Debating Color—And Digital—Photos As Art

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by roteague, Mar 10, 2006.

  1. roteague

    roteague Member

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    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11529823/site/newsweek/

    "Art photographers have moved from arguing about color to debating the legitimacy of digitally-altered images

    ...

    Feb. 24, 2006 - It’s really not worth the frustration to try to explain to someone who wasn’t around then about the war back in the ’70s when art photographers tried to introduce color into the mix. It’s like trying to get a grown-up to believe in the Easter Bunny. First you have to back up and explain that art photography at the time was—by habit if nothing else—almost completely black and white. Giants like Walker Evans had declared color “vulgar,” and although Evans would recant that judgment and make his own memorable color Polaroids late in life, the damage was done. If you wanted your work taken seriously, you left color photography to the fashion world and the family photo album."
     
  2. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Well, that's one more proof that art is not defined by medium but rather by practices. When practices change, so does the definition of art.
     
  3. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Restricted Access

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    do we have to have these arguments again?

    why do we constantly attempt to justify or choices to others?

    to reflect on another recent post, re what's wrong with the world, maybe it is this constant re-justification
     
  4. donbga

    donbga Member

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    Ray,

    Exactly my thoughts as well. Robert seems to be intent on beating the digital dog to death.

    Don Bryant
     
  5. roteague

    roteague Member

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    No, I'm simply posting a link to a web article, as food for thought.
     
  6. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Robert:

    I find the article interesting.

    I also like your work, and appreciate both:

    1) your commitment to analogue; and
    2) your contribution here.

    IMHO you provide an excellent example of how possible it is to both use digital processes as a part of your workflow, and still honour and support and enhance the purpose of this website.

    Matt
     
  7. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    Very interesting article written with insight and lucidity and only just a little hyperbole. The observation that a lavender tie (I think it was) may hold more interest than the face above it is important. Apart from the subject itself, black and white photographers have control only of value and contrast or lack thereof. Value AND color and contrast are very powerful tools. I think very few color photographers really know how to use these to make a photograph that has the merit of a competent painting. But when they do, the work is wonderful.
     
  8. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Robert, what are your thoughts on color negative film? I have been thinking about trying color in the darkroom.
     
  9. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Unfortunately, I don't know any of them well enough to make a judgement, I've always used transparency film. There is just something about the "feel" of Velvia that I love, that I have not seen in a color negative process; probably the same reason some love Tri-X, some love TMax, some love HP5.

    Color negative film is a good way to learn color darkroom processes or you can do Ilfochrome just as easily - it is just three chemicals, and with a Jobo processor, an easy job. I know that many will point out that Ilfochrome is difficult to work with because of its contrasty nature, but I've done it in the past quite successfully, without having to resort to contrast masks.

    I would say try both, and settle on the one that works for you.
     
  10. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Thanks Matt,

    I appreciate the comments, I love the feel of the analog processes, and have always been happy with APUG and its mission. I've met a number of members in person, and am looking forward to meeting more in Toronto in May.
     
  11. arigram

    arigram Member

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    Who defines what is art again?
    Is it the artist, the public, the money-makers, the goverments and officials?
     
  12. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Restricted Access

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    yes, very commendable, all this commitment and contribution

    what about the art? the imaging? the visual communication? the artictic integrity? the self expression?
     
  13. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I've never worried too much about that question; I just take pictures that I like.
     
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  15. arigram

    arigram Member

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    Well, that's the answer then!
     
  16. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    The idea that "Only black-and-white photography can be considered to be ART - never color" makes as much sense to me as saying that "Only charcoal drawings can be considered to be ART - never oil paintings"... and, simply, neither "make sense".

    The medium provides a "carrier" for the art --- the ART itself is defined by its own character; read: "Aesthetics".
     
  17. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Early color photography was quickly accepted as art if the subject and execution warranted it. Some of Ansel Adams work in color in the Grand Tetons was considered great art at the time it was produced, quite equal to his B&W work and this was in the 40s and 50s. Early work in color, done for Nat. Geog. is considered by many to be art.

    We have seen here the beautiful Autochromes taken during WWI that I think all would consider art as well due to their quality and not the novelty of color.

    I would judge each picture individually, but truly I prefer negative - positive prints rather than prints from slides for one reason alone. That is the accuracy of color and tone scale. Positive - positive prints distort the colors and therefore represent a less natural version of the scene to me. Unless this is intended to be part of the arty appearance or effect, it is off putting to me. There are a lot of pos-pos prints that are simply beautiful and art, but are not good representations of the scene.

    Now, I will mitigate that by adding that properly masked pos-pos prints fix the problemss completely, and so that is another good source of color art, but few people go to that extent on their own. I was referring to unmasked direct, unmasked pos-pos color prints above.

    PE
     
  18. Will S

    Will S Member

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    I'm not an art historian (thank the maker) but it seems to me that color photography has many hurdles to clear. First of all, because it is color, it has to deal with the entire history of detailed color renditions in art, namely oil painting. B&W photography also has to deal with this tradition, but I don't think it has to address it in such a direct way. I mean, color photography IS what oil painting was (and perhaps continues to be). That is a tough tradition to compete with or try and be a part of.

    The second big hurdle is that color photography has to compete directly with the images that innundate us all seemingly every moment we have our eyes open -- advertising. Never in our history have so many images been available to almost everyone. (The very rich don't really have to look at ads now do they?) Then you have mass portraiture, snapshots, etc. to deal with as well.

    Maybe someone who knows something can chime in, but it seems to me that if you are going to work in color you have a lot of issues to contend with, the least of them being color theory.

    Best,

    Will
     
  19. steve

    steve Member

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    The problem with making a successful color photograph is having the reason to make the image in color instead of B&W. Ansel Adams' color photographs are an excellent illustration of this point. When you look at his color work, you find that the image would work equally as well in B&W - they have NO reason to be in color. In fact, they look like B&W photos where the photographer substituted color film for B&W. They were considered for the subject, and composition, but not for the colors involved.

    Seeing photos that need to be made in color and not in B&W is the challenge. If color is not part of the story; if color is not adding an extra dimension to the photo that would not be there if made in B&W; if color is not part of the reason for making the photo - don't make a color photograph.

    Good color photographers make photos that would not be as good if they were made in B&W - the photo has to be made in color to be successful.
     
  20. Shinnya

    Shinnya Advertiser

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    Well,

    This also does not mean it has to be in B/W either. I don't know if you can think one is "primary" than the other. They are quite different mental and visual process all together. So, it is rather hard to say which should come first.

    I tend not to like color photographs especially chromes because they look too realistic to me. There is not much room for me to "wonder." That is also why I tend not to like super-sharp modern lens, I suppose. What I like about photography is ambiguity between the worldly and the unworldly, which is often difficult to achieve with modern color photographs.

    Though color is a very important factor to achieve that at the same time if used carefully and skillfully. That's why I like toning silver prints and now Gum over Pt/Pd.

    I know I will love Autochromes though I have not seen them in person (PE, can I see them at GEH?)

    Regardless, I think a good photograph is one which does not make us realized the medium used.

    Just my thought.

    Warmly,
    Tsuyoshi


     
  21. Will S

    Will S Member

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    I see a red door and I want to paint it black? :smile:
     
  22. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I'm afraid that I've lost the continuity here. Can someone re-state the subject we were discussing?

    I thought it was something like "Color Photographs - And Digital:`Art'? Yes, or no?"
    I think there is just as much of a chance of either medium being "Art" as there is in any other medium. This is like asking, "Oil Painting - "~Art"? - yes or no?"
    I do not think there is enough information in the basic statement to make that determination. We might as well ask, "Rock. Diamond? - yes or no?"

    Some of the arguments here are interesting, though. I can't quite digest the idea that the difficulties inherent in any media ... say knowledge of "color theory" are anything like a deciding factor. Is oil painting more `art' than charcoal drawing? - or even more difficult? To me, producing fine art is no more, or less difficult in ANY media.

    As far as "Is it art?" I'll fall back on someone who could easily be called "The Accepted Expert In the Field", the "Dean" of all Art Critics, Clement Greenberg. He is, or was, one of the few "coherent" critics. He wrote repeatedly that he DID NOT KNOW precisely, or even imprecisely, "What art was". Even so, he could offer interesting "points to ponder" and lay the groundwork for interesting discussions ABOUT "Art". I will not suggest that *I* even come anywhere close to Greenberg, in his knowledge of art.

    As far as "A reason for... (fill in the blank) in art." I, truthfully, do not have a clue, other than... I do this because I feel better when I do this than I do when I don't do this. If this hedonistic approach does not satisfy the "requirements" of any out there ... sheeesh. I don't know. So WHAT?

    I have made photographs that "work" (acid test for success) in color, but DO NOT in a black and white print of the same negative... and vice versa. Why something "works" and something else does not ... I think if I could answer that question, with an answer universally acceptable... I could rule the world, or at least, the ART world.
     
  23. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Hmm, David Ward argues in his recent book that it is harder to make a good color photograph than a good B&W photograph. That point is probably arguable, although valid IMO. That is probably because we are constantly bombarded with color photographs in this modern society, which makes it all the more difficult to make a color photograph which grabs ones attention.

    I don't concern myself so much about color theory; when I am out making images, I look for something in the scene that will set it apart, and grab ones attention. Sometimes, this can be a warm tone on a rock or wild grass, sometimes just a graduation of color from one area to the next - like on a horizon at sunset. Back in the days when I did B&W, I looked for tonal range, but find that isn't an something that concerns me with color - probably the reason I no longer do much B&W, this need to shift mental gears.
     
  24. steve

    steve Member

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    Use a #58 filter and your choice of B&W film...no need for paint.
     
  25. lkorell

    lkorell Member

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    Where there is art there will always be controversy. Remember when the synthesizer was a threat to all music? It has now become legitimized as its own instrument and blends well with acoustic instruments. Nobody is fighting about it much anymore.

    With film vs. digital, color vs. black & white, medium vs. large vs. 35mm, posed vs. candid, nikon vs. canon, on & on &on.....these are peripheral arguments which do not in any way help to define "art" or the quality of the work.

    An artists tools and the way they approach creating is an individual style and choice which really doesn't have bearing on the art itself.

    Every single one of the items I just mentioned (film, digital, B&W, color, etc.) have been utilized in the creation of great artistic work and have been recognized as such by those who are looking not at the creative process but the end result and what affect it has on the senses.

    But, artists are opinionated and must constantly question the methods by which they work. That leads to growth, knowledge, and maybe even individual improvement in one's work. Those involved in any creative process become more self critical and opinionated as they evolve and that is how we grow and explore new avenues of creativity.

    In all cases these arguments are really positive conflict if the result stimulates thought. So, as long as we can respect one another's right to an opinion, let the arguments continue to give us something to think about.

    Lou
     
  26. Skip

    Skip Member

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    Yes.

    Why in God's name would you want to paint a red door black? I think a lot of B&W photographers exist because they've never been able to technically master colour affordably in the darkroom. In the '70s (and earlier) you needed a patron to be able to afford to work in colour artistically.

    Try Fuji NPS colour negative film if you want see what you can do with colour. Scans very well in Silverfast and has gorgeous colour (no, it doesn't look like Velvia, thank God.) Portra VC is interesting too.

    Regards,

    Paul Coppin