Is God in the details?
I'll be referring to developments in digital photography but bear with me, it's about analog photography too... Lately it seems that HDR (high dynamic range) photography is sweeping the land. Without getting into the verboten digital details, HDR is about maximizing the detail in the low, mid and high tonal ranges by making multiple exposures and merging them. All well and good, surely, but I've been surprised to see that quite a few photographers whom I thought had good aesthetic sense have lately become enamoured of HDR with what I think are catastrophic results -- pictures so overloaded with detail that the eye simply gives up at first glance (at least mine does). I know that this is function of "if technology lets you do it, then it must be good" and the power of marketing and fad, but it's about something so central to photography and picture-making in general, namely composition and the handling of detail within a composition.
The "trouble with detail", if anything, is much more of a concern in the realm of "fine art" photography where the ability of B & W film to record fine detail as championed by Adams, Weston and a host of others is thought to be of artistic value in itself. It emphatically isn't. God is found not in the mass of details but in the well-chosen detail -- the pearl ear-ring of Vermeer's "Girl With A Pearl Ear-Ring", the breathless gap between the fingers of Michelangelo's God and Adam, the top-hat on the carriage driver of Steichen's "Flat-Iron Building".
Of course it's much easier to avoid making decisions and record everything indiscriminately. But composition is about discrimination and decisions. Great composition is about great decisions. I'll be watching with spread of HRD with trepidation.