When is a traditionally-produced image not a photograph?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by FrankB, Mar 18, 2005.

  1. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    There have been a number of threads recently debating whether images produced by digital cameras (and, in particular, heavily Photoshopped images) should be called 'photographs'.

    My question is, in your opinion when does a wholly traditionally produced image stop being a photograph, and why?

    First off, no flames please. This isn't a troll and I am not a digital advocate (please see any number of posts I've made in the past). Let's also leave our digi-bashing heads (fun though they are!) at home for once! :smile:

    This is a serious question intended to provoke an pleasant and interesting debate, so if it raises your ire then I suggest you go for a nice calming walk around the garden before you post (repeat as necessary)!

    Let me stipulate a number of things which I think most or all of us will agree are not an issue:

    - Cropping
    - Dodging and burning
    - Toning for DMAX and tonal shift
    - Lith printing
    - Alternative processes (cyanotypes, bromoils, etc.)


    Now, here are a few possibly more contentious things:

    - Heavy / selective diffusion during printing
    - Slide sandwiches
    - A print made from more than one negative
    - Hand-colouring of prints
    - Printing, pencil retouching, making a paper interneg, pencil retouching, printing again

    Other suggestions for possibly contentious items are most welcome.


    Some / all of the above, if done digitally, would cross the line in a lot of people's books (including mine) between "photography" and "graphic design" (or whatever you want to call it). Some of the images produced using these techniques might be visually stunning, require enormous skill and give the artist terrific scope in expressing their inner vision, but... "photographs"?!

    So, in the traditional/analogue world, where would you place the line between "a photograph" and "something else"? In your view would all of the above processes qualify as photographs? If so, why?

    I look forward to hearing your views.

    All the best,

    Frank
     
  2. argus

    argus Member

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    Plain and simple:
    In the more contentious things the photographic and darkroom techniques are just part of a process to create an artwork, far more then a photograph.

    G
     
  3. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Quick clarification - I used the word "contentious" to indicate processes or techniques that in some people's opinions might make the category of the image ("photograph" or "something else") debatable.

    I didn't mean to imply that the techniques themselves were of debatable merit or that they shouldn't be used, etc., etc.
     
  4. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    Photograms would be one. Back in the 1930's there was a whole bunch of folks that tried to make photographs that didn't look like photographs. Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy come to mind right away. Someone with a better memory than I could fill in the holes. In the nineteenth century combination printing (cutting up negatives and assembling them for one print) was commonly practiced so that the inherent qualities of the photographic process could be hidden, so the resulting photograph looked like (gasp!) a painting.

    This is a good thread. It may illustrate that debate on use of media is a recurring thing in the world of photography.
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I suppose there are some things I would rather call "photomontage" or "collage" or describe in some way like "oil over gelatin silver print," but I'm not too bothered by that, and I would guess that artists who use those techniques aren't either, and would describe their work in the same way, accurately describing the fact that it is more than a photograph. I don't really see this as controversial.

    As far as heavy retouching goes, this has been part of photography since the nineteenth century. One would have to say that virtually none of the studio portraits made from about 1880 to 1945 are "photographs," if one ruled out heavy hand work on negatives and prints as "photography."
     
  6. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    Huh??? What could be more purely photographic? Well maybe those starlit images where a Scandinavian astronomer (had a name something like Sindberg or something IIRC) exposed photographic plates directly to the night sky. You don't need a camera to make a true photograph.

    In fact, I would say the camera introduces the most perplexing argument for calling digital camera images photographs. When the light hits the sensors in the digital camera, at that point is there a photograph created due to the reaction of the sensor cell? Once that signal is being transcribed and transported elsewhere, the information is no longer photographic IMO, but is the sensor with changed state a photograph? We would not be able to perceive it as such, but we also cannot perceive the latent silver image on films or DOP papers. Photographs are made with silver, iron, platinum, palladium, gold, chromium, and asphalt. Can silicon be on that list?

    And the camera is not exclusive to photography but can be used in other applications-videography, drawing, even in the courthouse.

    Joe
     
  7. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    I have to agree. If you look at the literal definition of photography (drawing or painting with light) then a photogram is possibly more of a photograph than what we commonly regard as a photograph! (Did that make sense?! :smile: )

    As far as the digital point goes, it's a very interesting argument. However, could we restrict this discussion to traditional techniques please? If we get into another digital discussion I may never get people's views - and this one is really twisting my melon! :wink:

    All the best,

    Frank
     
  8. Dimitri

    Dimitri Member

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    Well, I would say that "if in doubt then it is not a photograph".

    As long as the original view is modified to an extend that it is impossible to exist in nature (with todays techology and understanding) then it is not a photograph, but anything else you wish to call it.
     
  9. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    I hear what you're saying Dimitri, but I don't think I agree.

    For example, what about a slow-shutter flowing-water shot? Or a multiple-exposure of waves breaking over some rocks, resulting in the beautiful "ethereal mist" effect? In my book both of those would definitely count as "photographs" but neither one truly exists in nature.

    (I'm not saying that I'm right and you're wrong, just that my opinion differs from yours! :smile: )
     
  10. mark

    mark Member

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    When you are no longer using a light sensitive chemical based (dye or silver) material to record the reflecting/projected light visible or invisible from an object. JMO. My final color prints are mostly computer aided images because they require, at this point in time me to scan the slide or negative in order to print. The inital cappture (slide) is a photograph

    I am going back to the wet darkroom places for this stuff because I am just not happy with the cost or computer time required to finalize my vision.
     
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i'm not bothered by hand-work, darkroom techniques, printing in alternative mediums or even using non-photographic-related items as "negatives".
     
  12. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    You asked for an opinion......

    .....so this is mine:

    I have to back to the definition of photography which according to "Websters" is
    So, the "traditional" method of photography is visible light striking a chemically based light sensitive surface where processing that chemical results in a fixed (non changeable in that state) visible image. That definition should apply to both the negative and the positive. The "photograph" is the result.

    And....I interpret your question to be directed at "the print" which is what most people consider to be a "photograph" (the laymans definition).

    In my opinion, a photograph stops being a "photograph" (according to the laymans definition) and becomes "photographic art" when it can no longer be considered to be an accurate representation of the original scene from which an image was harvested.

    cheers
     
  13. Will S

    Will S Member

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    I agree. Reminded me of this:

    http://www.fredericksommer.org/index.php?category_id=11&gallery_id=127

    "This photograph invokes analogies to classical sculptural fragments and appears to some viewers to reveal the inner workings of the human torso."
     
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  15. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    My working definiton of art has usually been: whatever you can get away with.

    Trying to nail down what's acceptably defined as a "photograph" seems antithetical to the idea.

    Recently I've started using an alternative definition (more a guide post, really) of art: Art is the revelation of the individuality of things.

    Every individual print, too. Getting too caught up in usings words and language to fence-in ideas is a sure way to guarantee stiff and mannered artwork.
     
  16. grahamp

    grahamp Subscriber

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    Photography is 'drawing with light'. Normal incoherent light, lasers, infra-red, ultraviolet, x-rays, whatever floats your boat.

    Photographic reproductions also use light - Pt, Pd, Ag, salts, gum, chlorophyll ...

    There are accepted mainipulations of these techniques to make the real world fit the capabilities of the materials.

    Non-photographic reproductions...don't use light. Bromoils, silkscreens, inkjets, to name but three.

    Some sequences involve a non-photographic stage, even if the initial and final ones are 'photographic' by this definition.

    I am agnostic about methods. The final result and the use that is made of it is what counts.
     
  17. Dimitri

    Dimitri Member

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    FrankB if everyone thought exactly the same life would have been very boring and art dead, so it a good thing to have differences of opinion.

    Anyway I was thinking more on the lines of the series of pictures taken by NASA which show the whole of Earth with no clouds at all. This is a physical impossibility, so for me it is crossing the line from photography to something else. Not that this is not photography, but it is not what I will consider traditional. The same would apply to in camera double exposures (again provided that the end result cannot exist in nature - eg the moon rising from the north or the south:smile: )


    However I have to say that I'm using this as a guideline since it is usually rather difficult to draw an exact line where one thing stops and another starts
     
  18. Robert Hall

    Robert Hall Subscriber

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    I wonder why we worry so much about what is a photograph and what is not. If my art emotionally moves another I have succeeded.

    Is it an issue of feeling it's important for the viewer to understand where or how the image was produced? This gets into asking the patron if this print is worth more because it was developed by inspection, or simply captured by clicking the shutter.

    I think some feel that their work is worth more because more physical work went into the creation of it.

    I certainly am proud of the hard work I put into my art, but I simply ask the question, "What does it make you feel?"

    I use whatever means I have available, both in tools and in my own capabilities to create a mood or expression of the world around me that may touch another.

    So to reiterate, why do we care how the image was made?


    I think some feel that thier work is worth more because more physical work went into it. I certanly am proud of the hard work I put into my art, but I simply ask the question, "What does it make you feel?"
     
  19. djklmnop

    djklmnop Member

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    Traditional photographers who do "conceptual photography" take great pride in their process and will boldly admit to it. Conceptual photography is VERY difficult to do and it usually takes a good photographer to begin with. So what's not to be ashamed of?

    As for most digital photography (not all!), people take bad pictures to begin with, then they tear it apart in photoshop, and in turn try to pass it off as a straight photograph. It also seems that with digital conceptual work, these photographers take less pride in what they do, so they have to resort to saying "this came straight from the camera."

    I don't think many of us shun digital manipulation or conceptual photography, but rather of what it has become. Too many people being insincere and passing it off as what it is not. Be realistic about what you've done to your photograph and many will be more intrigued with the process, rather than wonder if the image is a lie.

    Andy
     
  20. fotophox

    fotophox Member

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  21. Dimitri

    Dimitri Member

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    I think that we are moving away from the original question.


    The end result could be pleasing, could be art, could be anyhting for that matter, but the question is " is it a photograph?"
     
  22. Sino

    Sino Member

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    That's another interesting subject, FrankB, as it's the one i was discussing yesterday in the darkroom and i'd like to hear more oppinions on it myself. I recently started experimenting with photograms [old clocks i teared appart and pink-blue surfaces and blah blah] and drawing on transparencies, then combining them with 35mm negatives. I considered my work "photographic" although other guys and beauties that i've discussed it with, did not.

    So, what my "excuse" and point was: photography, is a Greek word. It comes from "phos" and "grapho", and a direct translation of these two words would be "light" and "write". So, i consider photography "writing with light" or "painting with light". So everything that's written/painted with light is a photograph. Yeah, that includes photograms too. As it does include... silicon, since what's "written" on a digital camera chip is information of the light the camera saw. Now, let's not have people flaming me or nailing me on crosses, this is just a personal oppinion and i would never doubt "the analog processes" since i am using them myself, instead of digital.

    My conclusions: everything that has been written/painted with light, is a photograph. Including all the analog processes. Everything that was created using other processes [such as retouching a negative or print, digitally or by hand] is not a photograph, rather a retouched photograph. And the ending result could one like or not, depending on personal taste and/or culture and/or rules he sets, blah-blah.

    Cheers,
    -Sino.
     
  23. arigram

    arigram Member

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    I will agree with Sino.
    A photograph is what a negative/positive holds. A print of a photograph is a print of a photograph not just a printed photograph (see the subtle difference?).
    That is to say that you can do any number of alternations to the final print from the original creation on the negative.

    So one thing is the negative, another is the print.

    Now, it is up to the artist to understand how far (s)he is going with those alternations ,how far he is departing from the original shutter click.
    We are playing with words though because a great number of techniques involve "painting with light", so we should not focus on the meaning of the word, but on the essense of an artistic medium. My idea of photography is that shutter click.
     
  24. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    If I hear this again I think I just might hurl.

    In the mid 19th century an alternative term was "heliography." I can just imagine if the name had stuck, AHUG would be full of lame threads fretting about whether strobe-lit pixtures were "really" heliography.

    Words do not provide some narrow constrained fence around a meaning -- they are signs pointing toward a meaning. And certainly not just a meaning based on the word's linguistic roots. Words always come after the thing which they attempt to name. They are only guesses at what the Actual Thing might be. Time and taste may swing the sign or move the thing, while convenience leaves the sign standing.
     
  25. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i find your definition kind of funny. so if i make a negative without a camera, enlarge it with an enlarger onto a piece of photo paper, put it through developer, fixer &C - the end result is not a photograph?

    i guess i shouldn't be posting non-photographs on apug :smile:
     
  26. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    While I haven't read all of the responses, it seems to me we may be confusing the general definition of "photograph" - that commonly accepted by the public - with what has been deemed to be acceptable for display on APUG, and/or our personal style preferences.

    Should non-analog image-capture and modification devices be confiscated by the Phostapo in the dark of night and burned in the village square? Perhaps with their users?

    While I wouldn't advocate changing any of the restrictions on APUG, carrying any ideal, however worthy, too far starts to get scary.