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Friday, 13 May 2016


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He's right of course, Eliot.

Probably the wrong place, but I relate photography to the image drawn by the lens - and by analogy or literally the enlarger lens too - which is one reason I am less than comfortable with imaging chains that unilaterally correct lens distortion for example.

I learn as much English as I do photography at this site.

I'm certain Mr Elliott would agree that that is an improvement...

I hadn't seen this before, but I'm with Elliott. When first I got back into serious photography, which coincided with my ability to travel for leisure, I would use photoshop to 'improve' my shots of say, the Egyptian temple at Karnak, by waiting for the inevitable western tourist with a red tee shirt, baseball hat, pot belly, and shorts, to leave my field of view or as a last resort, remove him by computer, to leave a pristine temple in my picture. I have stopped doing that. I realize that what I want is to show the temple as it actually looked to me when I was there, tourists and all. That is my unique vision, and I shouldn't short change it as I was doing. I can of course make visual/artistic use of the extraneous elements within the picture, but that is much different to removing them by force, and probably makes the picture more documentary rather than less.

I now have no interest in looking at photographs that may have been photoshopped in significant ways. This is doubly true if 'unmanipulated' is somehow implied.

When I look at Ansel Adams' pictures of Yosemite, I know the reality is not in shades of grey with an almost black sky. He is showing us the drama of the location with the tools he has. The alteration is very obvious and therefore honest. A straight colour print would look flat, undramatic, and thus deceiving by comparison. Intent and honesty are always of paramount importantance, but may be manifested in quite different ways.

Why is the conversation focused solely on digital manipulation and the integrity of "truthful" photography? We should be talking about colonialization!

Even seen an unmanipulated print of St. Ansel's "Clearing Storm?"

The shirt tells all, as does the obvious
manipulation of the female head on top of the aging body. Maybe if the female head wasn't wearing those ding-a-lings in her ears and kept her mouth shut, perhaps we'd all hear and see
more clearly.

Photography has always, from the beginning, been an artform based on manipulation. Mr. Erwitt practices that as much as any modern digital photographer sitting at his computer with Photoshop at hand. Photographers have always made a slew of decisions that slice some set of 'facts' out of the world and present it as 'reality'. But it has never been such. Its been whatever reality the photographer wants to show us.

This would not be a problem, at least to me, if the world was made up of educated VIEWERS. I for one, never accept any image as The Truth any more. I now always assume that an image is someone else's interpretation of the moment that they want me to see. I didn't understand this many years ago. But the digital age has made this very clear. And I'm thankful for that.

How about the reality of story-telling in the movies? I've always liked Kurosawa's description of how he set up the opening scene of Ran, with the old king, all the sons and courtiers in front of royal banners in the great green outdoors. Actually it was the Sony studio back lot, and one inch outside the frame to the left was a Sony factory, one inch outside to the right was an airport runway. Actually, the locked-down camera and constrained stage-like action makes the scene effective. No digital manipulation required.

(This story from Sidney Lumet's book on directing.)


What is truth? What is reality? As Bill Mitchell said, "Even [sic] seen an unmanipulated print of St. Ansel's 'Clearing Storm?' " I haven't, but I have seen both the original negative (OK, probably a copy of the original,) an unmanipulated print and a finished print of Moonrise. In fact I saw several versions of "final" prints of Moonrise displayed together. Which one is "it"?

While not everyone admires or even appreciates "St. Ansel", in my own current perspective on all this is that Ansel was pretty much right on in emphasizing visualization as the starting point for his work and, in large part, for any photography.

Mike posits that a photograph is significantly defined by what the lens draws, with which I agree. But in making each photo the choice for lenses, even in the same focal length, can be enormous. 35mm Summicron you say? Which iteration? Aspheric or pre-Aspheric? Or maybe Zeiss (current? vintage? Contax G series adapted by Amadeo?), CV, MS optical? Film? Digital - which sensor? CCD? CMOS? Sensor size? Pixel density? Film simulation mode if any?

If a photographer makes choices (both "pre" and "post") that faithfully serves his/her visualization, even if the visualization is gut/emotional reaction without any conscious thought process, then that is reality and truth. It may not be fully conveyed to every viewer, but all "reality" is formed by one's perception and awareness.

Yes, there is a "standard" for photographs of news events when the intention is to convey what happened. But even then the life experience of the photographer, their choice of tools (see above,) their physical position relative to the scene, their choice of the instant to release the shutter ... all these things are choices, whether conscious or sub-conscious, that alter the image. And the photographer hasn't even processed the film or file yet ...

I like to state it something like this:

Photography derives its power from the relationship the picture has with the thing(s) the camera was pointed at. This tight relationship is the thing that makes photography be photography.

Everything you do that damages this intimate connection damages, reduced, that underlying photographic power. It costs you.

Manipulations also can add power, can make the picture better in some way. So there are costs, and there is value.

Balance these two. "Spend" your manipulations wisely.

I have to agree with Earl Dunbar, as a non photographer of news events, to me the image speaks for itself and I really don't care who or what has been done to produce it. I decide if I like the image or not, unencumbered by any notion of how it was created. If I like it a lot, I may even purchase the image if it is for sale.

Digital manipulation will kill photography no more than CD's killed vinyl, photography killed painting or cars killed horses. Change? Yes. Kill? No.


I have to agree with Earl Dunbar, as a non photographer of news events, to me the image speaks for itself and I really don't care who or what has been done to produce it. I decide if I like the image or not, unencumbered by any notion of how it was created. If I like it a lot, I may even purchase the image if it is for sale.

I agree completely with Jamie Pillers above.

Moreover I'm often appalled at the photography correctness police who are always waiting in the wings to clamp down on those who want to use these various imaging tools for purposes other than reportorial purposes.

As many point out more articulately than I could, any photographic image is highly abstracted from "real" experience. If one wants to take and share some photos which intend to capture and present an image that is as close to possible to either how the camera saw it or how the photographers human eye saw the scene, that is wonderful, and is often quite a challenge. This kind of photo work obviously serves good purpose for news and editorials, as well as pleasing those for whom the unobtrusive picture window is their photographic ideal.

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with someone a while back who claims to like their photos to not be manipulated. I showed him a photo of an interesting cloud structure with some power/phone lines in part of the image. He was quite displeased that I had composed the shot to have the unsightly power lines in the image.

He would have thought it completely proper for me to have moved around to get a shot without the cluttering industrial lines but been appalled if I had removed them using photoshop erasure, or even just cropping after the fact - you should compose in the viewfinder! roar the photo police. I am nonplussed by this logic, but it is common.

(And let's not even go to the bigger/other conversation about the fact that I loved the combination of the power lines with the clouds.)

So...I like the idea, which occasionally comes up, of identifying images that have not been manipulated, or maybe manipulated only marginally in service of the truthiness of the image (essentially impossible to verify but as an honor claim among those who care). But how about in every other case we just let people do what they want with these wonderful devices and software and enjoy (or not) the resulting work?

[The "photo police"? Please. There's a false premise if ever I saw one. --Mike]

That t-shirt reminds me of a Star Wars quotation by Obi Wan Kenobi: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" — which is (deliberately?) ironic because the statement itself is an absolute.

Mike, I don't think the "photo police" is any more a false premise than saying digital manipulation "kills photography". Shall we call them photo "purists" or perhaps "Puritans" instead? No that doesn't feel right either.

My problem with much of this discussion is the desire to put art/photography and their creators in a box. It is okay with me if someone wants to have thier own box but don't impose it on me.

[Who's imposing anything on you? Not me. Not Elliott. You can do whatever you want.

I really hate the "[blank] police" meme--it's a crude rhetorical gambit that isn't even accurate. Police have power to enforce, arrest, and hand over for judgement and possible punishment. None of that is true for 99.9% of the occasions when people fling out the accusation of this-or-that "police." Security guards who prevent you from photographing where you have a right to photograph are policing your photography. Lab employees who look at film you're having processed and call the authorities because they suspect you of child abuse are policing your photography. I could probably think of other examples if I tried hard, but it doesn't include other people expressing their opinions about their beliefs. If somebody's actually policing your photography, explain to us who and how. --Mike]

"Digital manipulation kills photography".

I would just like to point out the obvious here. What happens when something is killed? It dies. Having died, it's dead. It may take some time for the death to occur, and even more time, usually, to be certain it's dead - and there are often some who refuse to acknowledge the death - but once dead it's gone and it ain't coming back.

There simply is no commercial image, in print or on the web, that isn't heavily manipulated, and often composited. Nor is this limited to commercial images. I have witnessed images in books of art photography being subject to wholesale compositing as a regular part of the edit, so-called. The ease with which this is now done calls into question even seemingly casual snapshots.

Photography, or what many of us think of as photography, has become photo-based illustration. This might not be so bad, but no practitioner of this craft wants to call his work that. They persist in calling it photography, perhaps out of habit, but also because of the greater heft of the word, maybe, and the greater validity of the practice. Steve McCurry is a perfect example. How much interest would there be in a book by "Steve McCurry, Photo-illustrator"?

I think we must accept the fact that photography as we know it has become strictly an esoteric, personal practice. You know what you do and don't do to arrive at your own images. All the other images you see must be regarded as photo-based illustrations, unless certified otherwise by an authority you trust based on their having seen the Raw files.

Which can only mean that while photography isn't yet wholly dead, it is greatly circumscribed - far more so than most of us are wont to admit. Call it intensive care.

The notion that some images are somehow unmanipulated is false on its face. The raw data that your camera sensor captured is just that, raw data. It is not an image. It has no color. We need software that understands what, if any, color micro-lenses were over which pixels to create the color. And then we progress from this basic manipulation.

And, of course, even before that we have all of the manipulation described in the earlier posts - point of view, exposure, angle of view, camera choice, aspect ratio, etc.

The only thing that matters is whether the final image that is published is claimed to be an approximation of some reality about the original scene, and whether the various artists involved in creating it lived up to that claim. Which may be unknowable.

There are a number of unexplored vectors to Erwitt's provocation. For example, one might argue that digital manipulation is worse than darkroom manipulation because it's easier and therefore more open to abuse. Or that it de-skills photography and therefore undermines professionalism and makes it harder to a professional to earn a living.

I've been reading Robin Kelsey's "Photography and the Art of Chance," which examines - starting with Talbot - the role of chance and accident in art photography. Digital capture and manipulation give the photographer far greater control than film ever did. Indeed, one could argue that "chimping" kills photography.

I can't think of any iconic photography since the rise of digital, or may be any that didn't come from a photographer with a film background. Would love to see some.

A rule of thumb from Richard Benson (paraphrased), if a picture takes more than 15 minutes in Photoshop, throw it away and take another. (See "From Darkroom to Daylight).

"I can't think of any iconic photography since the rise of digital, or may be any that didn't come from a photographer with a film background. Would love to see some."

Quoting Martin Fritter, above: yes, I feel you're right.

I was looking - again - at Hans Feurer's website last night, and asked myself pretty much the same thing: could I tell the difference between his transparency work and his current digital oeuvre?

Other than by knowing that some of the models are 'new', no. The style is still great, his eye has lost nothing. At the most, skin doesn't show as skin quite as much, but make-up has always been a bit of a problem if too ambitiously applied, with film as with digital, quite apart from the possible excesses digital can offer.

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