Wrestling with the concept of "Straight" Photography

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Sandy Vongries, Jun 9, 2017.

  1. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    This is a spin off from the David Plowden post. Several people referenced "Straight" photography, and that resonated with an unresolved self conversation on the subject of classifying? identifying? codifying? different levels of photographic manipulation and outcomes. Clearly, Plowden's, film photos, are straight photos in one sense. Snapped with a Rollei, developed and processed in the darkroom by "a meticulous craftsman" whose darkroom efforts were clearly dedicated toward achieving his desired results. Flashing back in time -- we chose film for effect, exposed for effect, processed either normally or for effect, chose paper, developer, again for effect. We printed, dodged, burnt, etc. At the end of the processes, we had our outcome, but one negative frame could produce myriad results, varying in minor or major ways.
    Fast forward to digital, and some personal thoughts on the initial premise. At one end of the continuum is the image that delivers the desired result straight from the camera printed at the default
    (some would categorize that harshly as impossible) , at the other abstracts, photos transformed to paintings, or Ben or David's fabulous Daliesque creations.
    At what point, or is there one, does a photo stop being a photo and become a "Work"? I find myself inclined to value the skill with the camera in a different way than post processing manipulation since camera work is what interests me most. Clearly there are many times when I crop, brighten, sharpen, etc. no more or less than I did in the darkroom. Photo Net used to have a notation as to whether an image had been manipulated. Does it matter?
    Wilmarco Imaging likes this.
  2. Sandy, as you know, an argument is going to ensue. (I assume you are looking forward to it.) Take this post as ... support? encouragement? for you. Not for your "side" but simply for the argument: these things are not decided by "someone else" they're up to you and/or us and/or time. Here is Walead Beshty saying it better (about art in general):

    … Remember that the conversation is always changing, and that there are many taking place simultaneously. If none are to your liking, you can easily invent a new one. Also, despite the amount of time wasted on discussing it, the market is not as powerful as some pretend. It does not think or make judgments. It is incapable of representing or communicating complexity. It is furtive, inconsistent and at best one circulation system among many. Those who discuss it with exuberant derision are most often its clergymen, giving it divine provenance and false solidity. The only rule is not to try to outthink it; the market is too stupid to outwit; treat it like the wind.​
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks, Julie, actually, I tried to post this in ways that would result in conversation and clarification rather than argument, but there are always the "usual suspects", and I value that input in line with what it contributes to the conversation.
  4. At the same point that a mole hill becomes a mountain . . .
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    And that, Fred, is just a question of perspective, which depends on position, either literal or figurative. :)
  6. Anyway, I think you may be knee deep in a Sorities paradox (LINK). I love many kinds of paradoxes, so I'm cheering you on, but probably won't get my pant legs dirty on this one! ;-)
  7. on the surface of where the light splatters
    be it film or sensor or no,
    the meaningful meaning that matters
    is to label it as a "photo".

    but touch it with tool or a finger
    whether artist or craftsman or jerk
    long may your brain and eye linger
    but, regardless, it's now become "work".

  8. "Work" is something that artists or professional photogs produce. Amateurs and hobbyists just take photos...unless the amateurs consider themselves artists. I personally think hobbyists are a little pretentious to call their photos "work", but I suspect most here don't agree.
  9. I think "work" is something that any person has put thought, time and effort into to produce something creative. Of course, different people are at different levels of this process.
  10. One starting point for a definition of "straight photography" is the standard that most newspapers, magazines, and wire services have adopted for their photojournalists. A news photo must fairly depict the subject with a minimum of post-processing manipulations. Traditional darkroom techniques such as burning, dodging, color correction, and cropping are allowed unless they radically alter the subject of the photo. But using an image editor to add, subtract, or alter picture elements -- even minor distracting elements, such as overhead electrical wires in outdoor scenes -- is forbidden and potentially a firing offense. Exceptions are photos altered for graphics-arts purposes, which some newspapers label as "photo illustrations."

    Amateur photographers can make their own rules, of course. Generally, I follow the photojournalist standard, although I confess to sometimes making minor alterations. For example, I have used the Photoshop clone tool to erase a distracting light switch that I didn't notice when taking a snapshot portrait of someone standing next to an interior wall. But I don't make major alterations, such as adding or subtracting people.
  11. Historically the term 'Straight Photography' never meant an image direct from camera or direct from negative without the use of any manipulation. The term is best seen in context and opposition to Pictorialism ( and not to image manipulation per se ) which according to the practitioners of Straight Photography borrowed too much techniques from painting instead of relying on the aesthetic and formal principles that photography itself had to offer as a new artistic medium.

    From the f/64 manifesto:

    "Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire spectrum of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.

    Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the "Pictorialist," on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.

    The members of Group f/64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics
    that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself."
  12. A 'work' is whatever the gallery or viewer decides. Most of HCB's works were taken in a fleeting moment. Effort is irrelevant. Sorry to those who struggle and yet can't take a decent photo, but it's true.

    You can manipulate photos as long as you declare it. It is no longer photography, though, but meta-photography. But that doesn't mean it's less worthy.

    Tom, I wouldn't even go that far. The furthest I would go is slightly desaturating a small blemish on an actor's cheek (I had to do that once). In real life it wasn't distracting, so I emulated the effect so that the photo reflected reality. That's not manipulation, merely adjustment. I will never remove a blemish. No element was added or subtracted from the scene, and all elements had their relationships preserved.

    Cropping could be seen as 'removal' of elements, but it removes all elements equally and does not corrupt their relationship. All lenses 'crop' anyway.
  13. Why would I need to declare it? The viewer shouldn't assume that what they're looking at is not manipulated simply because they're looking at a photograph. Even though more than 90% of my past and current work can be said to be done in the tradition of 'Straight Photography', I don't feel obligated to it. It's all about the end image for me and I wouldn't limit myself from using any methods or techniques that I think could make the image better. In the end I have no responsibility to declare anything to a viewer besides the image that I'm presenting.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2017
    tholte likes this.
  14. Karim said: "Most of HCB's works were taken in a fleeting moment. Effort is irrelevant. Sorry to those who struggle and yet can't take a decent photo, but it's true." I disagree in that even though a photographer finds a "fleeting moment" to capture, which may seem effortless to some, it still takes having a camera at hand and a commitment to look for or at least be on the lookout for these "fleeting moments." I've often said about myself that the "photos find me" rather than me looking for things to photograph. I still have to be "open" and aware of the photos that are all around me that want to be noticed. I have to have a camera. And, there is still the processing into a final product for others to enjoy.
  15. Straight photography defined? Easy! Without introducing vague terms like "manipulation" one could argue that a photograph is "straight" when there is a one to one correspondence between points in a positive and points in the corresponding negative. Furthermore there is a one to one correspondence between the points in the negative and points in the real optical image that exposed it in the camera. And by extension there is a one to one correspondence between points in the real optical image furnished by the lens and points in the real world subject matter that the lens can see. That, I propose, could be a philosophically rigorous answer to the question.

    Less formally one could say the contents of the positive, negative, image, and subject must match. Adding things that were not there, subtracting things that were there, rearranging things out of their original order, means that the picture cannot be "straight". It could be argued that such a result is not a photograph at all; perhaps a "mechanically assisted painting" or some such term.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  16. Maybe "straight" from the camera without modification after capture? I don't worry about that distinction, because the vision I have for the shot is governing, not whether I alter it in post. Many times I am taking the shot realizing the limitations in capture that can be modified in post to achieve my vision. I am no photo or cooking purist, but still admire Jacque Pepin's (you had mentioned him in another post) basic knife skills. Slicing with knives rather than a food processor.
  17. Occasionally I shoot slide film the more standard one like Provia 100 or I still got some Kodak E100G and just project the images. With digital I guess one could use a standard color settings in the menu and just shoot JPEG or shoot RAW but what I do is download them into Lightroom and apply a preset that I have developed myself.

    With b/w. Maybe shoot b/w film at box speed, with a quite a general developer. I have been doing mainly that, I don't wet print no room, so I use a flatbed and create a preset so next time when I use that combination which is mostly 99% - box speed, boring plain Delta 100, HP5 400. I just apply the preset from Lightroom that I developed ages ago. Most images I don't do specific dodge and burn, no gradient tool, no adjustment brush.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2017
  18. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Bob_B, An interesting analogy, when I taught my kids to use knives for cooking and other things, part of the lesson was "the price of speaking knife is cutting yourself once a year", true for some, maybe not for gifted others Food processors, well, I am resisting buying one, but some things, pates for example (Pepin Recipes) become much more reasonable to achieve. No advantage to being a Luddite. There are many skills which offer the opportunity to "cut yourself ".

    Raymond -- slide film is rather unforgiving, IMO a good thing, unless you are making a living from photography!

    I think one of the joys, for an amateur, is capturing the transient moment, or not. Life without risk, major or minor, is like food without seasoning.

    Metrics for Straight? Difficult, which leads back to the OP. It is fine to be harsh with yourself, if that is what you require. Best to be generous in your views and more, in comments on / to others. Kindness delivers good karma.

    Manipulation -- whatever you require. When the PP dominates, and is the major factor in achieving the final result, more attention might well be paid to acquiring the base inage.

    Fred hit the bullseye early on, probably a Sorities paradox (LINK). though that was not my intention
  19. My cell phone makes realistic to the scene photos. No reason to edit them as they are fine the way they are.
  20. Here are three quotes from Ansel Adams. (Not words anyone should feel bound to live by. Just some simple and clear ideas to consider.)

    "You don't take a photograph, you make it."

    "When I'm ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my mind's eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I'm interested in something that is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without."

    "There are no rules for good photographs. There are only good photographs."

    The one idea of my own I'd like to add:

    I've never confessed to manipulating a photo. When I work on such a photo, it's a choice I readily make, something I embrace and take pride in.

    I get pleasure out of my straight photography and my . . . oh here goes . . . not straight photography. I'm glad I don't have to choose one over the other and really, really glad I don't have to think up a different name for one of them. (Some things are best left to others!)

Share This Page