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  1. #1
    FrankB's Avatar
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    When is a traditionally-produced image not a photograph?

    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!

    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. #2

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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. #3
    FrankB's Avatar
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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. #4
    Joe Lipka's Avatar
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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.
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  5. #5
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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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."
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  6. #6
    smieglitz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Lipka
    Photograms would be one...
    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. #7
    FrankB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smieglitz
    Huh??? What could be more purely photographic? ... You don't need a camera to make a true photograph.
    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?! )

    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!

    All the best,

    Frank

  8. #8
    Dimitri's Avatar
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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.
    Too many Chiefs not enough Indians.....

  9. #9
    FrankB's Avatar
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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! )

  10. #10

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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.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

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