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Wednesday, 22 June 2016


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"So Steve McCurry, Julie Blackmon, and Jerry Uelsmann are photoartists to me, not photographers. They create photoart." With a camera. People who use cameras are called "photographers" Those folks and a bunch others, use cameras to make "photoart"

May I suggest "photopainting"? In the pre-digital era, I used to paint quite regularly, mainly to achieve the kinds of effects that Steve McCurry and Julie Blackmon do. I spent a lot of time with opaque projectors, overhead projectors, photocopied transparencies, and linocut stamps to get there, so there already and element of compositing even back then.

I don't paint anymore, largely due to lack of space, but partly because photography, meaning lens-drawn-image photography, has taken much more of my time and creative energy.

Re: Steve McCurry as a photoartist. What do you say about someone who produces photographs much of the time and photoart some of the time ? (Therein lies the controversy; McCurry's lack of forthrightness means you can't trust whether or not a given photograph is straight). But, gray areas aside, it seems fine to label each work as one thing or the other, but if the person produces both, it's unfair/inaccurate to label him or her. Then you get into awkward clarifications like a "photographer who dabbles in photoartistry" or "photoartist and former photographer" or maybe "photographer and part time photoartist". I just think that some photographers aren't going to to fit the scheme as well as others or as well as individual works.

But, photoart implies art. How many photoarts actually qualify as art?

What you call PhotoArt, I have long called Photo Illustration, and anyone partaking in the creative manipulation of photographic source images acting as as photo illustrator in my view.

I think "Respecting the lens" is a very good way of framing a discussion about traditional photography. I have also long held the conviction that a "true" photograph is comprised of just one single contiguous exposure onto a light sensitive surface (photochemical or photoelectric surface no matter). The photograph can be made with a long or short exposure time, but it's still needs to be just one contiguous exposure interval that way I see it. That said, these lines were blurred somewhat even in the film era with certain camera techniques like stroboscopic photography or in-camera multi exposures. Current photo stitching, focus stacking, and HDR methods aside, I'm pretty sure my strict single exposure definition is going to get slammed hard when modern computational photography techniques go more mainstream than they already have at the consumer level. Think of smartphones with multi sensor-lens arrays acting in concert to form a a single finished image.

Differentiating between "photography" and "photoart" presents all sorts of problems. The first, obviously, is that this is not a binary, where half of the examples are one thing and half are another. But more problematic for me is that the existence of a term "photoart" that doesn't include "photography" in the first category suggests that the latter isn't "art."

Last time I checked, photography qualified as art, too.

I think you make an interesting point and I have been frustrated many times by photographers fooling me with manipulations passing their work off as "straight" photography. I take the art of photography very seriously and appreciate honest truthfulness about the work I see. I don't mind photographers manipulating their work so long as I'm not being misled. Photoart isn't the direction I would go, but you explain how you mean it in such a way that I agree with your usage. To me, there is a difference between photography as art and simply a photograph. How do we distinguish a "straight" photograph that is art from a "straight" photograph that is not? We are essentially talking about three categories, and one of them can easily be deceptive into being categorized as "straight" photography. Uelsmann's work is at least obvious and can be appreciated from a craft perspective, and I would include his work as photographic art along with Minor White and other more traditional printers. In the long run, photoartist does simplify things given an adequate definition. So, again, what shall we refer to when describing an artist who uses "straight" photography? I suppose that we then have the three categories, in no particular order, of snapshooter, photographer, and photoartist.

Works for me. A photograph being understood as being a record of a scene, and photoart being an interpretation of a scene. The only time I see the lines being blurred is when a record of the scene is so abstract so as to appear interpretational, e.g. the incredible work by Andrea Stone on her City Reflections portfolio of images.

I am afraid this train has left the station and is well down the tracks, it is all photography. A bunch of Scholastic philosophy can add a lot of confusion and damn little clarity. If you persist with this you will spend half your time fussing over your definitions. Hardly time well spent

[Refer to comments in text. --Mike]

I like the term "Photo Illustration" as recommended by MHMG, or maybe "Photo-Based Art" for image manipulation, with the understanding that both manipulation and photography can fit equally into the big tent called "Art." Your dichotomy, even if viewed as a continuum, and even with no prejudice intended, identifies photo manipulation, but not actual photography, as art. I just don't like that.

Holy solarization, Batman, ! So photographers spent all that energy arguing that the photograph could be "art," and now we are awarding that designation, however compounded, to the manipulators. Feels like dangerous ground to me.

Curious for your opinion. The following image was captured in camera, the set built specifically for the camera, the illusion of the box being drawn in respect to the camera's perspective. It is not a collage, a composite, HDR, etc. Would you consider it a photograph or photoart?


I know it when I see it. Don't need to analyze, tear hair out,or shout about it. Define it, no. The difference is clear when you see it.

Is photography art? I prefer photo illustration.

I think there are many techniques that, under your criteria, don't qualify as "straight" photography but can be used to create what are essentially "straight" images.

Panoramas, HDR, various sorts of image stacking (for reducing noise, or increasing DOF), and so forth.

I feel like the terminology should reflect the relationship between the subject and the final image more than the particular method used to end up at the final image.

But like you said, gray areas.

Could be that a lot of Howard Brunner's work looks pretty straight because he is so very good at what he does.

A photograph, is a photograph, is a photograph. Why? Because it was made with a camera and lens. As for McCurry, he is no longer a photojournalist—just simply a photographer. As for Blackmon, I always considered her an artist. Photographs have been manipulated for years. Back in the fifties, the Soviets removed people who had fallen out of favor with the Party from the May Day reviewing stand pictures. (They were still considered photographs. The newspapers still printed them) Its simply that today the tools are better. Before the age of Digital photography, if McCurry or other photographers could remove figures from their photographs with the skill of today’s photographers using Photoshop, they would have certainly done it. Its just that back then they were not good enough or had to use photo retouchers. As a photographer, I use the same dodging and burning in techniques that have always been used. It just that today's tools are better and more accurate. The result should be that photos look better, but not necessarily artificial.

As for McCurry's faux pas, his big mistake was arrogance and stupidity. I don’t think the photographs were improved by removing the figures. They just looked more “perfect and artificial”. Also the removal of the other elements was not really and improvement either. they just give the image a “staged” appearance. All he really had to do was what remained—brightening the colors, burning in unsightly elements, and dodging to bring out shadow detail. This is no different than what photographers have been doing for 80 years or longer.

Why those criteria? OK, so trying not to be kneejerk about it, but an awful lot of my work starts with HDR which your definitions would move into photoart but it's still very much definitely photography to me.

As an alternative, I regard a significant line to be crosssed when localized manipulations are made rather than global operations.

(I also do that, so benefit from both terms, I guess...)

Hmmmm ....
Let's say that I take one of my Lumix cameras, and I select one of Panasonic's "film types." I then adjust its settings to shift the color response in a way that to me duplicates Fuji's print film. Also, I diminish sharpening and contrast, so that the potential for camera-caused artifacts is reduced. I save this as a "custom" film type. Also, whenever I'm shooting, I use my white target to set a custom white balance. I only shoot jpeg's, cause the extra step of processing raw tries my patience.

Having made all those adjustments in camera, before exposure, have I produced a photograph, or photoart?

Mike You clearly can choose to do that, and your opinion probably carries more weight than many others might, but I can't imagine why you'd want to. It puts you in the position of making judgements about other people's work and almost always with incomplete information.
Photo Illustration is already an accepted term for things like composited work.
I also (as others have already noted) react negatively to the use of 'Art' in the name , because (to me at least) it smacks of the same self aggrandizing connotation as 'Fine Art Photographer.
I don't at all disagree with you that at some point our culture will figure out how to differentiate some of the options that digital technology has brought us, but trying to create two names to cover a very broad array of possibilities is kind of like volunteering to be the javelin catcher---not a lot of rewards and it doesn't really clarify anything. We have more than enough labels for stuff already.

Photomontage is on venerable and established term.

Photo-art sounds like something that comes in sofa-size.

I'd settle for photo illustration and have in the past.

In many publications , the New York Times for example, the photographer will get a credit and an illustrator will get a credit. Sometimes it's unclear however whether it is a illustration made from a photograph or a photograph of an object that is been made as an illustration.

One area you didn't mention specifically is a photograph that is prearranged or staged.

For instance, nothing Cindy Sherman did was obviously manipulated, but you could not call it 'photography'. It is art.

The distinction here seems to be between two forms of representation - one that sets out to represent the scene itself, and one that seeks to represent an idea using a scene by way of illustration.

There are two grey areas here.

Firstly, if a photograph is covertly manipulated in order to conform to a preconceived idea, the 'idea' does not originate with the artist, but with the customer of the image. This is not art, it's cheap commercialism or junk journalism.

Secondly, found scenes can be used to represent an idea with no staging or manipulation at all. They may, in the mind of the viewer, represent an idea that is more significant than the scene itself. In other words, they become an archetype of that idea.

This is often true of bodies of work, such as Uncommon Places or The Last Resort. I would say both deserve to be called 'art'.

In other words, I don't think one can ignore the primary intent when trying to judge whether something is a photograph, or art.

Which would mean the distinction between manipulation and non-manipulation is an entirely technical one. Either can be 'art' or 'not-art'.

Perhaps it would be better to use terms such as photograph or photo-illustration.

taken, to its chemical or electronic development, its preservation, and most importantly, its proper interpretation, which is undertaken by trained experts. But that is not true at all in respect of photojournalism, and what astonishes me about the present Steve McCurry, et al debate is that anyone – let alone a community of photographers (most of whom consider themselves artists, and not scientists) - should have any expectation that his photographs were created or presented otherwise than as his view of what he saw and experienced. It should make no difference that the photograph was manipulated, or indeed, staged. Very few photographs are not manipulated in some way, including many “documentary” photographs. (And in one sense, every photograph is manipulated by the means and way that it is taken, including composition, exposure, etc, etc.) An example is the debate about whether Capa’s Death of a Soldier was staged. A personal example for me was an exhibition I saw in a gallery in Santa Fe, NM some years back of a working print of the famous Bill Eppridge photo of RFK’s assassination. The exhibition displayed not only the print but showed how Eppridge’s 35 mm negative had been pushed in development, printed at 16 x 20 inches, re-photographed onto a 4 x 5 inch negative, which was then retouched by airbrush, which was then finally re-photographed again to create a negative for the final print. None of that detracted from a truly great image documenting a momentous occasion in history, or made it any less “true” or “real”. Hence, I don’t think that the photo-shopping of images is the true issue. Rather, it seems to me that the issue is the expectation of the viewer of the image about how it was taken. I do understand that a viewer who is misled about what an image represented may be upset about being misled. But I just don’t understand why experienced photographers would expect anything other than that images will have been staged or manipulated in some way or other, significantly or slightly, to represent what the photographer wished it to represent – including images from photojournalists. Nor do I see that it matters what an image is labelled, as it makes no difference at all whether there is manipulation to any extent, or not. The only relevant questions are whether a viewer is being misled, and whether a viewer is persuaded that the image communicates to them what it was that the photographer wished to communicate.

Rant over.

When was the last time I made a "straight" photo? I do not think I have ever made a straight photo in my adult life because I went to commercial photography school back in the early 80s and it was all about 4x5" transparency film. I learned how to massage the film exposure (filters) and develop a shooting technique that saved me time and money in the darkroom. Glass filters in front of the lens, push and pull the film as necessary, contrast masks, filters on the enlarging lens when necessary and more. I have to agree with some of the posters here, it really is a thin line. Maybe it was different with black and white film, but then again, I know I used color and polarizing filters there as well. I think it might come down to an individualized style of shooting.

Fast forward to today and there are so many more tools available to help not just with exposure, but also to help assert creativity. It really is the best time (in my life thus far) to be a photographer.

I tend to manipulate my color palette to fit my idea of what I want the image to project and I use digital filters to do this because they are more precise. I also use long reaches with macro lenses, 2x extenders, and bellows to get where I want to go. It is all part of the toolbox my photographic education granted me.

Being in the photographic business for over thirty years I can say an awful lot has changed. Teaching photography today is not like when I first started teaching in the 90s. Today the photographic skills a commercial shooter is taught is about manipulating the image in the quickest and cleanest way; getting it out the door ASAP. Photoshop for the heavy lifting, but I preach to capture it correctly in the camera and then light post-processing in Lightroom or Capture One if you are going to make any money at this. Hobbyist and commercial shooters are a different breed.

I remember when I was learning about getting one of my first cars serviced. It was a Datsun 280z. I turned over 150,000 miles on it and traded it in towards a Volvo wagon when I was becoming a mom. Anyhow, I learned about the Chilton manual and pricing strategies. If the mechanic could not complete the repair/service in half the time the Chilton manual published, they were fired. At least that is what I was told. I understood that then and I understand that now because it is all about surviving in business. Whether it is car repairs or photographic services, the bottom line has to be met. I do not know how mechanics do it with their tools, but I know how to do it with my tools. Call it photoart if you like, I call it photography. It all starts with the camera and lens and that is the one thing that has not changed.

So, photoartist then? Mark my words, it won't take. There are many reasons, but at the very base lies the idea everyone has about him or herself, and what they do.
I do not think about myself as an photoartist. I got a beard and impressively big black camera here, and use it to snap picchers of pretty gals, and that makes me a photographer, and that's that.

Else where (and supposedly some galleries too) they are calling it "lens-art".

Where would you place that line of demarcation?

Mike: I clicked "Post" a bit prematurely on my earlier comment. I had one additional thought.

Photography has lurched into an entirely new era. Whether we like it or not, whether it's comfy for everyone's "belief systems" or not. Its historical boundaries are just that: history. Its present state, and its future, is entirely in the hands of young people who have been watching screens filled with synthetic imagery their entire lives. They are much less naive, much more cynical, and much more savvy about their visual digestion than we "old" people. A photograph's testimonial authenticity is always a foremost question for young people today, even if it's immediately decided.

So I disagree that any new categorical terminology is needed or will be useful.

Mike, The horse is out of the barn, Elvis has left the building, the whipped Cream is out of th can, none of those things are going back.
Langusge always lags technology, because new technology always zigs and zags in ways that were unforeseen by the inventor.
There is nothing wrong with your wish to have better descriptions of what creative process was used to make an image.
Proof that you are right exists in the fact that the first question often asked by viewers of an interesting image is "Was that Photoshopped"
So from the viewer's point of view, it Would indeed be convenient to have better descriptors of our work product.
This is complicated by the fact that new technology has eroded one of Photography's original strengths, the Photo as witness or evidence of events. A very valuable thing indeed, but one that is a NECESSARY REQUIREMENT in only SOME photographic endeavors.

This particular discussion started with the McCurry post, where is essence his stated process and his reputation and what he led people to believe about his work was in fact different from what he really did. He violated journalistic standards. On Purpose.
People felt "Lied to", Cheated, or let Down. (They were).

New terms can never help protect against those who intentionally deceive. And now, a wonderful new technology like Photoshop is increasingly being turned into a negative Verb

Painters and sculpturs do not have to label their work for the viewer, neither should creative photographers.
As for news and reportage photographers, integrity and honesty has always been important, but has never been perfect either.
Maybe we'll see Journalistic standards that require JPEG only cameras with a Tri-X or Kodachrome look I dont know.

But the problemwith new words, or even more precise definitions of old words will be that there will be as many definitions as there are photographers. It will be messy, as all creative endeavors are

How about picture ?

The producer of the picture can then choose to say as much or as little about how it was produced... And the viewers of the picture can choose to describe it in whatever terms they choose (polite terms I would hope, but not expect sadly, in the age of the flamenet).

Dear Steve,

"For instance, nothing Cindy Sherman did was obviously manipulated, but you could not call it 'photography'. It is art."



This is a beautiful illustration of why this entirely misbegotten notion of "photoartist" is dumb, divisive, dismissive, and destructive (for the moment I have run out of pejoratives that start with "d").

Studio and commercial photography have never, ever not been considered photography. Staged photography with models, costumed or not, has never been called anything but photography. You are the first person I have ever heard to suggest otherwise.

But, do not take this personally, you are merely the symptom of the problem, which is that insisting on categorizing and gatekeeping those "others" invariably goes off the rails in ugly ways.

You can take quarrel with photographs or photographers who misrepresent their intent (e.g., realistic vs illustrative) or choose an intent that is inappropriate to the venue they are working in.

That's as far as it goes.

Cindy Sherman is not making photographs?! What a notion...

pax / Ctein

Whatever happened to the term "retouching" or "retouched".

It's a can of worms.

Mike, I found it interesting that you included conversion to black and white in your "allowed" adjustments for the photograph side of the spectrum. IMHO, converting a digital negative to black and white puts it much further to the right, towards photo illustration. Humans don't see in black and white. Conversion to black and white is more powerful than HDR in bringing out the parts of the image that you want people to see, as opposed to the parts that emerge in color. For example, James Ravilious rejected color photography because his subject was English countryside, dominated by green. By converting to B&W, he took away the mask of green and focused your eye on the subject. This is not reality, this is photo illustration.

Mike - It's your privilege to call whatever kind of recording of light whatever you want, but it's not helpful in any meaningful way. Recent scientific analysis of brain function shows that the brain prefers to categorize. Sometimes that is very useful in the way we process information. And it was and is very helpful to be able to categorize wild animals and guns as potentially dangerous. In this instance, though, there doesn't seem to be anything useful to be derived from your personal method of categorizing the recording of light. In fact, unless you repeat the definition every time you use the term "photoart," new readers will have no idea what you mean. That just confuses your meaning. In fact, most people, including photographers, don't bother to spell out the entire word and just refer to it as a "photo," or "picture" (the latter being a term I don't like, because I believe there is a meaningful difference between a picture - which can be made in myriad ways - and a photograph). Anyway, that's my 2¢.

My goodness, what a contrary bunch we are. So many arguments going in so many directions.

I support your new terminology Mike. In the context of your site and its community I think the definitions of these terms are clear - no need to wade into the weedy littoral "where do we draw the line?" or the sucking benthos "what is art?"

I think the distinction between photography and photoart is an important one as attested to by the rich debates here. I also think it's high time that we evolved a more specific nomenclature to pursue this distinction. Bravo. I know what you mean when you use these words and any reader interested in understanding you will too.

I look forward to TOP's ongoing discourse about photography. (And photoart.)

Just back from the bush and I note you have appropriated my name! Ha! See "tasmaniaphotoart.com.au"

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