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Wednesday, 21 November 2018


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Well said Mike. Happy Thanksgiving!

One of photography's most important strengths is that it starts with the real world, in a literal sense. We record what is in front of the lens. That seems like an obvious and trivial point, but it's not. Nobody would ever expect a painting to have this characteristic. For me this is where the problem lies with the manipulations we can do: at some point, with enough manipulation, the final picture has little connection to what was in front of the lens. This is not a moral judgement (unless the photographer is misrepresenting what was done to create the picture -- which is a different issue). As others have said, it's your art. But we have to realize what we're giving up when we move fully into the realm of "digital art".

I see what your saying, but different types of manipulation should not all be lumped together. Photo stitching, as was done to your photo in the previous post, is really no different than changing lenses or moving back a few steps. It does not alter reality - at least not anymore than cropping does. Angle, perspective, where one stands, what lens is used, depth of field, saturation, crop, raw filtering, etc. All alter what is in front of the camera at the time the photo is taken. I think that is different from adding things, switching things around, taking out distractions, etc.

The more photojournalistic the photo, the less should be done. If art is all that matters, then all is fair.

I think each and everyone to their own. As long as we listen to our inner voices and express whatever is within us there should not be any rules holding us back. We honestly are free to express at freewill whatever is within. However, sadly we all want freedom but when we have it we realize it's a little more daunting than what we dreamed of.
Here's a interview with Vivianne Sadden explaining her creative process.

We're on the same page. I would add Karsh's famous image of Winston Churchill as a real world image. The story is that Karsh took a cigar from Churchill's hand, generating that look. True or not, to me it's an iconic image totally represents the reallity of its subject.

I think there is a zone of activity between drawing/painting/illustration and "straight single frame capture with no other manipulation allowed" that still qualifies as "photography". I think this because it was true even when photography really was made up of (mostly) single frame capture.

Now, with the digital files and the damned pocket computers, there are a lot of things you can do that make it easier to capture a much more accurate picture of what is right in front of your face. When I make a picture this way I don't feel like I'm doing painting, or drawing. I know because I can't paint or draw anything to save my life. How I feel is that I stood in a place and made a good photograph, even if it took more than one frame to get it.

I guess along these lines the "worst" I've ever done is the long time exposures with my telescope cameras. Back in the day you'd expose one piece of film for many hours, but these days you can mitigate the risk of failure by taking many much shorter exposures and then combining them together. This also helps with noise reduction and dealing with light pollution. Anyway, I find it weird that you'd call the single piece of film a photograph and the combined digital thing something else. But oh well.

A humble example:


You can do color this way too, but this is a much more subjective construction, since who knows what the "real" colors are millions of light years away ...


Talk about a philosophical rathole.

"[...] the power of photographs comes from their connection to the real world. That's where their magic resides, and what gives them their power."

Allow me to make a few minor, but imho important, edits. A photograph's connection to the real world is one frozen moment of that world. Its magic and its power comes from how we infer/impute from that single frozen moment a more permanent, more universal truth. Otherwise, it's just one lucky shot of one interesting moment/look/pose/light, frozen in time by the switch of someone's finger.

Herein lies the problem. A painting has a painter, a person with an idea. He paints with a purpose; his painting embodies his idea. Pardon my French: A painter is an auteur. We muse over a painting, endlessly analyze the best ones, because we want to glimpse, to connect to, the auteur's idea. In the case of a photograph, to the extent it is a connection to the real world, what's the idea, and whose idea? The photographer only captured an instant in the real world. He did not make that instant. He was merely there, in the real world, at that moment. If a photograph is about the real world, then the photographer cannot be the auteur. Without an autuer, a work had no embodied idea, no permanent, broader meaning.

The point I am trying to make is that the more we try to connect photography to the "real world", the less magic and power it has. In that context, a photograph can never be more than a poor record of something magical and powerful. At best, its power is nostalgic, elegaic.

I am very confused about this whole discussion. You said you had posted the original images for the sake of discussion and nothing was implied about goodness or badness so what is there to discuss? How do you discuss these images without a real sense of why you took them? The only result you can get is a bunch of opinions on how other people would "fix" what you took. Not sure how that helps.


[I just meant I wasn't asserting that it's a photograph people have to like, if they don't, and I wouldn't be offended if people say they don't like it. In other words I'm going to put my ego aside for the sake of discussion. Does that make more sense? --Mike]

It's better if you do it consciously. That sums it (photography and life) up nicely for me. All the rest was just an introduction.

I stand in absolute awe as to what computer wizards can do today with images, jealous really. But (IMHO) it's still a cold second to a photographer who gets it right from the get go.

There's a scene in the British doc of Vivian Maier where they exhibit 12 prints made sequentially from one roll of her 120 film. One can clearly witness firsthand how knowingly she composed, shot and made each frame count- as the narrator commented, "a remarkable hit rate ratio."

I like photographs to be either minimally manipulated at most, or only manipulated in obvious ways. Ansel Adams is an example of the latter; no-one visiting Yosemite expects the sky behind Half Dome to be dark grey! What he has done is to show us a beautiful place creatively interpreted by himself. The picture was manipulated, but the viewer was not.

But it is possible to manipulate both the picture and/or the viewer independently. Suppose I take a shot of some Zebras drinking at a river, and remove a coke can floating in the water. I have indeed manipulated the image, but most people would find this minor level of manipulation to be acceptable if I told them about it. On the other hand I could have left the coke can in place, changing the theme of the picture into pollution of the environment. That might make for a more interesting picture. But suppose I wanted the 'pollution' picture to support my point of view, and as no coke can was passing by at that exact moment, I threw in my own and snapped the result. Then I would have an un-manipulated picture, but I would certainly have manipulated my viewers. Most people would say correctly, that I was using the camera to lie.

Or suppose I not only took out the coke can, but added more Zebras, making a fairly uninteresting picture more appealing? Or I go a bit further and use my otherwise uninteresting picture of a lion hiding in the tall grass, to add to the image with the zebras, making the whole thing more dramatic? Now the image and the viewers have been manipulated to the hilt, and basically unless I go to the trouble to tell everyone who might see the picture, I'm essentially lying through my teeth. Advertisers do this all the time of course, which is why I have no interest in looking at advertising photography.


I’m with you.

On a somewhat related note, do you feel the same way about movies? I’ve completely lost my taste for most Hollywood blockbusters/superhero/CGI movies in favor of independents for the exact same reason......


The true reality is that now more than ever, cameras are so commonplace with so many people creating images, and social media and internet being the showcase for billions of photos (if not trillions), everyone seems to want to be recognized and often through their photos. It's almost as if photos and images have become the new communication medium.
Statistically speaking vast majority of the viewing audience will fawn over, like and follow photographers that usually have a style of over the top, over saturated and amped up colors and manipulated images. . It seems like a vast majority of pictures must have been all taken on Mars with it's heightened amped up color spectrums.
I think the vast majority of viewers have become insensitive to reality and now welcome, appreciate and follow cartoonish images. When you then add , manipulated content, it just appears to escalate the tendency to "keep up with the Joneses" by more moderate photographers to do so as well.
Notwithstanding the need to do some post processing in most images, it's just too easy to photshop/lightrrom/luminar your way into this new cultural shift toward the gaudy and superficiality.
Let's be honest, when you see internet photo posting on Instagram or other platforms, it's the gaudy over saturated, over sharpened sunsets, beach scenes, landscapes that get the raves and followers. Ironically it would appear that skilled photographers have a much more challenging market conditions to be recognized by the masses.

@ Mike: "the power of photographs comes from their connection to the real world. That's where their magic resides, and what gives them their power."

This, then, is why pictures of our relatives or of ourselves are important to us but mostly not to others, and why a photograph doesn't have to be absolutely sharp to be very good.

It used to be that the definition of a photograph was pretty simple. It was the physical artifact of light striking a photosensitive medium and the image fixed in that medium for at least long enough to see it. Literally light drawing. Photograms, X-rays, time exposures, dead grass showing the image of an large object that was on top of it and then moved, holograms, and the shadows of pedestrians cast on a wall in Hiroshima by the atomic bomb were all(just barely perhaps) in the realm of photographs. Now that almost no* photographs involve the fixing of an image in a photosensitive medium, the question of what is a photograph is open. I'm pretty sure that the days of a single short exposure through a single lens being the determining characteristic of what makes an image a "photograph" are close to over.

Also in the digital age what's the difference between a photograph and a reproduction of a photograph?

*Probably the percentage of photographs made using film today is about the same as the percentage of photographs made by the daguerreotype process in 1990

sort of off topic: An actor friend of mine says he spends a lot of money to keep his teeth looking awful because his livelihood depends on them, in fact he's sort of famous for it. Looking at those videos of extreme makeovers of famous actors all I can think is that if that happened in real life they'd never work another day.

Yes. I think very often the impulse behind my taking a photograph is simply to be able to say to other people "Look! This is what I saw".

Not "Look how clever I am to have made this".

Though you hope for some "How clever of you to have seen that".

I'd like to take a slightly different angle on this. Mike, I know you are a fan of prime lenses, especially the 35mm equivalent focal length. I've always favored zoom lenses. I never have the confidence out in the field that I'll see the ultimate composition, so I make sure to grab several shots from different angles and use the zoom to vary the focal length. This gives me the opportunity to look at several compositions and crops, including some that are intentionally loose, so that I can spot the best composition without having to resort to a composite image. The quality of zoom lenses is pretty good these days, so I don't feel any trade off there. I've always felt too constrained by primes. I'd welcome your thoughts on this.

Maybe this has already been said, but I am going to say it anyway. I'm curious as to whether people's attitudes about this issue are impacted by their age. Not age really, but their experience. You and I are approximately the same age. We learned how to photograph with film. As black and white photographers, there is/was a lot we could accomplish in the darkroom. But, unless one of us was Jerry Uelsmann, there were limits with what we could do. The image on the negative was rooted in reality. A digital image file is not the same as a negative. There is so much more you can do to it, even if it is a scan from a negative, that it really has the potential to be something very different than the sort of image we learned how to make many years ago. Most photographers today probably start making photos with their phones. A plethora of tools are available for that device that allow minor to extreme manipulation without ever moving the file to another device and people use them all of the time. What was amazing back in the day, e.g., Uelsmann, can be commonplace - even if requiring some skill. I wonder if we would have that same reaction to extreme digital manipulation/combination if we began our photographic odyssey in the digital age.

My milage varies a lot. If I want to see "reality" all I have to do is open the front door. As a viewer I have no interest in art that isn't surreal or *tweaked to a fever-dream pitch. It's trivial to distort reality today. Push contrast, hue and vibrancy up to **eleven. Skew the image—whatever.

I much prefer drawings, prints or paintings over photographs. Cartoonist Jean Giraud aka Moebius, is one of my favorite artists in any medium.

*A tweaker is someone who abuses crystal meth.

** Nigel Tufnel, lead guitarist for Spinal Tap kept his amp cranked-up to eleven.

I think I'm close to the same. I'm more interested in photography that seems connected to reality. To me though, a simple vertical panorama doesn't cross the line, and I'd never know about it if the photographer didn't disclose it.

The photo-illustrations I see around the web hold zero interest to me (so far). But I like creative, out-there painting, like the work of local Ojibwe artist Jonathan Thunder.


I think the main problem is that the photo-illustrators get caught up in the technique and fail terribly on the content.

Just to continue to mine that murky middle ground:

Your Lincoln example is very pointed. It represents a clear example of one end of the spectrum, straight documentation: just show what was before the camera, nothing more and nothing less.

And yet, my composite of your two pond examples is no less pure documentation, I would argue.

The composite documents exactly what was there before your camera, with no additions or subtractions. In fact, maybe it more faithfully documents the entire scene you faced than your two individual images, even though it required relatively sophisticated Photoshop manipulation.

But there I go, "argu[ing] from now to Kingdom Come about the details" as you warned. Okay, enough.

If I may call you, Mike:

Dear Mike,

Perhaps I'm not alone in wondering: Does a post like this represent yet another in the continuing series of postponements for either finishing, or assuming it is finished, posting the review of the H-1?


(a long time reader) Tom Davis

Somewhat related to the subject, as an occasional dabbler in film photography, the thing that impresses me most about the medium is that the film itself is a physical witness to whatever event was photographed. That is, actual photons from the scene physically altered the film. For me, that gives film a unique kind of authenticity: the film was present and bears an imprint of the event itself.

Does it matter? I have no idea, but it gives me the warm fuzzies to think about it, especially for those momentous events that have been recorded on film.

"The story is that Karsh took a cigar from Churchill's hand, generating that look. True or not, to me it's an iconic image..."

It's here, and it's true: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/the-day-winston-churchill-lost-his-cigar-180947770/

well, whatever ...

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Mike

Truth vs Beauty - ala Sontag. Are we trying to document what we saw, or express what we felt? The two aren’t always mutually exclusive, and it depends on the context. Images of a naked child fleeing war, or a deceased child on a beach, have power because of the photojournalistic context in which they are presented. And yet I doubt many would hang such images on a wall to enjoy looking at, as someone would an Ansel Adams image, with the dodging, burning and other techniques he applied.

What underpins all this concern about ‘is it real’ is that a photograph appears realistic. I won’t use the term “real” because as we all know it’s compressing at least 4 experienced dimensions into 2. At the end of the day, it’s all about human preferences, and in that context, all is subjective, and all is trivial.

Now I’m going to pull off the shelf that Strand book promoted by TOP to peruse and enjoy ;~)

This discussion reminded me of the quote below.

”All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this — as in other ways — they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers. Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.” ~John Berger

This idea of forgetting and remembering is interesting. Berger speaks of the reality in photography yet doesn’t say it’s the opposite of painting in all ways, which is true. One of the unique powers of photography is that a photograph can be both a hard document of fact and evoke emotion in a viewer through the photographers artful vision.

The technology and technique details of this debate will matter less once the wizardry of computational photography takes over. One day all photos will be sliced, diced and merged with one click of a “shutter” button.

On the question of panoramas and stacked shots that look much better than any one shot: we don't see with our eyes, they are merely input devices; we see with our brains. A picture of a well-remembered place that compensates for the sensor's limited dynamic range or the low light levels of a late evening hush is not a deception in my view.

I clearly remember mornings sixty years ago, my grandfather restocking fruit in his little grocery. If tomorrow morning I get a whiff of cardboard and fresh fruit I can see the scene. If I smell that tomorrow morning I am not being manipulated even though the cardboard box is new and the grapefruit picked last week.

My take on the matter is this: I grew up with film, fell in love with photography partly due to the process and also because I realised that, lacking the skills, I was never going to be able to get to where I wanted to be using pencils and brushes; cameras were also far sexier tools.

I do not enjoy complex images at all. A Hans Feurer beach shot says all you need to know about women and water; a David Bailey shot of the Shrimp just standing there wearing whatever the gig presented is all that anyone need know about fashion photography in a studio. If you have to torment yourself with the freezing elements, why not just look at one of Michael Kenna's Japanese trees in the snow? In each case you get the definitive simplicity of what it's all about.

The point is, it matters not whether that's from film or digital, it's all in the imagery and, for me, the less complex it ends up being, the better

Andre Y said something I'd never thought about before: having the excitement of the actual piece of film that recorded and bore witness to the event. I had only thought of it from the security angle, where film really exists but your digital files only do so in an alternative, untouchable element you can never see directly, and could lose in an instant.

Photography is a broad church and always has been. The portrait of Abraham lincoln is an applied photograph. It was taken to show what Lincoln looked like. In painting before photography many works were similarly applied, especially portraits.Around the same time Henry Peach Robinson, to name just one practioner, was constructing prints from multiple negatives (look up "When the Days Work is Done"). His aim was to create works of art. Today there are many artists using photography in their work. I can't see why the media that an artist chooses to work in should matter so much. Of course there are many people using Photoshop today who are producing truly awful work, but I bet it has always been the same. We don't get to see the bad stuff because it is long forgotten.

With you all the way on this—the interesting part of photography for me is that it shows something that exists or existed in this world, with all that a lens and a photographer's taste bring to it.

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK but this is a good time to say again that I'm deeply grateful to be able to read your writing.

@Tom Davis: "Does a post like this represent yet another in the continuing series of postponements for either finishing, or assuming it is finished, posting the review of the H-1?"

Dear Tom (if I may have the temerity to address you directly as such),
You are right, of course. Our Editor is creating these little diversions (editorial filibustering) to keep us engaged while he grapples manfully with the review. He actually participates in these discussions -- hats off to him for finding the time to do so.
It's a heavy job, not to be taken lightly. Reviews have been known to make or mar reputations, as anyone familiar with Ken Rockwell's name knows. Let's see what he comes up with. I'm sure it'll be a balanced and objective post...when it finally arrives.
For me, personally, it's only of academic interest: I basically use only M43. In any case, Fuji equipment is too expensive where I live (India).

[Tom, and Subroto, if I may have the temerity to address you directly as such, Settle down guys! :-) --Mike]

Hmmmm...I'm reading some misapprehensions about the various visual media and how artists approach them and subject matter if they are doing a realist or representational work---and the broad range of ways that happens. I'm also seeing some dogma about "the moment" which doesn't take into account manipulated/sandwiched negatives, darkroom work, or , more directly, that a "moment" might last quite a while, as in hours. Some commenters may have thought that they have contemplated this problem thoroughly, but they need to think again. I'd caution everyone that if you think you have this figured out, you're on dangerous ground. On of the reasons that the visual arts remain vital after all these centuries is that it has a way of escaping these fences.

Some quotations and replies...

"We learned how to photograph with film. As black and white photographers, there is/was a lot we could accomplish in the darkroom...There is so much more you can do to it, even if it is a scan from a negative, that it really has the potential to be something very different..."

I started in the darkroom. Most of what I do with digital tools is heavily influenced by that work. But I also see and understand that a lot of the current digital tools (HDR, stitching, stacked images, etc) generate results that have a similar relationship to the original thing you saw as the manipulations one would do in the darkroom, even if it does not seem that way on the surface.

"Somewhat related to the subject, as an occasional dabbler in film photography, the thing that impresses me most about the medium is that the film itself is a physical witness to whatever event was photographed."

I see this sort of thing written a lot but I don't buy it. The relationship between the original photon and the image developed on film is if anything many generations more removed from the relationship between the original photon and the signal that comes off of the CCD and on to your computer's disk. Go read up on how Kodachrome works if you don't believe me. Prints are of course even more indirect.

I think this myth of the direct physical connection is mostly a romantic nostalgia trip, similar to the vinyl enthusiasts who insist that the wiggly grooves in an LP record have some sort of direct physical connection back to the vibrations in the air that created the sound in the first place.

"The point I am trying to make is that the more we try to connect photography to the 'real world', the less magic and power it has. In that context, a photograph can never be more than a poor record of something magical and powerful. At best, its power is nostalgic, elegaic."


I guess your preference for the real world resonates with your preference for factual books.

However, I don't agree that photography connects us with the real-world, except in an incidental or metaphysical sense. For instance, I don't see the world in black and white, so to me that is idealisation by omission. Nor is it the only example.

Landscape images omit what is outside the frame and distort perspective. Nowhere looks like it does in a photograph.

Portraits omit by selection. We select the image from a shoot that conforms to our idealised view of that person, but may not in any way represent the truth. It is only our projection of a desire to see in that face what we want to see. How many people turn out to be what we expect?

Good fiction also works by omission. It provides a plausible (or semi-plausible) narrative onto which we can project our own visual fantasy. How often is the film of the book rather disappointing?

I think photographs work the other way. They provide a plausible image onto which we can project our own narrative fantasy.

I don't care if it isn't real, only that I can - for that moment - imagine it to be so. If anything, I learn more about myself.

I think deep down that's what everyone does when they see a photograph. The difference is our expectation of what it actually represents and our role in that process.

If I want reality, I go for a walk around London, or read a book on network load balancing.

I can't remember where I first read this, but the best criticism of idealized photography was for that used by The Sierra Club in its calendars and advertising. Something like:

"The Sierra Club photography does to nature what Playboy does to women."

I see things that move me. I photograph them and then treat them so that the feeling they gave me can be conveyed to the viewer. I can't provide the feel of the breeze on my skin, nor the smell of the ocean air, nor the sound of seagulls on the shore, so the visual I create must have as much of that information as possible...but the changes I consequently introduce are never to the extent that they exceed the possibilities allowed by reality.

Thanks for starting / returning to this central issue. You force me to reflect on my own practice.

My photography began as an adjunct to research, in this case, in anthropology. So the constraint was already laid down: my photographs had to have a documenting purpose, that is, they had to convey something previously unknown or poorly understood to viewers. So in that genre of photographing, I'm right there with you.

And please note one illuminating analogy here: just as I can use whatever skill and means I may have to hand to convey an understanding of someone or some people in writing, so I can use whatever skill and means I may have to hand to convey an understanding of them in photos.

There are, I must admit, further constraints in what can be published, whether in writing or in images, and those public constraints may curb my more adventurous or experimental attempts to convey a matter. But in any case, my efforts in both writing and photographing came down to a concentrated and sustained labour to *get it clear and right*, as best I could.

Subsequently I've moved to photographing for less circumscribed and more personal projects, but the key word is still there for me: projects. So far my projects have all concerned some feature of the world which, as in anthropological research, I want to understand myself, and whose understanding I want to convey to others.

So again, I'm with you there. There is a difference, though, in the more personal projects, because now I add a further constraint, namely that I aim to make my photographs also interesting in and of themselves. So I'm photographing in a 'documentary style', as Walker Evans put it. I can indulge some more experimental means, both in prose and image, but still, getting it clear and right takes precedence; being clear and right (by my lights) limits what I might imagine for myself to those expressions which would actually convey something faithfully to viewers/readers, and not solely to myself.

The consequence of this particular personal trajectory has been to form a certain sensibility for me in judging more casual or less tightly constrained forms of photography. When I see, for example, some of your photos taken in the vicinity of your present home, I find that I now instinctively ask myself whether the photo is pleasing in itself *and simultaneously* whether it reveals some faithful sense of your world through your eyes. Or to but it another way: was what lay before Mike's lens a feature of his world clearly and well enough displayed that I can share a common sense of that feature, if only distantly, with Mike? Sometimes that shared sense can be conveyed by the photo alone, but more often it is conveyed by the photo and some written account of its setting.

Thanks again, Mike, for making me think through this very important issue.

I agree that photography is about connection with the subject matter, be it a person, a landscape or anything else. I occasionally use digital filters, the Christmas card I sent you of an apple tree in my yard a couple of years back is an example, but what inspires me to make photographs is the connection I make with the subject and I exercise restraint in what images I use such filters on and how I use them because I want the image to emphasize the aspects of the subject that attracted me, not simply 'prettify' an otherwise dull image.
The created fantasy images that have become so popular in recent years generally leave me cold. I appreciate the imaginations of those who construct them but wonder why they aren't painters. But then I come from a photojournalist training and I suspect that such images owe more to fashion and advertising than any other area of photography. They remind me of "Disappearing Witness: Change in Twentieth-Century American Photography" by Grethen Garner. Having begun photography in the mid-20th century, I remain in the witness mode while occasionally and tentatively employing the tools of the 21st century.

I no longer need to carry a 24mm - I can just shoot a vertical panorama and benefit from a larger file size as well.

Extended tonal range - I just shoot three shots, -2 stops, 0 and +2 stops and merge to a 16 bit file.

Nothing that couldn't be done with film in the darkroom, just easier and more precise.

“...the power of photographs comes from their connection to the real world. That's where their magic resides, and what gives them their power.”

One more swing at the ball:

A photograph’s connection to the real world is that it is a visual impression of a tiny slice of that world frozen in time. Its power comes from meanings we infer from or impute to that impression — meanings about the world, meanings about ourselves, meanings about the relationship between ourselves and the world. Part of the magic is that we may leisurely examine a photograph and take our time to reflect on any meanings and understandings it may evoke.

An evocative photograph can acquire evocative power in any number of ways ranging from lucky, but accidental, shutter release at a decisive time and place, through the clever set-up of a scene, to the painstaking exercise of post-processing craft.

Since human beings are prodigious and promiscuous makers of meaning, one size may not fit anyone for very long.

The "connection to the real world" is also part of the challenge or, rather, entertainment part of photography.

We all know, more or less, how a good-looking woman really looks, but isn't it nice to be able to take that woman somewhere, photograph her, and by your choice of lenses, location, lighting, make her appear even more beautiful than she really would be if you saw her just sitting at a desk in an office?

This is not a call for PSing her into a dimension of the absurd, but simply of presenting a version of her that transcends the one you see face-to-face. When you pull that off, it really does make you feel good about yourself.

Reverting for a sec. to the concept of film being an actual witness to an event - physical witness: this is not about light, photons or anything chemical as in process: it's about that actual roll of film being with you, in your camera, when the event took place, and is therefore a valid part of that moment made physical, just as is the camera you used. Your closest to that experience with digital is a card, which you are most unlikely to retain and not reuse and thus sully with something else, erasing that magical moment you wanted to preserve... making it, in fact, serve exactly the function of a toilet bowl.

I think this is part of the reason for the resurgence of tintypes. I don’t know how consciously people think about this, but I feel like there’s resonance in the idea that an in-camera direct positive is an unretouched representation of what was in front of the lens. Not that an monochromatic image made with an orthochromatic emulsion that usually has visible defects accurately represents what was there, but we know that it hasn’t been manipulated after the exposure was made. Same is true of daguerreotypes, but there hasn’t been much of a resurgence there—probably because they are so hard to make.

As a lifelong science fiction reader, I've seen rather a lot of cover art (and other), some of which is straight-out landscape paintings of imaginary scenes. If it's good enough I sometimes feel it evokes the feelings I would have looking at that real scene -- perhaps hundreds of light-years away from home. So in at least some ways, to be successful for me, it has to be "true" -- when there's no actual truth the artist can compare it to. But if I find something that's wrong in it, it spoils the magic.

But for artistic, especially landscape, shots here on Earth (sometimes knows as "Sol III" or even "Tellus") I'm pretty happy with darkroom magic (including the current version, Photoshop magic). They're idealized anyway, they're solidly "art" not "documentation". And landscape painters did it all the time (omitting the branch out of place, etc.). I can't find it in me to look down on creative artists who push pixels around in Photoshop rather than pushing pigments around with brushes.

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