Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Photographic Integrity

Early Morning, Mount Watley
Pentax Zoom-90, Kodak Colour ISO 200

Early Morning, Mount Watley
Pentax Zoom-90, Kodak Colour ISO 200

I happened across this recent Blog article by a photographer whose work I really like, Ming Thein. He is expressing rather strong opinions about Photoshop, both for and against, about which I heartily agree.   I just want to add a few words of my own about this subject of "Photographic Integrity", and especially about how the meaning of the term has changed so much in recent years. But first, here's one of the Replies to Ming's article that is rather interesting:

"Photography’s integrity is forever lost and cannot be recovered. The general population’s perception of Photoshop is correct. With you as a notable exception, every digital photographer I know routinely removes objects from their images, combines unrelated images and has no hesitation in extreme retouching. They know down deep that they are cheating, but they simply lack the discipline to learn how to make strong photographs from fundamentals. Most photographers fundamentally are fascinated by the technology, not making pictures.To change this would require a consensus of top photographers forming an organization with standards and handing them down to the masses. But, there are simply too few like you who have the integrity to restrain themselves inside Photoshop or to confine themselves to Lightroom."

I'm not so sure if this reply completely holds water. Ten years ago it would have, certainly. Back then (an eternity ago), Photoshop was a relatively new product, and people were doing lot's of "false images" with it, including both adding things that weren't there, and taking away things that were. This was also still a time when Photographers were actually employed as Photo Journalists; now the Newspapers and Magazines are starting to lay of their photo staff members, preferring to take pictures, and especially videos from the public, who are all too glad to surrender them, only for the cost of bragging rights. This trend is extremely risky I think - taking the professionalism out of Photo Journalism is opening the gates for any and all kinds of real easy photo manipulation, leaving consumers with no idea whether they're looking at a true story or a lie. The News was once created with well crafted words, but in past days, Photo Journalists could be well trusted by their code of ethics to leave their pictures un-altered. Not any more! So the reply is certainly true in this sense, but can it be said that right across the board, "Photography's integrity is forever lost and cannot be recovered?"

I don't believe this is true of Photographic Illustration, or Photographic Art. These have always, and should remain, the realm of free creativity, and Photoshop is the tool of choice here. It shouldn't matter if "digital photographers" routinely remove objects, combine unrelated images, or have no hesitation in extreme re-touching. Now this brings me to my own opinions:

It is true to me that when it comes to Art, then anything goes - certainly! No Photographic Artist should be griping about this. But for myself, "Photographic Integrity" isn't about what is left in or taken out of a photograph, but rather, it is about "a photograph should look like a photograph". My personal gripe is about how so many photographers use Photoshop and other digital applications (some of which are built right into the camera now) to turn photographs into something else. Please read my lips - "a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image is not a photograph!" It is something else. It doesn't look like photography, so don't call an HDR creation a photograph. It is certainly an art form, and I'm not saying that all HDR's suck; many do, but many are well done by well-practised individuals and have a beauty of their own. It's just that at some point, the heavy application of Tone Mapping turns the photograph on it's head, and the image no longer looks "photographic" at all. Perhaps these images should be called "Tone Maps".

Actually, I think we're in a rather exciting time of transition, similar to the early 1900's when people argued that "photography should not be called art". Now that Digital Imaging has such a firm hold, and there's no going back, things have gone full circle and we ought to be saying "(some) art should not be called photography".

I wanted to include the two images at the top to help bring us back to a realization of what photography as an art always was, and still is. The tool of photography is the camera, and so, a photograph needs to inherit the look of the camera. An art photograph needs light, texture and atmosphere. To my point about the images above, it is the lens flare which is the icing on the cake which turns both of these into photographic art, and I am very pleased with them. I often shoot into harsh light when using film, knowing that the result, although not always predictable, will be interesting, and will add the quality of atmosphere to my pictures. By the way, doing this seldom works with digital cameras, because they don't have the "Dynamic Range" to handle it. Get it? True "High Dynamic Range" photography is done with film, and you still retain the look of a photograph, not a bad "drunkard's dream" paint-by-number" painting! (Sorry HDR fans - just playing with you a bit!)

I follow a photographer on Flickr who calls himself "Paul Mysterioso", and to me, he is using every means possible to create atmosphere in his photos - he really knows how to do it, and this clearly separates him as an artist, above being a mere picture taker. My guess is that he is making the best use of the dynamic range inherent to film and turning it into the atmosphere contained in his pictures.

In conclusion, "photographic integrity" needs to be re-defined, but it's tragic how quickly it is being lost. If you are interested in retaining the integrity of photography in your work, be sure to print your best pictures on glossy paper and hang them on a sunny wall. Do they look like photos should look? Then you have "photographic integrity". Outside of that, anything else is still a fair game.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

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