This is also true of optical aberrations and and processing degradation in an exclusively wet process.
Originally Posted by doughowk
I love film, but I've seen both inkjet prints from digital originals as well as scanned film (the same goes for Lambda/Lightjet prints) that, on a purely visual technical level rival, or exceed the "best" darkroom prints I've seen (I think Steichen's platinums serve as a good example for the baseline I'm using here). However, this is only the case when the digital originals have been made with that sort of output in mind (full frame or larger (MF) sensor, good lenses, and exacting handling of the digital file as far as post-processing. I would also like to remind those of you that think otherwise that no 35mm negative will, at this point in the technological cycle, ever rival, or even come close to equalling a photograph made with an 80mp Leaf AFi-II back. Hell, neither will 645, but that's another can of worms.
But I prefer Daido Moriyama's work to Ansel Adams, so what the fuck do I know about "good" printing...
As I've said in the "Loss of Fine Art Photo Traditions" thread, anyone that doesn't accept the fact that digital techniques are indeed fully capable of exceeding the -technical- abilities offered by normal film (aka, not weirdos that use a 16x20" view camera and claim that they have 3 gigapixel images or what the hell ever...show me a situation where you can use that to make a photograph where you don't have 10 minutes to unpack your camera) is a luddite that refuses to grow up. As I also iterated in the same thread, anyone that disparages film because of its perceived lack of technical perfection, is as much of a dumbass as the film guy that says a cibachrome is the only kind of color print worth making.
Because, you know, the supplies are so readily available and made frequently, right?
Bringing it all around, Ken Rockwell's site is a waste of time for anyone that can actually use a camera. He massages the collective crotches of the internet "photo-enthusiast" community while in reality being just another talking head himself...
I'm sorry but, he is a terrible photographer, his obsession with Velvia is nigh on nausea-inducing, and I have no problem saying that the -only- beneficial thing he has done as an internet personality is convey the idea that film is worth using, sometimes, if you're a "real photographer" (Sorry Pinocchio...)
His sensationalistic attitude and pseudo-cocky/experienced tone are annoying at best, and we would all be a lot better off if for every click someone gives his site, they were to open a book by Walker Evans, or Penn, or for that matter, anyone who has ever actually pushed the medium forward, instead of whining about farting and what Canon's best DSLR ever made is.
To top it all off, his sense of visual geometry is pretty mediocre, too...which is ironic because that's all he ever seems to brag about when it comes to composition.
You can learn far more about color from looking at good painters than a hack like him.
Give me an inkjet print and a fiber silver gelatin print, handheld, unframed, and ill tell you which is which.
This class of argument comes up every time there is a discussion involving the putative relationship between a photograph and its subject matter. And the argument is always wrong.
Originally Posted by hoffy
Going back to philosophy 101 the concept of truth and lies only applies to propositions; formal statements about the nature of things. A proposition that on investigation turns out not to be the case is untrue, a lie in other words. So the question devolves into: What formal statement does photography offer about its relationship to subject matter? Interestingly, those who insist that the camera lies or photography lies never offer (never think?) that there is a proposition to state and then to test.
Here are a couple of illustrative examples of silly propositions:
"A photograph of a tree is not a tree therefore photography lies". I can't remember a case of anyone credibly insisting the photograph should be physically congruent with its subject.
"A photograph is cropped from reality therefore photography lies". Does anyone sensibly require the photograph to be as big and inclusive as the universe in order to be true?
On the other hand: "All points in a photograph bear a one to one relationship to points in the subject matter". This is likely to be necessarily true of photography because of the physical causality of the process.
There are several other propositions that are also true of photography and it is a pleasant diversion to think of them.
This is a topic that is of keen interest in the art fair world.
And digital photography has screwed it all up.
Pre-digital, there was an inherent relationship between "art" and "craft". A good friend is a potter. Every piece is hand made, by him, with his own hands. No assistants contribute. When you buy a piece of Bauman Stoneware (and you should) you are getting something that the artist touched with his own hands.
Sadly, the art fairs missed this inflection point, and began allowing digital, photographic prints. No big deal, you say? Well, the problem is there is zero incremental effort involved between printing the first and printing the 1000th copy. That is a fundamental difference. An analog print is a unique thing. Even if one has highly disciplined darkroom technique, no two prints will ever be truly identical. EVERY digital print is metaphysically identical. That's a huge thing.
The pottery analog would be having someone like my friend John design the piece, and make the prototype, and then have some Chinese factory crank out a zillion of them for a nickle each.
No one would accept those factory-made copies as anything other than factory-made copies. But we accept digital prints as "authentic"?
There is more to things than how they look. How they are made matters.
This is pretty much succinctly it!
Originally Posted by omaha
("photography always lies")
I think this analysis is a red herring except in explicitly documentary photography like news illustrations (where something close to a formal proposition is fairly obvious, like Ken's example of the Lincoln conspirators above). The kind of "truth" that people associate with any art, not just photography, isn't very compatible with the propositional-logic sense of the word, IMHO. That makes for a richer sense of art than formal logic can offer, but it also makes it pretty hard to settle internet arguments with a decisive proof of correctness...
Originally Posted by Maris
But that aside, surely everyone realizes (if they think about it) that analog processes are also full of stages in which information is lost or distorted, and that the feeling that a photo is somehow an accurate representation of "what was really there" or "what you would have seen" is an illusion that skips over a whole lot of mental modelling that we do unconsciously. There's nothing wrong with that unconscious elision, but it's easy to confuse "I don't notice this class of inaccuracies" with "This class of inaccuracies is not important" (or even "...does not exist").
There is, pretty obviously, no optical system that doesn't lose *some* information, including your eye---even before anything takes place that could be described as a capture, the in-camera projected image is already "degraded" from the pool of available photons that arrived at the lens. Practically speaking, nobody really thinks the degree of loss in a reasonably modern camera is important---we accept photographs as legal evidence of fact without having courtroom arguments over the number of air-to-glass surfaces in the lens used---but at some point, people start saying "I dunno, it just doesn't *feel* *real* *enough*", and shockingly enough that point is differently defined for different people in different contexts. I'm not sure why the first digital processing stage is such a popular critical point, but it sure is one.
It's also not true unless your printer is magic! I'll give you "every copy of a digital file is metaphysically identical", but getting it onto a physical substrate is a physical process with the variability thereunto appertaining.
Originally Posted by omaha
Well, I'll grant you that there may be infinitesimal differences from digital print to digital print of the same file, but those differences (absent a mechanical malfunction) are not meaningful in any relevant sense.
The printer (the person, not the machine) does not press "Print" and then say "Ooohhh...I hope this turns out to be a good one!" Instead, he enters the quantity (50, lets say), presses "Print" and expects 50 identical copies.
Not done by the nuance of a human however. That's emphatically different.
Originally Posted by ntenny
I guess I see a photograph as a naturally occurring phenomenon devoid, at the precise moment of rendering, of the Hand of Man.
Originally Posted by ntenny
At its most fundamental level it is a process that, although heavily refined by the chemical engineers to work well on a film substrate, and heavily altered by the optical engineers who designed the lenses to correct the things we don't like about the pinhole images that result from that hole created by the aperture blades, and conveniently encased into a useable form by the mechanical engineers who created the user interface we call a camera, essentially initiates, progresses, and concludes solely according to the laws of physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics.
The human photographer can chose the subject, camera, film, lens, shutter duration, aperture setting (pinhole geometry), along with an almost endless series of other variables. But all of these are chosen pre-rendering of the actual photographic image taking place.
At the moment the photographer releases the shutter, thus allowing light to strike the film medium, his contribution, and the contributions of all those generations of scientists and engineers, ceases to continue. At that moment the Hand of Man stops, and the Hand of Nature takes over.
Nature herself will spontaneously imprint an image onto the medium of whatever image was projected by the aperture pinhole. Nature does not want, and does not need, any input from Man for this process to proceed to completion. Once the shutter closes, the deed is done.
At that point Man steps back into the chain of events. He must tease that preserved image out and make it permanent. And he may later reproduce it many times over, into many different forms. But he cannot non-destructively alter that originally imprinted and preserved image. Nor can he ever identically recreate an exact duplicate, because the arrow of time has moved on. There are implications from the Second Law of Thermodynamics here, but we don't want to cause any more eyes to bleed than have already started to by this point.
The main difference between this process and the other technology is the presence of the Hand of Man at the actual point of rendition. Light still strikes a medium. But that medum no longer preserves the image. Instead, the Hand of Man, in the proxy form of computer software, endeavors to simulate the Hand of Nature by simulating the creation of a real three-dimensional negative.
It does this by reading voltages generated by (but not preserved by) the substitute medium and then logically abstracting them into the form of a zero-dimensional pattern. This pattern, consisting solely of abstract numbers that substitute for real-world negative densities, is itself a pure abstraction and is intended to be a substitute for a real negative.
The crucial difference in all of this is that numbers, being pure abstractions, can be altered non-destructively at any point in (or after) the original simulated rendering of the image. And the practical difference this implies is that at no point in the creation or subsequent viewing of a digital image can the viewer ever be 100% certain that none of the numbers have been altered from their original values.
If you suspect that the photograph in your hands was altered, you can immediately ask to see the original negative. There can be only one. And any after-the-fact alterations will be evident as destructive modifications. This chain of detectable events confers provenance.
If you suspect that the print from a digital image in your hands was altered, you cannot ask to see the original RAW file and be 100% certain that the file you are given is an accurate copy of the original values that existed at the original point of rendition. Any after-the-fact alterations cannot be detected because they were non-destructive, and so left no chain of detectable events. Thus, there is no provenance.
Changing a physical thing cannot happen non-destructively. Changing an abstract thing cannot happen destructively.
(Umm... anyone need eye bandages yet?)