What is a photograph ?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by digiconvert, Apr 10, 2006.

  1. digiconvert

    digiconvert Member

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    Ok this will sound like sour grapes at the start but stick with me ...
    At last weeks college night we were discussing our work (not a lot of it going on as it happens :sad: ) and my 'oppo' with the 5D and the IS lenses et al. is showing his landscape project work to our lecturer while I am showing my war graves work. The 5D guy is GOOD he produces really classy prints from his latest printer, I am still working my way through MF and darkroom but I am not totally incompetent and I am pleased with some of my work.
    Anyhow everyone likes our work, the lecturer gives me some advice on my BW print and praises one of the shots from my Lubitel but comments that the 5D pic is beyond improvement. However what really got up my nose was that 5D guy gladly recognises that he spends about 4 hours in PS with his final images and that he takes a SPARE 1Gb card per shoot so that he is bound to get a good shot somewhere. He explains that the sky in one shot was not what he wanted so he 'swapped it' for a better one in PS - as I said the finished article is really good, better than I produce and I have no gripe with the lecturer or 5D guy BUT what's the point in shooting a scene then making it better with part of another scene. Why not just buy in a stock of photos and manipulate them ? It would be cheaper than a 5D plus all of the support gear !
    As a sort of therapy I went out today with 2x36 films in the 35mm and took photos of landscapes (It was tranny film so I get through a fair bit since I bracket) but it struck me while I was doing this that I could put the camera on AF/green rectangle mode and shoot away hoping to get a good shot - it seems that for a lot of digi photographers (NOT all) who have never used film this is the way they shoot, if it's no good then thank God for photoshop and put it right.
    So after the rant I return to my title, a photograph to me has to have "some of me" in it. I need to have thought about it, considered the exposure, differential focus, metering etc. etc. if APUG weren't here to give us all support and film based photography DID wither away (it won't) the world would be a really poorer place.
    Sorry for the rant but I do feel better now :smile: and welcome your views.
    Cheers CJB
     
  2. Ara Ghajanian

    Ara Ghajanian Member

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    CJB,
    I don't disagree with your views at all. It is frustrating especially when laymen look at photos done in digital and praise them over analog work. It must be exponentially frustrating being a student these days. Back when I was in photo school (graduated in 1992), the biggest decision I had to make was whether to buy an RB67 or not and get into medium format (incidentally, I'm glad I did). I'm sure other students looked upon me in disgust, especially when my 16x20 prints had no grain and were tack sharp.

    I know it's partly ignorant, but I don't even talk to people who use digital anymore. I really don't care for it. I use it at work, but try to sneak in film whenever I can and budget permits, but I despise digital. It's really covenient and somewhat cost effective for commerce, but for fine art photography it is blasphemous. That's one major reason I won't go totally pro (I'm do mostly graphic design now), I don't want to deal with digital. I know it has it's place, but I don't want to be anywhere near that place.

    I commend you and any other student of the photographic arts for learning the analog methods. If someday you need to use digital, you'll be that much better off than someone who learned on digital in the first place. It is important to know the history of a method in order to understand its future better.
    Ara
     
  3. roteague

    roteague Member

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    CJB,

    Not to worry, we all feel the same way sometimes. Just remember that "quantity does not equal quality", and be glad that you didn't need to spend hours in front of a computer to generate an image.

    FWIW, there isn't anything wrong shooting in program mode, you just have to learn when to ignore the meter. I almost always shoot my F5 in aperture priority mode. I don't bracket, and I always shoot transparencies.
     
  4. Kimberly Anderson

    Kimberly Anderson Member

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    Ok, I did...and it still sounds like sour grapes at the end too.
     
  5. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I agree with Michael Slade: sounds like you're a sour puss because your definition of photography does not match another one's. I'd say get over it because anything he does with PS you could also do in the darkroom. His practice of taking a spare flash card is no different from one's habit to carry a stack of film with them.

    It's not big news that people stich together bits of images to present a single unified one: it's called photomontage, and when it's done by Man Ray or Lazlo What's-his-family-name everyone loves it.

    If you take "truth" as an a priori criterion for photography (i.e. real photographers don't lie, they frame with the viewfinder, and never cut and paste), then you're bound for a deception because painting can do that too. Painting can show accurately a person, about the same way a photograph does. Go to the library and look at Giovanni Bellini's ca. 1501 portrait of Leonardo Loredan, Doge of Venice and tell me I'm wrong.
     
  6. DannL

    DannL Member

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    I must disagree with the reference to painting and the process of painting. The process of Painting and the process of Photography have absobutely nothing in common. Even though photography came about because of the desire of a one indivivdual to simplify painting due to the lack of personal skill.

    I can only think of one aspect of painting that "might" be similiar to photograghy, and that is a "big maybe". . . . Both processes may be accomplished on a flat surface. The "intentions" of a photographer and the "intentions" an artist can not be used to associate these two unique crafts.

    1. I have never painted a portrait with a camera.
    2. I have never photographed a person with oil paints, turpentine, and a brush.

    Although artists and photographers take certain liberties to "make perfect" their craft, so do bankers, lawyers, dentists, mechanics, teachers, and Enron Exectutives. The later being under the microscope for excessive PS cutting and pasting.

    If you doctor your photography to the point ultimately misrepresenting the subject, then you're an "artist of sorts". If your photographs represent the subject accurately, then your'e a damn fine photographer and you should be proud. I want to be a "damn good photographer". If that doesn't work out, then I'll settle for "artist of sorts".

    Cheers!
     
  7. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    The process are obviously different: one is based on light-sensitive material, while the other isn't. That is not my point.

    My point is exactly the opposite of what you're saying (that being a good photographer=making true statements). I would like to offer as counterexample the fact that you can make true statements with paintings. Other counterexample: if you are making a photo that is not "accurate" in your terms, for e.g. a false color Ektachrome Infrared shot of a landscape, then you can be still a great photographer.
     
  8. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    photographs do lie all the time.

    people have been putting different skys in photographs
    since victorian times.

    anyone who combination prints, burns/dodges, multiple exposure ( in camera or on the paper ) is misrepresenting or maybe it is a different interpretation of "reality" ...

    we all see reality a little differently, and as far as i am concerned, there's plenty of room for different-seers ..

    sorry
     
  9. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    That I highly doubt and especially not in 4 hours. Have you ever tried to airbrush a neg or an actual print to remove something? Takes talent most don’t have, have you ever tried to overlay a neg on top of a neg to blend a sky? I doubt it and I can tell you it takes more than 4 hours. I have zero respect for digital snap shooters, as that is exactly what they are, snap shooters. Eye to camera, set to motor drive and fire away. F-stop, apertures, no need, set on auto mode and fire until the heart is content.

    I respect the photographer that will stand there for hours or come back to get the light they want, the season they want etc.. They are not lazy or use a computer to fix there flaw but rather love the craft and love the art to actually wait for the right time to capture that image or if a mistake was made go back and re-capture the image to perfect the scene. Digital is not art it is graphic design at best. My kids know Photoshop and they are pretty good at it to boot. Anyone can use a computer but not anyone can use a brush or print a fine print.

    Sorry, but digital is not an art form as far as I am concerned, it is a cop out for being lazy. And I don’t know any LF shooter or MF shooter to take out 1000 rolls of film and blow through it like the digital shooters does on a weekend. That is simply another cop out. Well you film guy takes 5 rolls of film. Personally fro a weekend I am luck to get off a single roll of 120, 12 shoots or use 6 film holders for an entire weekend.

    You know what today’s photographer are missing? Sitting and studying the scene., making sure that every element in the scene has it place, making sure the image is complete, making sure that the elements support one another to create the composition. It is about studying line, form and balance. It is not about who got the most image from the weekend.

    With today’s digital shooter they don’t need to worry about anything as they will download to the computer and clone out and clone in things that are and not there. Add a sky, add a road and while there at it, add some water and lakes as well. They have nothing but total and complete disregard for the art of photography, which to me is completely revolting. Then they push it one step further and call it a fine photograph when its nothing more than an outright lie, a complete fallacy. A push of a button and they can output 10,000 identical pieces of paper with ink squirted all over it in a sequence to creating something that tries to resemble a photographic print.

    You can embrace digital all you like but it is a slap in the face to all the arts, and I am not just talking photography either.

    I am really sick of seeing digital watercolor, digital watercolor, digital drawing. Give me a break, you take the tablet out of their deceitful hand and place a brush in it, and guess what, now they have no clue how to paint or draw, blend of mix paint, use a certain brush size and certain stroke to create the effect that the computer does so easily with a few click of the mouse a a few pushes on the keyboard. This is not art this is digital. Brush stokes, pens strokes take technique, something they will be completely clueless about when given a pen or brush in hand. Digital is dangerous and is destroying the arts.

    Of course the digital trolls are going to flame but the truth hurts I know.

    Just my two cents.
     
  10. DannL

    DannL Member

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    That's cool.

    I simply feel, as stated before, that if your photography does not represent reality, it must be "something else". I said "artist of sorts", but really I should let someone else put a name to it. I don't like using four letter words, unless I'm cornered and feeling threatened. ;-)

    Artists very rarely paint the truth, and most artists know it. It's nearly impossible to find artist that doesn't take liberties with their subject. Removing a wrinkle here, a blemish there, a scare from there, add a wonderful backdrop there and some clouds there, fix that shadow. In fact I think "straight photography" is the best anyone can do to represent the truth. Normally I would say "whatever" when confronted with the apples/oranges chicken/egg thing. But it's still fun to talk about it. With regard to Giovanni, I trust he painted to please his benefactor and not the painter, as do most artists.

    Variety is the spice of life. Even when it comes to "opinions".
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 10, 2006
  11. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    I guess my philosophy for enjoying the personal (not work related) part of my life is simple and I apply it to my antique radio hobby, my flying (when I can afford to) and my photography ...


    If what you do, you do for other peoples approval, then you'd better be ready for some disappointments, especially if what you do is analogue photography. Ninety-nine percent of the world follows the latest tends (read "digital") and doesn't care what you do and thinks you're stuck in the past.

    If you do it for yourself (as I do), then who cares what they think? I don't. I do it for me and I can be both my worst and most lenient critic.

    Summary ? .... do it for you ... when you're happy, ignore the rest.

    cheers
     
  12. digiconvert

    digiconvert Member

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    That's probably my view on my photography-though you wouldn't guess it from my earlier rant. I guess having read what others say I aknowledge I was a little OTT in some respects BUT D5 guy is bored stiff with his digital photos, he says there's no challenge, but gets frustrated when he tries to shoot BW film and gets told it will take 8 days to get it back. He would love to use MF/35mm but feels he doesn't have the prior knowledge to use them. I have tried to convince him but he is afraid of the failure which will happen from time to time.
    I guess my real target is the 'always perfect' view of the world so many people have now. I see it with the kids I teach who are afraid to write anything down in case it's wrong, friends who walk away from a relationship because they have the occasional row (it's nor perfect so it's not working). Analogue photography is by it's nature fraught with imperfection - like other traditional arts you get better from keeping and noting your mistakes.
    My original point was that a photograph should have a degree of veritas, I can crop a print, change the exposure etc. but I have to have a pretty good reason to superimpose one neg omn another - for the simple reason that it's so damn hard (and I do not posess the skills to do it). I love taking photographs and processing them, I admit I am a rank amateur, but the fact that those teaching the art are now so keen to dismiss analogue is something that I find pretty painful. Rant over for now.
     
  13. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I absolutely agree with you here; my point is just that the rant against the cut-and-paste should be directed to cut-and-paste proper, not digital per se. Digital facilitates cut-and-paste, as you clearly demonstrate, but it did not invent it either.

    The same argument was levelled against photography when it came out. Later on, 35mm shooters on a motor drive were also sneered at for making statistics rather than caring about their images.

    Digital gives you just more facility to shoot like an idiot. It does not necessarily follows that it MAKES you an idiot. A good photographer is someone who will strive to get the best image out of a light-sensitive-optical system. If someone, film or digital, tells me he's got a bigger artistic dick because he took more pictures in an hour than I did, then he's just useless under any consideration.

    Here I agree fully with you, because you put your finger on actual practices, not on an a priori consideration of the medium's impact. Digital doesn't make people lazy: they were ALREADY lazy. Now they can just indulge what they always wanted.

    I don't even shoot digital, nor do I care anymore so much about what digital shooters think, but the weakest link in the artistic chain is not the tool, it's what's in their heads.
     
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  15. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I am sorry, but you deserve a full philosophical slap on the face for that statement! :wink: Realism and claims to truth in depictions are not at all universals, and Albertian perspective is surely not the best representation of reality. In current Western practices of art, yes, so-called "straight" photo is a potent statement of truth and accuracy in representation, but when Alberti brought up his new technique of representation with points de fuites and converging lines, not everyone got it right at first. There is a certain level of cultural entrenchment that comes with the issue of realism.

    To show that I'm not a damn relativist, just compare a drawing of a cube made according to the standards of Renaissance perspective, and one made according to axonometric projection, as is used in technical drawings and blueprints. Which one is more realistic? The one that gives you an optical illusion or the one that reproduces faithfully all distances between every points?

    Sure is. I'm just blockheaded enough to believe that there are some facts, also.
     
  16. digiconvert

    digiconvert Member

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    I think we are getting to the point I was so clumsily trying to make. I have a lot of time for the skill of the other guy in the group who I referred to as D5 guy and we get on really well. However he has been trained to keep shooting until he gets a good shot and if it doesn't work out then PS it. The fact that he sees an image well and is a VERY good exponent of PS help a lot but if he wasn't as skilled (in other words if he were me!) he would never actually make any progress as a photographer because he could put his mistakes right later. Digital feeds the urge to be idle which we all have and I think it encourages the view that a more expensive camera equals better pictures (I know that one is as old as the art itself), worst of all it is in danger of turning people off photography once they get the initial buzz of their new 'toy'.
     
  17. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Tee hee, don't worry about your abilities, we knew you were more talented than him :wink:

    The learning process is another major point, and I think accounts for facts as simple as the importance people put on teaching exposure using nothing but a light meter and manual mode, or some photo schools' emphasis on the use of a view camera prior to the use of 35mm cameras. It's a bit like learning your tables of multiplication before relying completely on a pocket calculator.

    I had once to make a small photo shoot for an event at my job, and was lended a Nikon D100. I had to spend an entire DAY understanding the thing, but my photos came out decent only because I didn't rely on pre-set white balance, and understood something about metering. When it was set on all-automatic, all photos looked equally shitty. In fact I spent more time learning how NOT to use the automation than I did to setup my shots.
     
  18. reggie

    reggie Member

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    The title of this thread is: What Is A Photograph?

    To answer literally:

    Main Entry: photograph
    Function: noun
    : a picture or likeness obtained by photography

    Main Entry: photography
    Function: noun
    : the art or process of producing images on a sensitized surface
    (as a film) by the action of radiant energy and especially light


    So, the strict definition of photography is not just the end product, but it also includes the PROCESS used to make the photograph.

    That is why it's so important to include 'digital' in digital photography, it is an essential adjective to define the specific process involved in producing the final output.

    As for a lot of the discussion, you really aren't discussing what is photography, merely refinements and approaches to the process of producing a film-based photograph. It is more of an ethical discussion, one which I have had myself over the years.

    At some point, you will just accept what you come to accept and that will be that. That's where I am now and I don't feel any need to justify it. I don't like certain type of traditional photography work, so I just don't look at it or buy it, etc. I gravitate towards what I like and I'm mostly interested in what I do. I think that is one thing that some of the 'masters' had in common - they neither knew nor cared too much about what othere photographers were doing. Brett Weston is one example. Other more modern name photographers have felt the same way - they are just far too concerned with the path they are walking to take detours to check out other paths.

    So weather one photographer uses multiple negatives to produce landscapes or whatever, they have the right to do it, it is photography by definition and if you don't like what they do, well you can just put your attention elsewhere - on your own work would be a great place to start.

    -R
     
  19. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    Here is the bottom line you can call it digital hogwash or photoshop.

    Either term will suffice.

    Actually now I think about it I think the proper term for digital images is photoshopgraphy. Basically takes little skill to produce and little talent to output to paper.

    That is how I see it.
     
  20. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I just have to disagree. It's usually the opposite. If the artists didin't convey truths, then they would be just some kind of propagandists at their best.

    "Accuracy" is not the right word, but perhaps "right feeling" is because it ultimately touches your heart.

    Just out of curiosity, do you know why satire political comedy has been so popular in the Bush years in the U.S.?
     
  21. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Some people seek out and pay a premium for hand stitched quilts. Some people don't care as much and will pay less for otherwise identical machine made quilts. Still others don't care at all and will buy the cheapest blanket they can find at Walmart.

    Such is life...and the same applies for photography.

    Be confident in the choices you've made, and appreciate good works of art no matter what medium or combination of mediums it's produced with.

    Murray
     
  22. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    To answer the original question, a "photograph" is an image on a piece of paper as a painting is an image on a canvas.
     
  23. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    It seems that you want to evict false artists from your Republic. It is not EITHER truth OR propaganda. Sorry Plato, but you're victim to the dreaded either/or fallacy.

    Case in point: fiction. Stories about unicorns are not necessarily making claims to truth, neither are they a machine of brainwashing. They are make-believe, just like when you and your buddies were kid and you pretended that a box of cardboard was your space shuttle.

    Some artists tell true statements (e.g. a novel that says that Napoleon was the Emperor of France), some artists tell false statements (e.g. a movie showing that the moon had an eye that was pierced when the first rocket crashed on its surface), some artists tell fictions (e.g. that there was once a King called Whatnot who was lord over the land of Something), some artists tell propaganda (google for a song called "Bush was Right" by the Right Brothers).

    Satire is popular because there are so many idiots like the Right Brothers trying to shove propaganda down people's throat.
     
  24. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Let me begin by saying that I do not have digital anything in my photography equipment. That being said let me go on and say this. A photograph can amount to many different things. For some of us a photograph is a creative expression and the means by which we arrive at the expression is secondary to the expression.

    Who is to say that someone Photoshopping is any different then someone burning in a sky, dodging a shadow, retouching a negative, or bleaching a print? Just because one is done in a manner different than another seems to make a poor argument.

    If one were to choose to argue that difference as being sufficient, then why would retouching a negative be any more or any less "proper" then burning or more likely dodging a print...let alone, for heavens sake, masking the negative.

    Should we throw people like Howard Bond, Charles Phillips, Alan Ross and others that dye dodge or mask negatives out of our community because they are not adhering to "proper" or "traditional" methods?

    Should we throw those real rebels like Misha Gordin or Jerry Uelsmann out of our community because they combine images and present prints that are not literal renditions of objects or scenes found in reality?

    I would hope not.
     
  25. dianna

    dianna Member

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    There's a huge market for digital/photoshop out there. We just have to accept that and go on doing what we believe in. Not everyone has the same understanding we do.

    I can tell when I'm looking at a digital image. The human eye can resolve 120 megapixels. I don't keep up with digital technology, but I'm guessing the high end cameras record 20 megapixels. I think at some level my eye sees pixellation, even though it's not obvious. Then there are the shades of gray. Digital records a discrete number of shades per "photosite" on the image sensor. Our eyes are used to seeing more variation. Film's shades are continuous, not discrete, more like what the eye sees. Film capture and traditional printing, when done well, can make the image feel three-dimensional. That's what digital lacks, and that the main reason why I shoot film.

    I'm curious, if digital technology ever exceeds what the eye can resolve, if I'll still be able to tell the difference.

    I don't think of digital images as art, at least what I've seen thus far. There was a digital exhibit at the Amon Carter a few years ago - a photographer retraced the Lewis and Clark expedition and took digital photographs along the way. My husband and I were both unimpressed. The images were flat and on some level, the color balance didn't seem right. I seem to recall they were inkjet prints. No offense meant to the photographer (I don't remember his name) - it was a great idea for a collection of images, but I wish it had been done on film and printed the old fashioned way.

    Keep doing what your gut tells you is right. Make photographs that are beautiful to your own eye and everything else will fall into place.
     
  26. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    It's called life. The problem is usually the tendency that some people believe, the newer the better.