Traditions of Photography - Short essay

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by rhubarbcrumble, Jun 29, 2011.

  1. rhubarbcrumble

    rhubarbcrumble Member

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    Just a short essay I wrote about the traditions of photography in anyone is interested.
    I posted it on another forum and all they did was complain about sentence structure etc etc, I just want to post it to start discussion really, not ripping the essay apart. I got 18/20 for it anyway. :tongue:

    Hope you find it interesting, cheers.

    Tradition plays a major part in most societies and cultures around the world. Tradition is a cultural activity that has been practiced within the particular community that has celebrated it for many years. Tradition is implemented in most cultural activities and societies around the world. This essay will be talking about the tradition in photography.

    In it’s most basic sense, tradition in photography can be looked at as pictures that have been taken on a camera that uses black and white film and then developed by hand in a darkroom. (http://www.photogs.com/bwworld/backtobw.html) This is traditional photography because it was the only way to truly capture a moment as it was for many years. Tradition in this sense refers to the original way in which the medium was developed in to an artistic form. These days with modern technology, digital cameras and ease of photo manipulation, photography has taken more of a contemporary form and is losing it’s traditional black and white roots.

    Photography has always been a medium for communication. The photographer has huge bias implemented in the image that they take and each image can have several meanings. Ever since photography has been around (circa 1840)(http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/dagprocess.htm) it has been used for telling stories and documenting the world. Photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams were two of the earliest documenters and started the tradition of story telling with photographs. Henri Cartier-Bresson told his stories through documenting daily life and Ansel Adams through documenting landscapes. These photographers and these types of photography are seen as traditional because they have used their images to depict society and show views of life which would never normally be seen to the untrained eye. They had the ability to capture life as it had never been before.

    Since the implementation of modern technology and more importantly digital cameras photography has seen a loss of tradition. The base of traditional photography, 35mm black and white film is quickly being eradicated and is now seen as inconvenient and slow when compared to the speed and accessibility of colour film or digital cameras. Along with this loss of 35mm black and white film, we generally see a decline in image quality as people simply ‘snap’ lots of photos instead of waiting for the ‘decisive moment’ (http://www.photo-seminars.com/Fame/bresson.htm) to take the photograph. This new digital age has however allowed for new traditions in photography starting to be implemented. One of these being people wanting to see in to the lives of other people. This is where new styles such as social photography and paparazzi photography have emerged. These new styles of photography have become highly accepted in todays society and have evolved in to multi-million dollar industries.

    One of the key traditions emerging in modern photography is that of image manipulation. In our society it is rare to see an image which hasn’t been digitally altered to some extent. Of course photographers who shot on 35mm black and white film could alter their photographs with darkroom equipment, altering the contrast and brightness and even creating powerful advertising campaigns. (reference steve bronstein, special effect photography) but it couldn’t be done to the extent and ease it is done today. Nowadays with powerful computer programs such as photoshop we have to question images in wether they are telling the truth or not as image manipulation is so easily done. This has a huge impact on mass media in that an image can be altered to provoke a more emotional response from the viewer. For example in 2003 Brain Walski a renowned photojournalist for the LA times took two images and merged them into one to create a more dramatic scene. (http://www.famouspictures.org/mag/index.php?title=Altered_Images#Walski_Forgery_-_2003)
    At the time this caused a huge controversy finally resulting in the photographer Brian Walski being fired and the LA Times reputation diminished. This is proof of one of the major negative effects and downsides to ease of photo manipulation.

    With the rapidly evolving technologies of digital photography replacing the old traditions of black and white film, we are seeing a continuous loss in the beauty of photography or the decisive moment. It is being replaced by this new tradition of using digital technology and cameras to show the world what we are doing. Nowadays everyone who has a mobile phone has a camera, everyone who has a camera uploads their photos to facebook or other social sources to show everyone else what they’ve been doing. We now live in a ‘snap society’ where pictures and moments are crudely snapped instead of capturing the decisive moment. With people taking such rudimentary photographs which hardly tell a story it leads to people needing to ‘snap’ more and more images in order to tell the story. In years to come we will see 35mm film be completely eradicated and the new digital world take over and form it’s own traditions.
     
  2. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    To the OP:

    Thanks for the thread - your essay is interesting.

    And to Michel:

    Thanks for the link.

    Hmmm - "The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum."

    Do you think T.S. Eliot would have minded if we substituted "photographer" for "poet"?
     
  4. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    Interesting essay. I like it!

    Jeff
     
  5. Maris

    Maris Member

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  6. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Thank you, rhubarbcrumble, for an essay that should inspire thought and intelligent discussion. And thank you, Maris, for a perceptive analysis. Digital capture is photography, just as digital printing and posting images on this site are. Hershel's definition couldn't encompass many other developments in phtography, either.
     
  7. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Sorry, just had to join the fray...

    Maris, I don't understand how you can say that digital cameras don't produce photographs and it gives me great pleasure to continually argue this point. :D

    I assert that Herschel's definition itself proves that fact. "Chemical rays" referred to UV radiation in the past, and so in the context you have adopted panchromatic photography cannot be considered a "photograph". The truth is, Herschel probably would've coined a much less restrictive definition had he any idea of what advancements were to come.

    Thanks for posting rhubarb!
     
  8. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i agree with you 100% holmburgers ...
    the photograph is the negative, just like with a digital image
    when the sensor dumps it onto the viewer screen
    everything else is just a reproduction of the photographic image ...

    thanks rhubarb great read !
     
  9. phelger

    phelger Subscriber

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    Photography and tradition

    hello Rhubarbcrumble,
    first, thank you for contributing to a debate which is more or less eternal : "how to express visually what you feel must be expressed".
    Photography is one of several techniques to present your ideas on a flat medium; oil, water colour, pencil drawing, etc., digital imaging, and analog photography are all competing, it's just that digital is brand new and so easy to access that millions (or billions) of people adopt it. I don't believe that the millions (or billions) of digital users will all produce wonders to be remembered as Nadar, Stieglitz, Strand, Man Ray, HCB etc., but maybe a few of them will and that justifies (IMHO) the technique.
    This said, I definitely think there is a huge difference between a digital print and a traditional silver-based print - personally I could'nt make digitally what I want to present, therefore I continue to work in my darkroom! And there will always be some (probably quite many) who react like me, so traditional photography is in no way deemed to extinction. We are fewer than before which make it a bit more complicated to buy photo materials, but fortunately there is the internet.
    Again thank you for opening this discussion, let's hope we can live peacefully forever with our neighbours, the digital crowd.
    peter
     
  10. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Jim Jones, holmburgers, if you guys weren't so famous I'd keep this rather lengthy argument to myself but rhubarbcrumble's essay exemplifies the value of dissertation so here goes:

    For thousands of years the basic workflow involved in making realistic pictures of things has, at its core, stayed the same.

    The first step is to have illuminated subject matter.
    Light from this subject matter is focussed as a real optical image onto a megapixel sensor.
    The megapixel sensor transduces the image into data that travels as electrical pulses up a cable.
    The cable feeds the electrical pulses into a memory where they are temporarily stored.
    The picture memory is sent to a processor where it may be edited, perhaps stitched with other picture files, and given the HDR treatment.
    The resulting picture file is prepared for output via some sort of mark-making device which either places spots of paint or ink on a surface or glowing dots on a monitor screen.
    This array of points forms the picture.

    People familiar with digital picture-making will instantly recognise the separate roles of camera, computer, and printer/monitor in the short narrative above.

    People familiar with painting and drawing will find the same narrative just as familiar. The lens and megapixel sensor are of course the artist's eye, the retina is the light sensitive transducer, the optic nerve is the cable and the signals it carries are the data. In addition the memory and processor are parts of a brain, and the mark-making device is usually the artist's arm, hand, and brush.

    Digital picture making is a remarkable technical achievement in that it mechanizes and automates the traditional work flow conducted by painters and draftsmen over the centuries. The insight that digital picture makers haven't grasped is that they are fully legitimate participants in the grand artistic tradition that includes Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, and hundreds of other super-stars of Western art! The other heavy implication is that if we accept a "photograph is a picture that results from the capture of an image using light projected through an optical system onto a megapixel sensor" then that perfectly describes the Mona Lisa. Leonardo's famous portrait would qualify as a photograph! And indeed, by carrying the argument forward, we end up with: all pictures are photographs!

    In a world where photographs are what megapixel sensors make it is hard to see what qualities a picture would have to have in order not to be a photograph. There is a logical and conceptual failure in the "megapixel sensors make photographs" premise and we should put it aside.

    And then separate to all of the above there is picture-making that is unarguably photography. I mean the art practiced by Louis Daguerre, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, and millions of others great and not so great. Here again is the same illuminated subject matter, a lens, an image, and a sensor but that's where things get very different. The sensor absorbs a physical sample of the subject, suffers chemical changes that become marks, and the array of marks constitutes the picture itself. There is no transducer, no data, no memory file, no processor, and no mark-making device that fabricates pictures by emptying the memory of someone or something.

    Digital picture-making mimics painting and drawing. Photography does not. They are radically different enterprises that become muddled with one another because the pictures they make can, on the surface, look similar. Some pictures are photographs and some are not. Both forms are fully capable of containing high art. I think the distinction between the two systems will always be crystal clear to serious inquiry that digs beyond the superficial.
     
  11. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    A digital image is at its core a logical abstraction of a real thing. It does not naturally exist in nature. It may be rendered. Indeed, it must be rendered in order to be experienced. But in and of itself it is nothing more than an abstract conceptualized pattern capable of being copied onto any number of electronic devices.

    A photographic negative is at its core a real thing. It exists in all four dimensions, occupying all three of space as well as the one of time. If a negative rests on a table, no other physical object may share that same location at that same moment. The original light struck object - negative or positive - bears silent witness to the events directly recorded upon it. It was physically present in proximity to the subject it recorded at the moment that recording took place.

    This is why the actual handling of glass plates or old negatives can be such a moving experience. Those Alexander Gardner plates were actually present right there only a few feet away when the Lincoln conspirators were hanged. As were those Robert Capa negatives exposed by him as he struggled through the unimaginable hell of the second wave on Omaha Beach. And the single negative that momentarily flashed past the high-speed motion picture shutter 0.016 seconds after the detonation of the first atomic bomb.

    An original digital image file, precisely because it represents only an abstraction, may be perfectly copied an unlimited number of times. By contrast, an original photographic negative exists in exquisite physical singularity. While it may be copied, all subsequent copies are - and indeed by definition must be - different from the original.

    As I've observed before, holding an antique photographic glass plate up to the light and taking a good long look is a profound experience. Holding a USB thumb drive up to the light and taking a good long look? Not so much.

    I'm afraid I have to go with 'Maris' on this one...

    Ken
     
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  12. Monito

    Monito Member

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    There are no "chemical rays" and definitions based on that are therefore useless and should be discarded.

    A photographic negative does not naturally exist in nature. It is an abstraction of the scene. Tones are not in identical relationships as in the scene, colours are transmuted, sometimes radically into shades of gray, the dynamic range is limited compared to nature. It is absolutely an abstraction when you remember that it is rendered as clumps of silver. "The map is not the territory."

    We accept prints and prints made from internegatives as bona fide photographs, even though they are made in places far removed from the location of scene. Astrophotography scenes are far removed from even the camera. Proximity is not part of the definition of photography.

    It is very amusing to see people criticize digital photography simultaneously for both being "mechanical and automatic" at the same time as "mimicing painting and drawing", within the same post even!

    It is also amusing to see people claim that what they define as true photography does not mimic painting and drawing on a site that is filled with discussion about retouching and spotting and localized reduction and burning and dodging and painting a night scene with light and scraping negatives and artificial light, flash or continuous, and localized bleaching, ... and on and on. Even the word 'photography' literally means "drawing with light".

    People also forget that film photography is fundamentally electronic too. Photons knock electrons out of silver halide ionic crystals to create the latent image which is then read by the developer and converted into silver atoms.

    There were no sensors or film involved when da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. This should be obvious.

    There are many people who fall into the trap of not only seeing the world in black and white, but in binary only black and white with no shades of gray. Ironic it is, when they are chauvinistic about B&W film photography. The reality is that there are no sharp bright dividing lines between many categories in the universe and no amount of yearning for prissy pigeonholes is going to change that.

    Just like there is no clear boundary between dance music and classical music there is no boundary that meaningfully excludes digital photography from the realm of photography. To claim that there is would be as ludicrous as claiming that a digital recording of a chamber orchestra is not music or that a little amplification of an acoustic guitar in a 1940s big band was music but a lot of amplification of a Jimmy Page guitar performance is not music.

    Ansel Adams is often invoked as an example of the epitome of 'true photography' as a silver gelatin fine art. This should be of interest to all who think that digital developments are antithetical to 'true photography':

    "I eagerly await new concepts and processes. I believe that the
    electronic image will be the next major advance. Such systems will
    have their own inherent and inescapable structural characteristics,
    and the artist and functional practitioner will again strive to
    comprehend and control them."
    -- Ansel Adams, in "The Negative", 1981 edition
     
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  13. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    I find the essay very lacking in basic research. Too many false conclusions.
     
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  15. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Huh? From the beginning analog photography mimicked painting and drawing. As photographic technology progressed, photography began to include creative tools not readily available to the easel artist. From the beginning digital photography mimicked analog photography, and followed the same course of progress. The two are much the same, although digital photography in some of its capabilities is more like drawing and painting than is analog photography
     
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  16. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Careful here...

    Of course the photographic negative exists in nature. You can hold it in your hand. It occupies space and time. It was present in front of the subject when the scene it depicts was recorded onto it. The scene depicted on the negative is the abstraction.

    The digital image does not exist in nature. The imaging abstraction has been carried to the point where the very physicality of the medium itself has been removed. The image exists only as an idea. A non-physical logical pattern. A pure abstraction.

    It's sort of like the number '8' is only an idea. You cannot hold an '8' in your hands. Can't buy one at the store. It is a concept. Although its logical value will almost certainly be found somewhere as part of the representation of every digital image, it was itself not physically present at the point of exposure. It couldn't have been. It's not a thing. It's a pure abstraction.

    Both approaches are capable of recording an image abstraction which represents the scene before the lens. But one recording is itself a physical thing, while the other is not. While a paper map may abstract the territory it depicts, the map itself is not an abstraction.

    Some of us prefer to work with physical things. Within the context of a photograph, that distinction matters to us. Others don't care as much.

    Ken
     
  17. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    Wow! And all these years I thought those little guys were real!

    Clearly you didn't inhale.
     
  18. Monito

    Monito Member

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    Nonsense. It's made by humans. It is not produced by beavers or algae or geologic processes or nuclear fusion in the interior of stars.

    What you are calling the "digital image" is exactly like the latent image of a film or undeveloped print. You can't see the electrons holding the latent image on film. The developing process produces an artifact.

    Likewise the digital developing process produces an artifact: a print. Or, if you prefer, a negative on film.

    No difference conceptually. They are just imaging processes.

    Nah. Both images are physical things: an arrangement of electrons on a sensor. In one case it is the latent image on film. In the other case a latent image of electrons in sensels. Both need to be converted to something visible. Which is exactly what we do all the time.

    You get sensual jollies from holding a negative in your hands. That's fine. But you do not gain credibility or superiority for analogue photography by pretending that digital photography is not photography.
     
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  19. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Hmm... I think I see the problem here...

    If I hold a photographic negative, or anything else real for that matter, in my hand and say to you that it exists, and you simply choose to ignore its demonstrable physical presence and claim it does not exist when in fact I am holding it up right in front of you, then all further discussion regarding the finer points and implications of that existence becomes moot.

    I suppose it's somewhat akin to attempting a discussion regarding the finer points and implications of global warming with someone who won't grant the base premise that the globe even exists.

    Kind of a pointless exercise to engage in, don't you think? So I won't bother you any further with it.

    I am more than happy to accept that your point of view on this topic differs fundamentally from mine. And that the two points of view do not constitute a zero-sum case. Both approaches to photography are valid. And both capable of creative expression. I simply believe that they are not identical approaches. And I have a preference - for all of the reasons I have previously stated - for one approach over the other. Your preference may be different. And just as valid for you.

    So I'll let it go with that and leave you to have the last word, if need be...

    (And I'm still going with 'Maris' on this...)

    Ken
     
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  20. Monito

    Monito Member

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    What a lovely strawman you demolished. I do not deny physical existence. You confuse the concept of "physical existence" with "natural".

    When you make up your mind you can post again.
     
  21. Sim2

    Sim2 Member

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    Is the negative (as in the acetate base) the carrier require to hold the sensitized silver to enable a print to be made?
    Is the digital file the required carrier to hold the electric light values to enable an output to be made?

    Both processes require a practioner to make decisions to apply to the "start point" to interpret the possibilites into their vision of the finished image. Digital may be less visible as it live in a hard drive compared to analogue which lives on the acetate but they both still "exist" - a hard drive can have no space left for more images.

    Oil painting, watercolour painting, digital print, analogue print...

    Sim2
    *still thinking*
     
  22. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Absolutely yes. In both cases.

    The difference is that the light values represented in the negative are quantified by varying accumulations of physical grains of reduced silver. A metallic element on the Periodic Table. Real stuff.

    Electric light values stored in the digital file are abstractions quantified by a scalar count which is substituting for the real thing. A value is not a thing. It's a description to be applied to a real thing.

    Both are being used to represent something else (the image), but absent Photography, silver still exists as a physical thing in Nature, but the number '8' used to quantify a light value never did exist physically. It's an abstract concept.

    Again, absolutely yes.

    Both processes are capable of creative expression limited only by the imagination of the person doing the creating.

    If one's definition of Photography is based around image creation alone and nothing more, then they both would fit that definition. But if one's definition incorporates the physical nature of the original photographic process (see Maris' signature), then no, they are different. One is Photography, and the other is another form of post-Photography imaging.

    It all depends on each individual's working definitions.

    I note with interest you felt the need to place the word "exist" in quotation. This is where it really gets interesting. Most people would not do that...

    The physical meaning of "no space left" is that a containing volume is physically full. That the void defining that volume is now completely occupied in space and time. The water glass was empty, but now is full of water. There is no more space in the glass for additional water, and two volumes of water cannot occupy the same space at the same moment.

    But in the case of a hard disk with "no space left," what does this mean? There was no physical void to begin with. An "empty" hard disk and a "full" hard disk subtend exactly the same volume in the real world. Same size, same weight.

    What has changed is only the pattern of magnetised spots on the rotating platters that define the hard disk's physical reality. There are no physically "full" or "empty" conditions. A "full" disk weighs no more than an "empty" disk. There was no void to begin with, and there is no lack-of-void later.

    The hard disk is a virtualized abstraction of a real world, physical container. It is designed to "hold" (there's those quotes again) nothing more than abstract data values which represent real world things. Not the real world things themselves. The abstract data itself is indirectly manifested by the patterns of those magnetic spots. The spots themselves, although physical, are also not the original real world things.

    Even the physical patterns on the platters are arbitrary. If you save a digital image to a hard disk twice, the physical distribution of the spots (which platters, which tracks, which sectors) will be different. Because you have now crossed back into the physical realm of persisting those spots representing the virtual values, the constraints of space and time again apply, meaning the patterns - the physical distribution - must be different.

    I've done software development and engineeing for almost twenty-five years now. And I've watched with facination as computerized virtual reality has slowly replaced physical reality in society to the point where many individuals have lost the ability to distinguish between the two.

    Most people - those who would not use quotes - really do believe they are typing onto a sheet of paper. But it's not paper. It's a white rectangle generated by an electronic viewing device which is hooked to a computer which is running Microsoft Word.

    Most teenagers think they have a large circle of friends. But they are not real world, physical friends. They are virtualized checkmarks next to virtualized boxes highlighted with the virtualized printed word "Friend."

    A lot of people in the world can no longer distinguish between these sorts of differences. Sadly, I think, a lot of those wouldn't care even if they could.

    And that, in a nutshell, is why my own preference is for the physical reality of Traditional Photography, and not its virtualized cousin. My preference is for things I can touch. True photographic negatives with a real world provenance back to the subjects they depict. First generation renderings of The Thing Itself.

    YMMV...

    <sigh...>

    If only everyone would...

    Ken
     
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  23. Peter de Groot

    Peter de Groot Member

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    My problem with this discussion is the need for something visible or tangible. What I hear (no what I read) is that if you cannot hold it it does not exist. I don't think that is a valid reason to divide digital and analogue as not photography and real photography. If you do that and stick by it then how do you explain the fact the nothing floats around? You can't hold gravity, you can't see it so it is not real or it doesn't exist? Digital image is stored using magnetism. I don't need electricity to keep the the files intact. You can't see the file that is true but it doesn't mean it isn't there. You just can't see it or touch it they way you are used to. But it doesn't make it less real.
    When a particle is magnetized a certain way on a hard drive it cannot be magnetized differently at the same time (serious lack of the English language or technology to put it into better words) so therefor that particle occupies a space and time in that certain state. It is just to small to see or hold it. And humans are not sensitive enough to feel it.

    And again you don't have a negative if you don't introduce the film in developer and fixer first. So therefor in analogue photography you will never get a photograph or negative straight out of the camera. And in that regard both are the same.
     
  24. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Hi Peter,

    (I seem to remember you from Usenet rec.photo.equipment.35mm days gone by?)

    We all form our own working definitions of what photography, or anything else, is. I choose to define it more narrowly in such a way as to include the physical, tangible parts of the process that have been there since the beginning. I do this because for me the very legitimacy of the image - its provenance - springs directly from its physical existence at the moment the original exposure was realized.

    Magnetic spots, representing discreet virtualized light levels, arbitrarily arranged on the platters of a hard disk or other medium, do not for me convey the same sense of legitimacy - or wonderment - as an original glass plate or film negative simply held up to the light and looked at.

    As well, and perhaps because I have myself spent too many years virtualizing too much reality in the first place, the thought of loading an image abstraction into a computer, then clicking a mouse on some icon and allowing some nameless software engineer's algorithm perform some logical transform on the data bits, printing out the result with another mouse click, then showing the world what *I* just created, simply does not resonate with me.

    I've mentioned before that my brother and I discovered over 700 35mm black-and-white negatives made by our late father in the mid-to-late 1950s. I have test printed a few to take stock. As we all do, before starting I hold each one up to the light for a quick guess as to starting contrast, exposure, cropping, etc.

    But before continuing, I never fail to pause for a moment and reflect on what I am actually holding and the scene it depicts. That exact negative was in my father's hands 55 years ago. He loaded it into his beloved Kodak Retina Ia, now sitting on the shelf right in front of me, and pointed it at... let's see here... what?

    Hey... wait a minute. That's me in the negative! Geez, there I am somewhere on vacation in Wyoming when I was only three or four years old. Out in the snow. And this very negative that I am holding, all those years ago was in that camera, stopped along that road while he made this photo of me and my mother.

    That level of photographic legitimacy means everything to some of us. And it cannot be found in the virtualized imaging technology in use by most people today.

    One does not need to draw a line at the physical and tangible threshold to define photography. At least for themselves. But for those of us who feel the need to do it, there is likewise no reason not to...

    Best regards,
    Ken
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 3, 2011
  25. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    The biggest issue I see here is one of domain.

    Some are trying to use a very objective, quantifiable language. Others are comfortable with a more emotive language. And some actively seek the emotive language.

    None are wrong, but the domains merely intersect. Neither contains the other fully.

    So what domain are we going to choose?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 3, 2011
  26. Hikari

    Hikari Member

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    Because I can construct the frame of the argument, my argument is always right.

    It is photo-graphy, light writing. One form of photography is no more real or pure than another. The OP's arguments is just a qualification of personal bias without regard to history nor practice.

    Silver is not light, nor are data. Stating the quantification light values based on a chemical process is somehow "real compared to an electronic method is just sophism. Both are simply processes. Both are abstract.