favorable feedback from viewers (nearly always people personally involved in the event themselves) often includes mention of the photos that aren't really any good, but do document aspects of the event I didn't have in good photos.

I suspect one thing we're seeing here is that, for a good professional photojournalist, it's simply not acceptable to not have "keeper" pictures of any important aspect of the event.

Another is that when presenting an event to a wider public (not people with direct or family/friends involvement), you need much better photos than when you're just providing some memories to people involved. That may be the key line between "snapshots" and "photojournalism" right there.

Not sure about Herschel being "mostly remembered..."', didn't he launch a space observatory recently which has produced a lot of images?

Mike, I much prefer today's essay to yesterdas. It is more fluent, insightful and clear, It's actually one of the best pieces I've read recently, so thank you.
You are right, the vey literal description of the craft makes a good disctinction between what it can include and what has to be referred to as something else. Brace Haley's solution is both sincere and elegant, He comes through as a true gentleman.

Apopro of this discussion, here's an excerpt from my (so far) unpublished article titled "...But Don't Call It Photography."

"As distinguished from other visual media, the art of photography is primarily the art of seeing. A photograph is created at the instant of exposure, and nothing done to it afterward will make it art if it was not well seen to begin with. Throughout the history of the medium, the works that have had power, the works that have lasted, have been straight photographs. Their power and their art are in the photographer's ability to see and to present his vision in a tangible form.

Each of the arts is wonderful in its own way, and each has its role in enriching our lives. Each medium has its own inherent qualities, both strengths and limitations, which make it unique. It is only within the context of those inherent qualities that a medium can become art. Sculpture, for instance, is not made more 'artistic' by slathering paint over a sculpted object, nor would painting be more acceptably 'art' if the canvas were wadded into a ball to make it three-dimensional. A work in one medium cannot be transformed into art by making it an imitation of some other medium.

A pictorialist is one who thinks a photograph can be intrinsically improved by doing something to it after the fact. Compositing negatives was done a hundred years before Jerry Uelsmann, and the history of photography is replete with practitioners who used gum, bromoil, abrasion, and a hundred other techniques (and now computers) to make their photographs look like art. They have never understood that to make a photograph look like 'art' does not in fact make it art. Photography is what it is, and any attempt to make it into something else robs it of its validity and its power. '....manipulation of pictures. I think it's an abomination. I reject it all. I mean, it's OK for selling corn flakes or automobiles or for taking pimples out of Elizabeth Taylor's face, but it undermines the thing that photography is about...' (Elliott Erwitt).

The essence of photography is that it is photographic. It is a picture made by the action of light reflected from something that has objective reality onto a sensitized surface. Light rays bouncing off something that is really there go through a lens and are recorded onto film, a sensor of some kind, or something not yet invented, but whatever it is, it is 'writing with light.' The unique power of photography is derived from this direct connection to reality. When a photograph is altered, digitally or otherwise, it becomes no longer a photograph, but something else: perhaps a subset of painting or collage. Rauschenberg, for instance, creates work that I would categorize as collage. It may be artistic in itself, it may use photography as an element or as a point of departure, but it is not photography.

Dorothea Lange kept a quotation by the English essayist Francis Bacon on her darkroom door: 'The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.'

As Fred Picker said in the March 1994 issue of Shutterbug, 'This Koudelka (print by Czech photographer Joseph Koudelka) on the wall contains the most amazing combination of things that I know happened, because when he made that photograph there was no electronic imaging. Here are two horses, standing in a certain position, a boy sitting on a bicycle wearing an angel suit with angel wings, here's an old lady scolding him, all in magnificent light and beautifully composed. Today, that picture could be made by some guy sitting in front of a computer. Knowing that would take all the wonder out of it.'

In actuality, it isn’t likely 'some guy sitting in front of a computer' would make such a picture, because those who alter and/or combine photographs are limited by their imaginations. They can only do what they can conceive. But photography goes beyond human imagination. As novelist Tom Clancy has said, 'The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to make sense.' The magic of photography is that life holds so many amazing and wonderful things that are entirely unanticipated, unexpected, even unimagined in the deepest sense; that is -- no one would ever have thought of such a thing happening. And then, suddenly, right out of the fabric of life, there it is. 'I can do a beautiful illustration, but it doesn't have that 'instant of wonder' that a photograph will have.' (Art Director Tony Anthony, quoted in "Photo District News," February, 1987.)

Photography shows us things that lie beyond our imagination and compel our amazement because they really happened. It revels in the beauty, the mystery, and the strangeness of life. It is the most powerful purely visual medium ever created."

This reminds me of a criticism I once ran into, that my work wasn't a photograph anymore because I had modified it in Photoshop using a filter and it didn't "look like a photograph". I should point out that I am an artist/photographer and as such I don't share what appears to be your (and many others') preference for so-called 'straight' photography'. My response at the time was that I know artists and painters who draw and paint in a "photorealistic" style and are so good that they can fool most viewers. Does that mean that they are no longer draftsmen or painters? My answer is, 'of course not'. the appearance is not the medium. I could add that the medium isn't really all that important. The image is what is important.

I spent my early years as a photojournalist so I understand the need for credibility in images that are intended as a testament to 'reality', but the world of photography is much broader than just photojournalism. A prime example is Jerry Uelsmann. Mark Klett's "Views Across Time" also comes to mind and virtually all studio photography except possibly that done by natural light in a north-lit studio (but even they modified the light with reflectors). I'm quite comfortable seeing all those and more as "photographs".

Nor am I willing to frown on Photoshopped images as "not written with light". The screens we edit on use light. Okay, it is from phosphors or LEDs rather than the sun, but it is light. And is rearranging that light/shadow in Photoshop really all that different than dodging and burning the light from an enlarger? St. Ansel did lots of that and even altered the way he rendered individual images over time.

I see myself as the creator of my images based on what I envisioned when determining to make the exposure, which is only the first step in a process. If I 'get lucky' and the camera's JPG conversion looks precisely the way I intend, great. But that IMO is as much luck as skill. I've talked to "get it right in the camera' photographers whose editing involves going through 2000+ shots from a days' shoot to find the ones worth keeping (I've never shot a tenth of that in a day). Those images are (IMO) more a creation of the camera and the conversion algorithm written by the manufacturer's engineers (and luck) than they are of the shutter tripper. But that is my judgementalism. I guess we all have our own standards and there is room in photography for all of us.

Ah, the luxury of being able to "just throw out" photographs. Some of us don't have that option.

I've always taken issue with the misnomer "photography," as drawing is completely incorrect. Perhaps etching better describes the process of creating an image by exposing film to light. Creating a name for digital image recording will need attention as well.

"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."

Beautifully expressed

'I don't crop.' That is the one thing I do not understand in this whole discussion (it came up in some of the previous posts as well). So the camera always and in advance decides the length to width ratio of one's photo's? When you pick up a camera with a different ratio, your pictures instantly get that new lenght to width ratio too?
Also, cropping doesn't belong in the manipulating content/photoshop domain. Photography is cropping, by its very nature. We crop an image from the world surrounding us - that is what camera's and viewfinders are for. And whether that activity continues after the exposure is made or not, makes essentially no difference.

Sums it all up perfectly for me.


"[The] more you try to correct, the more of an unnatural mess you make, until you've created a grotesque."
I couldn't have put it any better.
Yet by saying so and subscribing Mr. Haley's viewpoint, you're actually sanctioning the "get it right the first time" principle after all!
This discussion would be usefully abbreviated if there were a clear line between enhancing a picture and manipulating it. Apparently there isn't, so it's rather difficult to draw any conclusions. When a photographer removes a blister from a client's portrait, is he distorting reality? Does the camera see the scene we've intended to depict the same way as we do? I'm quite ambivalent about the former, but I have no doubts about the need for enhancing digital images.
Ultimately the boundary would be drawn where the photograph stops being a description of what we've seen and becomes a lie. But even then it's hard to say whether a picture is a mere illusion or a lie. As for me, the moment you add something to the picture you're out of photography and entering graphic work's territory. You'll be lying if you present it as a photograph. As for removing objects, any judgment will depend on the extent to which you do it. The pictures of Stalin from which his rivals were removed, or the famous image of André Malraux without his cigarette, are not photographs anymore: they're deceitful propaganda. (Removing the grinning Indian from the rickshaw is trying to polish a turd: that photograph should really have been thrown into the dustbin.)
When it comes to colour, sharpness, etc., I see no breach of ethics in enhancing them. I just can't help wondering if it isn't preferable to simplify the whole photographic process by making sure aspects like sharpness, depth of field and geometry are taken care of before pressing the shutter release button.

Aren't we just talking about where we are on the line from documentation to art? If you're photographing a medical procedure for the record then what you shot is what you got. If it's to express your impression of a garden then Monet's your muse.

I seem to recollect that Julia Margaret Cameron not only staged her photos, but also extensively "reworked" many of them. Different strokes for different folks.

Two favourite quotes:-

"The contemplation of things as they are
without error or confusion
without substitution or imposture
Is in itself a nobler thing
than a whole harvest of invention."

-- Francis Bacon

"The power that the photograph gets out of its assumed connection to
the world from which it was made is almost always stronger than the
idea of the artist who tries to alter it."

-- Richard Benson

The Bacon quote I first read on TOP, as being on the wall of Dorothea Lange's darkroom. The Benson quote is from his book "The Printed Picture".

Camera lucida perhaps?

@ Ray H, In my limited experience, in England the gun is always carried broken, loaded or not, until you are ready to shoot, thus enabling anyone to see the condition of the gun at a glance.

A photograph is an image and it's content created at the moment of exposure.
Finalized as a print with darkroom type appearance adjustments in any media, some spot cleaning perhaps. Once you alter the actual image content, move or remove, add pixels you do wander briskly into the field of illustration, creating the content of the image a bit more human centric and unrelated to any precise moment in time.
A photograph is that spark like collision of a photographer, per a contraption of technical wonder with a very specific moment in time and space, the esssence does rest on the photographer part.
To photograph is not bound to any media type, film supported that type of work more than other media, technically forcing the importance onto the exposure event, but heck, digital allowed me to create photographs, film would not handle well, it's been a liberation for this traditional photographer.

The one area of that post that hung on me was the rush to discard. As a few of the comments suggested, that judgement can change quite dramatically with time. Personally, I am not a big deleter. I think there is great value, historic and other, to many of the images one might discard today. Like the times in which we live, it often takes many years for us to be able to get a broad perspective of what we were seeing.

The same is true for music as well. Interesting that during each decade, music is just current music. But sitting in 2016, we can easily define, describe and differentiate the music from the 50's vs. 60's vs. 70's, etc.

The perspective provided by time greatly changes how we judge and value everything.

It appears the "ultimate" landscape reworking tool has been announced: http://www.dpreview.com/news/5716845724/landscapepro-software-promises-simple-steps-to-dramatic-changes

Photography is dead. Long live painting. David Hockney 1995

We're a bit behind the 8-ball, I think, we the general run of serious photographers and thoughtful people. I know I am.

Gordon Lewis makes an excellent point in an earlier post about photographers being so flexible with the difference between truth and fiction in photography. The whole question may be one of philosophy, ethics, and critical thinking skills, but the answer may come down to the nature and limitations of the technologies in use.

Film, being primarily a recording medium, easily lent itself to representation of an actual moment in time, to taking a snapshot of the real world. When it comes to straight photography you don't get much straighter than slide film, where you either capture the moment or you don't. Black and white reversal film, meanwhile, was arguably more expressive in that it spoke the language of tones only, without having to account for color, and you could apply yourself to the print, playing with contrast, dodging, burning, bleaching, and so on, to achieve the mood or look you found satisfying.

In either case, though, color or black & white, you are not departing very far from a moment captured; you are not, in other words, creating an image of something that never existed and trying to pass it off as the mere recording of an event. You could do that with film, but it required going way out of your way and a high level of technique.

Digital is a whole nother can of worms. Some of us use digital to try to emulate film practice, but the nature of the technology is such that it almost demands going further. How far you go depends on your needs and your judgment, and how you present the image depends on your honesty and ethics.

We think of a photograph as something true, a recording of the true world. Digital imaging undermines this belief completely, because it so easily lends itself to lying. This may be, in part, what film director Jean-Luc Godard had in mind when he said,

The so-called ‘digital’ is not a mere technical medium, but a medium of thought. And when modern democracies turn technical thought into a separate domain, those modern democracies incline toward totalitarianism.

That quote is a lot to grapple with, and I still haven't quite got my head around it, but there may be something to it. In any case, it may be true that photography is changing, that it will soon perhaps morph into something we don't recognize as photography, and that we can't stop this change. But it is also true that the difference between truth and lies is not changing, and never will.

I've found great value in decades-old photos that I hadn't ever printed. Setting aside ones that I tried to print and couldn't, my priorities change, and my available time changes. And sometimes you just miss things. I earned a few hundred dollars the other year licensing some historical photos I'd never gotten around to printing for use in a book, and I've since used those same photos for other things.

Arguably this is because I didn't keep up with my printing adequately, back when.

On negative film this is less of an issue, since the "normal" way of filing it is by strips of multiple (usually 6 in my case) negatives, and it's inconvenient to work with very small strips (especially single frames) in the darkroom; one isn't so tempted to eliminate individual images. I know people did it with slide film, though.

Anyway, this experience has lead me to be conservative about deleting digital images. I'm certain I'm keeping rather too many, but I'm not absolutely certain I know which ones are the extras.

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