Photographs, at best, can only see what was in front of the camera. The laws of physics determine their angle view and the depth of field. Like writers choosing which story to tell, we photographers choose what point our cameras at, what we focus on, and when to snap the shutter.
A beautiful grand baby came into our lives late last year. On our first cross country visit to see her, her mama was struggling with that demanding little lump of work that took 27 hours to bring into the world and all that lump wanted was to suck mama dry, poop, pee, sleep, and cry at all hours.
Like normal, it took a while for baby to become aware enough to actually do anything sentient like look at mama and smile. Being the first child mama was expecting a quicker connection so she was a bit frustrated but there were also beautiful moments where mama was obviously happy with baby.
So, which story do I shoot for; the one that portrays mama's frustrations or mama's dreams? Which perspective is right, which matters, which do I want to remember?
Landscape shooters choices are no different as they wait for the perfect light, perfect clouds, no clouds...
Journalists face the same choices too as they decide which of the stories unfolding in front of them is important. Is it the story of the life of 18 year old conscript who is just trying to live another day in a war he didn't start or of the larger political battle going on around him?
Photos are rarely objective representations of anything.
After reading some of the different opinions it appears pretty obvious that this is emotional topic to a lot of people.
Firstly we have to remember that photography has many avenues of pursuit and whichever avenue we choose we tend to get tunnel vision and think that everyone should agree with our "avenue".
Obviously fine art photographers cherish the hand made aspect and one-off illusion of what they produce. You spend hours making a few prints you could easily get pissed at some guy that shows up and spent 10 minutes making his.
We have portrait types who's job is to take great pictures of people and make lasting prints for their walls. Retouching is extremely important and process is irrelevant to the end buyer.
We have commercial types who often don't even really need to make prints at all but just produce fast great digital files.
We have photojournalist types who need impactful shots and need them now.
We have amateurs who like to dabble and see themselves as fine art or portrait photographers and who parrot whomever they are emulating even though they couldn't sell a print of anything whether it's analog or digital, and nor do they care. It's a fun hobby.
We have traditionalists with and archivists sensibility and only truly find merit in one-off or the perfection of one print per exposed neg/plate.
We have large format types who only make contact prints and who wonder what all the fuss is about.
And we have the crossover of some of the types.
Obviously none of us are going to change anyone's opinion but it is interesting to see them explained and maybe get an understanding what is at stake for each of them.
OTOH, they are available. I bought a new 2011 Mazda3 in December of 2010. I told the dealer exactly what I wanted, options and transmission and down to acceptable colors from the available choices, and they got me one - from another dealer in Florida. That costs a bit more than finding one that's been sitting on the lot long enough they want to move it, but I'm willing to pay more to get what I want.
Back to the photography topic, I find much of this discussion fascinating, but just too long to read through it all given the other demands on my time. Sigh. But I particularly find the notion that every copy of a digital print is identical save only for minor mechanical imprecision induced by the printer from copy to copy, whereas even the most identical hand made darkroom print varies more, to be something I had not considered before. I read decades ago that one definition of a good printer was someone who could make a bad print then make 10 more copies almost exactly like it. Of course that's not really a "good" printer but consistency is a start, and is not nearly so automatic as clicking number of copies, being sure paper is loaded, clicking print and going to get a beer.
I find this discussion absolutely fascinating. I don't think anyone here is trying to change anyone's minds. Rather perhaps only offering different definitions and points of view for everyone's consideration. That's how individual perspectives get enlarged and learning happens. Including mine.
(But I wonder if I'm being honest, since in practice I do a lot of stopping in my tracks and saying "Hey, there's a photograph over there!"...)
It seems to me that most of the contributors here want to define it simply by how they use it. That, I think, is why there are so many different definitions, and angst over a sense that no one else understands what it really is except for "me". When one constructs a definition solely around one's own unique interaction with the medium it's not surprising that one ends up with an almost infinite number of interpretations.
Because this is what I do with it, this is what it is. And the corollary, How could it possibly be anything else? Which inevitably leads to, Those guys don't know what they are talking about!
I prefer to drill down to deeper levels in order to define it in its physical foundational terms. How it is used, why it is used, whether or not it can tell the "truth" (whatever that is), how much money we can make with it... those are all questions from far higher up on the food chain. None of them tell me anything about what it really is.
And, of course, if one can (hopefully) better discern what it really is, then it becomes much easier to know what, in the case of that other technology, it really is not.
Guys, are we not a little off topic here? Back to Ken Rockwell, I agree with most of the last post by Chris Lange, who I also think is a good photographer.