When it comes to photography, I’m a big-tent person. In fact, I’m a big-tent guy about most things, but I’ll just stick to photography here. If there’s any kind of photosensitive material involved in the creation of an image, as far as I’m concerned, it’s photography.
That puts me at odds with the people who say that Kim Kauffman’s flatbed scanner based images aren’t photography . So be it.
I really disagree with those who say that any image that involves digital processing is not photography.
I think it’s fine to paint on photographs, and I call the result a photograph.
I think the Group f.64 folks were on to something , but so were many of the pictorialists , who have only recently begun to garner a bit of respect.
Not only do I think that photography covers an immensely broad field, I think that almost all photographers can learn from the work of those who tend their photographic garden in distant regions of the photographic universe. If you like Ansel Adams, you should take a look at Robert Adams. Robert Frank lovers, meet Joel-Peter Witkin. Interested in portraits? Take a look at Arnold Newman, Karsh, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Avedon, Lee Friedlander, and Annie Leibowitz.
Knowing my frame of mind, you can imagine how distressed I was to see the following statement from a respected DPR contributor:
Except that in the film era, people used the cameras that suited their needs and would work in their shooting environment, which cut 4×5 out of almost all pictures – quite literally. Guys would use change bags, take forever to set up for one shot, could only shoot stuff that did not move due to tiny apertures and punishing ISO levels. LF photography is the very essence of reductionism in photography, which is why all LF images look like they were shot in a vacuum sealed hermetic environment.
In case you think I might be quoting out of context, here’s a link to the whole post.
The dimensions of this point of view are staggering. A whole class of photographers, including, arguably, anyone who ever made a photograph before roll film cameras, are damned. Bodies of work that seem strikingly dissimilar to me:
- Ansel Adams
- Edward Weston
- Matthew Brady
- Carleton Watkins
- Sally Mann
- George Tice
- Clyde Butcher
- Richard Misrach
- Arthur Tress
- William Wegman
- Richard Avedon
- Joel Meyerowitz
are all thrown into the same bucket.
I challenged the poster on this point, but received no response.
At first, I couldn’t imagine how anybody can think that way. Then I considered the Sony FF E-mount forum where the post was made, and it began to make a kind of sense to me. Forums dedicated to a particular line of cameras tend to be populated by those who have a tribal allegiance to those cameras, and be visited by those who bear similar commitment to other lines. This can breed an environment of photographic xenophobia, where users of other cameras, or, in this case, of other formats, are cast into outer darkness.
That’s a shame, because you can’t learn anything from anyone who you’ve decided – simply by virtue of their chosen photographic tool — are misguided, and, as I said earlier, I think we photographers can all learn from each other.
The solution is not to throw out the camera-oriented forums. They have their place, and there is much that users of, say, alpha 7 cameras, can teach other users of that instrument that doesn’t apply to other equipment. But we need to be conscious that such forums can be breeding grounds for group-think that is dangerous to successful photography.
I think the xenophobia in camera forums is a sort of protectionism.
If I convince more people to get the same camera I have, then the company will have more resources to develop new lenses and bodies, and be more likely to commit to make what *I* want out of a camera.
It’s instinctive, but nonetheless silly and self-centered to believe that a little inflammatory comment in a forum thread will make any difference.
Good point. But in this case, it involved kicking large format cameras and all who ever used them, which and who are certainly no threat to the Sony alpha 7 market. In fact, they are endangered species.
Mike Nelson Pedde says
A while back I did a talk for our local photography meetup group on the basics of digital photography, and I began the talk with an image and a caption that read, “Is this a photograph? (Yes, this is a trick question)”. I then showed a stitched panorama, an HDR image and a composite of stacked images. Then I showed a fractal, which is essentially a graphic representation of an iterated mathematical formula.
The point I was making was that in the film days we essentially used chemical processes to create light-sensitive salts and chemical processes that revealed the light that was captured when said salts were spread onto a substrate and exposed to light. In the digital era we’re capturing light as INFORMATION… 1s and 0s.
I shoot both film and digital to this day so I don’t get too hung up about it, but I find it amusing when I come across those who say that as a ‘real’ photographer they shoot film. And then they scan it. I don’t care what the source is, 1s and 0s give you a digital image. “Is that a photograph?” is almost a moot point to me.
I remember (and I’m sure you do as well) the early computer days when the Mac came out with a mouse, and from there we developed Paint and Photoshop and CorelDraw and…and there were those who asked, “What is computer art?” If you take the pencil tool and draw something with a mouse (or, today, more likely a tablet) is that computer art? How about if you can’t draw something to save your life but you can use the tools available in (software of your choice) to create something? Is that computer art? And if you’re a person like Bert Monroy or Corey Barker or a digital matte painter who can create photorealistic art from a blank screen…is that computer art? Is it a photograph? Does it matter?
David Braddon-Mitchell says
The problem is not just that you get this crazy inbred view of photography (I too was shocked by that post – constraints on art always produce interesting effects – think of sonata form in music, or any other formal constraint. The slowness of LF is (was) part of its aesthetic, and what makes those pictures so interestingly different. Not that some LF practitioners weren’t able to be nimble too)
But the other problem is that there is no forum to make general comments about photography *which will actually be read*. If you go to the general forums on DPR or FM, the traffic is slow. So if I have something so say I post on the Sony forums, because I happen to be using Sony on the whole now, and it’ll get far more reads that in a general forum. I think you do the same.
But that’s nuts; but I can’t see a way out without cultural reform of a major kind..
Jack Hogan says
Parochialism is built into human nature: whether about our teams, our towns, our universities, our countries, our religions, our cameras. We should know better in the days of internet and globalization but as irrational a reaction as it is it still makes us feel safer and righter (?). Some folks make it their raison d’etre. Its roots are probably in our DNA: I understand that when hunter-gathering if you strayed away from your tribe’s turf you were likely to get killed and eaten by righteously parochial neighbours who thought their arrows were sharper 🙂