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  1. #1
    Will S's Avatar
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    Unmanipulated Negative/Capture == Photographic Art?

    I was reading Newhall last night and seemed to notice something that I would like to hear more about.

    It appears that at several points in the history of photography processes have been invented that require the artist to physically manipulate the negative material. These processes seem to have been dismissed as representative of "photographic art" and more closely aligned to painting/watercolor/printing etc. even though they start with a captured image. I'm assuming that they are still considered "art" just not photographic art.

    After the photo-secessionists/Stieglitz and Group F.64 the definition of "art photography" seems to have become further distilled down to unmanipulated captures and highly detailed/sharp representations with emphasis placed on no touchup of the negative or print (among other things of course).

    So am I right to make a general statement that photographic art has, historically, always been partially defined by an adherence to the capture of light and its reproduction as a two-dimensional representation with as little manipulation of negative (and print) as possible? Especially in cases where artists were concerned with definining "photographic art" as something unique and apart from other arts?

    Or is this statement just a byproduct of the unique qualities of the camera to produce art from light, captured in very small increments of time, and reproduced two-dimensionally? IOW, if you can produce a two-dimensional image with a paint brush that is similar to that produced with the camera, it isn't photographic art? Art, but not photographic art.... This isn't to imply, of course, that anything captured and unmanipulated is art, just that those things done with manipulation of the capture are NOT considered photographic art by definition.

    Thanks,

    Will
    "I am an anarchist." - HCB
    "I wanna be anarchist." - JR

  2. #2
    SuzanneR's Avatar
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    I think I would still consider manipulated negatives as falling under the umbrella of photographic art. I'm thnking of some of Frederick Sommer's work, but also, I think cameraless prints, such as photograms.

    These processes still use the photographic medium to capture light? No?

  3. #3
    juan's Avatar
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    I would disagree with the concept implied by the use of the word "capture" with photographic materials. One captures an image on a CCD or other electronic device and what information is there is there. It can only be left alone or manipulated post camera with a computer.

    OTOH, one makes a negative - a two step process involving exposure and development, each having a place in creating the image on the negative. Where does proper exposure and development end and photographic art begin?

    juan

  4. #4
    Surly's Avatar
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    Juan makes a good point- at any time during the process from tripping the shutter to making the final print you do your best to produce the best print you can. Wheter conscious or not you are manipulating the image. Not to put too fine a point on it, but how can a black and white image of a color landscape NOT be a manipulation? Of course, at one time monochromatic media was all there was photographically speaking.
    A soft focus photo portrait ala the Pictorialists and a red filtered almost black sky photo of El Capitan are both manipulated to some degree. Of course, they both have thier merits.
    To call something art regardless of the media is so subjective it has been and will be argued ad infintium. Is a painting photographic art? Perhaps. Is photographic art always unmanipulated? I think it's more like always manipulated whether you intend to or not. But again this is very subjective. Thanks for getting the gears turning, I feel this is a great topic!
    To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  5. #5
    Will S's Avatar
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    Juan:

    I'm was thinking of capture for a negative as the exposure of the silver salts to light. You are correct that another process is involved to get them to turn black and then keep the unexposed ones white of course. I does seem that a lot of digital photographers seem to use "capture" this way and I'm not sure if it is because that was the term first used in early digital image conversion, or if they are trying to differentiate themselves from film. Maybe something from video? In either case something gets exposed - either the digital sensor or the film negative, so maybe that is a better term.

    Suzanne:

    I was thinking that Sommer didn't really manipulate the negative, but placed layers of transparent material on top of the negative and sandwiched negatives, etc. Unless you are thinking of the cut paper, and I always thought that was done like a photogram and placed on top of the photo paper for exposure. He also did the extreme out of focus nudes from sharp negatives, which again doesn't involve manipulating the negative, but definitely doesn't fit the usual "must have lots of detail" definition of art photography.

    I think photograms fit this definition as they are created directly on the paper and the print (which is the negative as well) isn't manipulated afterward.

    Thanks,

    Will
    "I am an anarchist." - HCB
    "I wanna be anarchist." - JR

  6. #6
    Will S's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by juan
    I would disagree with the concept implied by the use of the word "capture" with photographic materials. One captures an image on a CCD or other electronic device and what information is there is there. It can only be left alone or manipulated post camera with a computer.

    OTOH, one makes a negative - a two step process involving exposure and development, each having a place in creating the image on the negative. Where does proper exposure and development end and photographic art begin?

    juan
    Your last paragraph reminds me of the article from the two people who basically discovered and named the "characteristic curve." I believe they said something like "making pictures is an art, but making proper exposures is a science."

    Thanks,

    Will
    "I am an anarchist." - HCB
    "I wanna be anarchist." - JR

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Will S
    <snip>Unless you are thinking of the cut paper, and I always thought that was done like a photogram and placed on top of the photo paper for exposure.</snip>
    Sommer took plain brown wrapping paper off a roll, cut 'pleasing shapes' out of the paper with an exacto knife and then lit the wrapping paper and photographed it. I have a small book of his at home showing many of his cut-paper abstracts and he also describes the process of making them.

    As for your thread title, I have gotten pretty bored over the years with all this concern and debate over process - people can get into that if they want but I find it a lot less interesting than the art itself. I am a lot more interested in the final result that comes out of it. I do 'traditional photography' (chemical-based b&w) but if I like the image I don't necessarily object to the technique. Unless it was digital, then of course the final result cannot be any good, however<g>.

    If someone wants to manipulate a negative and pull an image from it, I don't really care. If I like the final image, that is good enough for me.

    -R

  8. #8
    jd callow's Avatar
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    I was reading a bunch of British Photographic Journals from the late 1860-1870's and they were appalled by photographers who took, paint or pencil to their neg's. They went so far as to recommend to an annual french exhibit to have the judges require submission of the glass plate with the print entry so as to validate the print was in fact a photograph.

    *

  9. #9

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    I think you're attempting read into this something that is not there. I had Beaumont for two photo history courses and talked with him on several occasions in his office about photography on a wide range of subjects. He thought that the work of Henry Peach Robinson was just as valid as his good friend Ansel Adams or Stieglitz.

    He made no value judgements in any of his lectures as to what type of work represented "art photography" as opposed to another type of work. At that time, Joel Witkin was at the University of New Mexico, and Beaumont included him in his final edition of his history of photography. I have know Joel since 1978, and he heavily manipulates negatives, and prints; makes composite paste ups that he re-photographs, and in general does whatever he feels is necessary to make the print he wants to see.

    Beaumont had no qualms about people working on negatives, prints, composite images, photograms, etc. As far as Beaumont communicated his feelings - the word "photography" was very broad and covered anything made through photographic processes.

  10. #10
    Will S's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by steve
    I think you're attempting read into this something that is not there. I had Beaumont for two photo history courses and talked with him on several occasions in his office about photography on a wide range of subjects. He thought that the work of Henry Peach Robinson was just as valid as his good friend Ansel Adams or Stieglitz.

    He made no value judgements in any of his lectures as to what type of work represented "art photography" as opposed to another type of work. At that time, Joel Witkin was at the University of New Mexico, and Beaumont included him in his final edition of his history of photography. I have know Joel since 1978, and he heavily manipulates negatives, and prints; makes composite paste ups that he re-photographs, and in general does whatever he feels is necessary to make the print he wants to see.

    Beaumont had no qualms about people working on negatives, prints, composite images, photograms, etc. As far as Beaumont communicated his feelings - the word "photography" was very broad and covered anything made through photographic processes.

    I wasn't meaning to imply that this idea was Newhall's view, just that in looking at the history of photography there always seem to be groups of people determined to define what photography is and willing to make distinctions which, to some of us, may seem rather silly or pendantic. Like, for instance, manipulating the negative means that it isn't "photographic art".

    I'm trying to figure out why such distinctions continue to be made even today though they have never seemingly held up over time....

    Thanks for all of the replies everyone!

    Will
    "I am an anarchist." - HCB
    "I wanna be anarchist." - JR

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