Can it really be called photography anymore?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by tbarrent, Oct 24, 2020.

  1. That’s a sign of a lack of imagination. Photography, like any other art, can also create a new reality, can express feelings, can exaggerate a perspective, can transform by leaving out or framing, and can even indulge in flights of fancy.
    Then I would advise you to "throw up your hands, put your camera on the shelf, and take up another hobby." In the meantime, leave the rest of us alone. We're happy making photos in ways that you don't understand. Guess what, Alan, the fifties are long gone as is the 20th Century. No more segregated drinking fountains, gay people can get married, and the "average guy" can post process to his heart's content. Many folks no longer play vinyl records on their hi-fis. History marches on. Adapt or don't.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020
  2. Yes. I see your point. You're for some reason concerned about what some little kid does and how what he does makes you feel. Who's the little kid in the story, though, him ... or you?
  3. For me at least, when it comes to my hobbies, I care as much about the journey as the destination. Yes, I want the end result to be excellent, but I like the feeling of accomplishment from getting there.

    Right now, my dearly beloved 1970 MG is in the shop and nearly finished with an engine rebuild. I had wanted to do it myself, but time and circumstances conspired to make it impossible. None the less, I did what I could, from selected and sourcing my desired combo of original and aftermarket parts to working closely to get things done EXACTLY as I would have had I done them myself. When they told me the cylinder head was cracked, I worked very closely with someone else not associated with the shop to have a specific casting number of head not just reworked but ported and polished to have it done. I spent hours analyzing camshaft profiles to pick the right one. I agonized over connecting rods and pistons(resize what was there, go to later, lighter style which had advantages for the pistons, or go to superlight aftermarket ones). I spent a few day at home doing what small bits I could to squeeze the last little bit out of it. I was darn proud, for example, of the intake manifold that was the product of hours opening up the ports carefully to allow more flow while keeping gas velocity as constant as possible. I'd grind with a dremel and/or electric drill, build up with an aluminum epoxy, smooth out the epoxy and shape it to where I wanted, build up more, and repeat until I had a product I was happy with. Then, I'd send photos to a guy who does this all day, and he'd keep suggesting tweaks. I was darn proud of the finished product, even though I was chasing an extra 2hp at the max assuming everything else was perfect.

    When it's all said and done, I'll have a nicely street mannered MGB with an engine pushed to about the limit of what a primitive cast iron engine can do without a supercharger while also keeping it street mannered and using gas that I can get at any gas station in the country. I haven't driven the finished product yet, but my mechanic has already called it the fasted 4 cylinder MG he's ever driven. I could have spent less money and bought a 1990 Miata that would have been faster and better handling and been ready to go, but I also don't have the story to tell of where I started and where I end up.

    That's a lot of rambling to make a different point, though. For me, I want to my finished product to be an aesthetically pleasing, compelling photograph that suits my taste. The how I got there, whether it was a location/time of day I meticulously staked out or the trip to a particular location or the sheer happenstance of coming across it is the fun in it. Maybe I had camera trouble and still salvaged the image, or maybe I was using some combo of equipment that imparted that particular look(or limited what I could do). The post processing to get it there is all part of that also-basically I(mostly) enjoy everything from what's needed to frame the scene to getting a final print or image.

    Someone who theoretically creates a "perfect" image from scratch in Photoshop will have a totally different story to tell, and it I'd be interesting in hearing how they did it. There again, similar results but different paths to get there, and again I enjoy the path I've taken. I'm not bothered if someone finds an easier way, rather I'll admire them and consider if I want to adapt or if I want to keep doing it my way.
  4. It's good to see discussion like this, brings back good old memories.
    My 2 cents, all this is almost the same conversation about scope of what to included into meaning of the word.
    Like discussion about what is exposure really means, f-stop and shutter speed, or triangle including ISO, both could be right, depending how you define exposure, for me it's what my camera recording on film or memory card.
    The same with photography, if final product based on image recorded using some kind light sensitive material I would call it photography, no matter how it was manipulated in post-processing, as I remember somebody was using x-rays and still it was called photography.
  5. @AlanKlein I understand - and sympathize with - your point and it's a valid one. Thankfully there are still still plenty of photographers around - young ones too - who enjoy taking good, straight-out-of-the-camera photos, for which little or no post-processing is needed. It's also true that an increasing number of young, talented photographers have taken to film photography because they enjoy the experience and resulting photos more than they do with digital photography. I recently watched this (funny) interview with Caroline Tran. She explained that she was spending so much time in Photoshop (unsuccessfully) trying to give her digital photos a 'film look' that she eventually decided to just shoot exclusively with film.

    I agree with @ben_hutcherson's point that no amount of post-processing can fix a crummy photo. Or to turn that around, the better out-of-the-camera-photos are, the better any post-processed photos will be.

    There's a broad difference between visual/graphic digital art and photography but there's also an area where these disciplines merge into each other. For example, where photos are taken with the intention of incorporating them into a later artwork (digital or otherwise).

    I personally dislike many highly-processed (especially over-saturated) photos of ordinary scenes simply because they've become a cliché. I do, on the other hand, like photos which have been deliberately post-processed to achieve a certain 'look/style' for a complete series.
    AlanKlein likes this.
  6. Mike, out of curiosity, would you like a series of deliberately over-saturated photos?
  7. Like @mikemorrell, I have no problem with photographers who want to work any way they want to work. I do have a problem with "camera buffs" telling photographers what the best way to make a photo is or that their work must be excluded from the field of photography because of how they work. That's the point here, just in case anyone has missed it.

    Here's a photo I did a fair amount of post processing on. I exposed for and post processed to a result I wanted which expressed what I wanted. I was not thinking about reality. I had enough of thinking about reality when I studied Philosophy. I was thinking about story-telling. And I was thinking about the photo I was making ... and Andy's shoes!

    andy, ocean beach, san francisco​
    mikemorrell likes this.
  8. If you would, check out Nan Goldin's work.
    Ludmilla likes this.
  9. As did I (naive as I was at the time) - until I read Adams' books. It's not "fake it 'til you make it" but "fake it to make it".
    Yes it can - you can indeed polish a turd. You end up with a polished turd". On the other hand, sometimes a "crummy photo" is just a diamond that hasn't been polished yet.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2020
  10. People are lamenting the reduction in faith of the documenting function of photography. The manipulation of photography has always been there, although it is, arguably, much easier now. I understand what many do not like or appreciate about it. I think many of those who are defending the idea that photography has never been "real" or always was manipulated are probably not really being honest. There is a quantum leap in ease of technological fakery in the last 2 decades, and this is what the grumblers here are grumbling about. I understand it and share it to some extent. How many times do you see, say, a landscape that purports to be a scene taken on "my tour of Yosemite" and you see an absurdly over saturated shot with glowering clouds that are unlike anything you have ever seen in nature? It doesn't matter in the big scheme of things, but I for one tire of seeing them. It is a question of degree. Yes the Soviets faked their photos to show Trotsky never stood anywhere near Lenin, but I have always wondered how many people really believed them, it is a kind of self-delusion. I'd believe them too if the alternative was the gulag or execution. As to whether digital art works that use some amount of photographic imagery should still be called "photography" I don't really care, but personally I prefer the term digital art, or digital media, but I won't go to the guillotine over it if no one agrees.
  11. Right. Those are just bad photos. They're not fakery. That's obvious because you've even said that they're unlike anything you've ever seen in nature. You, like me, don't seem to be faked out by these, since you know what nature looks like and know these have been manipulated. When it is fakery, like Russian or Trumpian propaganda, that's dangerous, as it's always been. And, yes, it's easier to do these days.
  12. This topic seems to be among PN's top perennial chew toys. Anyone ever read the Errol Morris book "Believing is Seeing"???
  13. If the over-saturation made some kind of statement of had a 'style', probably yes.
  14. One more thought … it's a thought-proving thread!
    - some responses to this thread focus on definitions (and boundaries) of photography, digital imaging based on photography, visual art, etc.
    - others (by extension) have focused on the goals of photography: to capture 'reality' on film/sensor, to produce edited images that best express our subjective experience at the time, to produce 'idealized images' of scenes. Or to produce images that that best express what we have 'envisioned' (with whatever resources/tools tools that we have at our disposal).

    I'm in favor of a Wide Church'' in which everybody's welcome. What unites us is that we all want to to produce images that are relevant and visually interesting. We have widely different approaches which lead to different visual results. Definitions don't concern me much - any set is fine by me. I just note that no one process or result is - in principle - better than any other, just different. I have no problem with 'Church Members' identifying themselves with their personal 'imaging beliefs'.

    The thing that connects all 'Church Members'' is that we all strive to produce interesting and relevant images in the best way that we know how. We have different approaches, processes and we deliver (visually) different results. But I firmly believe that the 'image viewing public'' is at least as diverse than the image producers. So IHHO, whatever process you follow and whatever results you deliver, some segment of the 'image viewing public'' appreciate your personal process and results.

    Tony Parsons and AlanKlein like this.
  15. I'm not too sure what Ansel had in mind when he said that. But I think people today, many kids in fact, are concerned about authenticity and tradition. Moving to vinyl records and film are examples. There's so much fake stuff around today, useless crap that has no point or value. I think we all seek values and standards to give purpose to life. Doing "your own thing" is good as much as it goes. But many people are looking for more.
  16. I don't know "many kids" and therefore can't comment on whether or not they are concerned about authenticity and tradition (though I do hope they are). Personally, I have no desire to move back to vinyl or film. Also don't know anyone personally who does.
    I sure hope that there are more important things to seek than whether or not (over-)processing photos is going too far.
  17. Group theory - Wikipedia
    Ludmilla likes this.
  18. OK, but how about the case where the whole image is computer generated?

    Just the solutions of some mathematical equations, but then converted into a visual image that, in our imagination, represents some scene?

    I believe that the Pixar movies have some actual photographic input, but much smaller than the ones discussed above.
  19. How 'bout it? We're living in a world where that's possible. And it's done. Why not?

    In any case, how it's done and what it looks like and expresses to me when it's done is more important to me than what I call it or what someone who wants to protect their photographic "territory" calls it.
  20. There's nothing wrong with computer generated pictures. But it will kill photography if they're compared with photos taken with a camera. Hopefully they'll be a fad and they'll die out like those grungy HDR pictures or these effects in photoshop that turn pictures into depictions looking like a watercolor, or an oil, or graphic pen picture. After you've done a couple of those, it gets boring to do more and even more boring looking at them.

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