The In Camera or Post-Processing debate

I wonder at going to far, but with low, flat, grey lifeless light anything helps.

I wonder at going to far, but with low, flat, grey lifeless light anything helps.

Infrared camera with edited contrast.

Infrared camera with edited contrast.

I removed the dim, flat, busy background.

I removed the dim, flat, busy background.

The discussion about manipulating an image, or altering it, from the original capture has been going on ever since I began working as a photographer for the Los Angeles Office of Education in the 1970s.  Nowadays its called “post-processing”, and in the past we just called it “working in the dark room” when the majority of photographers were handing their undeveloped film over to a film lab and hoped the results would be worth keeping.

At that time, and as exists now, there were those who that claimed straight from the camera was the only true photography. I recall being accused of being unfair at a local exhibition around 30 years ago, because I used exotic photographic papers, hand retouched my prints, and mixed my own chemicals.

As I said, the discussion on right out of the camera vs. alteration of the original is still going strong, however, the beauty of this exciting medium is that there is no one-way to capture an image.

Photojournalists and street photographers like Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Dorothea Lange documented events and life as it was at a particular time. As photojournalists and street photographers still are. And as to that type of photography, I absolutely agree, any type of alteration is sacrilege. But I need to introduce those righteous photographers that decry alteration of the negative, print, or digital file, to icons of photography like Andy Warhol, Jerry Uelsmann, and Duane Michals, to name only a few that pioneered different techniques in this ever-changing medium of photography.

Documentary, representational, or candid photography is used to chronicle significant and historical events attempting to capture reality.  Fine art photography is the vision of the photographer or artist. And restrictions as to how the image is finally produced do not, and should not, apply.

Modern technology allows much easier creativity for those who wish to use it. That might be nothing more that purchasing the camera with the best sensor, and mounting the sharpest lens on it, and with patience and practice learning to make exposures that are as close as possible to reality. Or it might be using that same camera is nothing more than the first stage of many in an extended and manipulative process.

As to the debate, should image-editing software be used to alter the image, or should the image be left as an unaltered record of the scene?  I think that depends on the goals of each photographer.

As always, I really appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

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Try visualizing and then photographing something in a different way.

I received several local comments (My blogs also appear as weekly newspaper column on photography) about my last article, “Do Something Different with your Photography”.  I had suggested doing photography in a different way, and to begin a personal exploration of creating and experimenting with photography to make something new and different from what is most comfortable.

As I reread that I was reminded of something I wrote several years ago about the Modernist Photography Movement that fitted nicely with what I had discussed, so I thought I’d bring that back for readers again.

About the time of the of the First World War the presumption of just what art and photography should be was shattered by innovations by modern painters like Picasso and Matisse. But the fundamentally realistic medium of photography did not acknowledge that photographers could be producing abstract or distortions to the extent that painters were beginning to. However, there were a growing number of artist-photographers like Alfred Stiegletz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand who were working to bring photography in line with modern painting by creating abstract images and processes.

The current age of digital photography seems to have vitalized photography more than anyone could have surmised.  Attend any event and there will be lots of cameras ranging from little point and shoot’s to impressive DSLR’s (digital single lens reflex) documenting everything from every angle. The internet is filled with images, with all kinds of sites available for people to store their documents of everyday life.

In a moment of boredom I decided to do a search for an old friend who lives in the US wondering if I would find his construction company. I not only found his company advertisement, but several pages of family photos he and his wife took. My thoughts were that this is a reasonable document of people having fun, although nothing creative, just a real nice family documentary.

This is not unusual as photographic documentation is more prolific than it has ever been, but I began to wonder about another creative part of photography, the abstract and the unusual.  There are lots of instances of PhotoShop manipulation that readers can find without looking very hard, yet, I wonder at the style of abstract photography practiced by the greats like Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand.  In my opinion, they were very much involved in looking at everyday subjects from different angles or perspectives. They photographed the usual in unique ways and photographed the unusual in unusual ways. They searched out subjects that many would ignore because they were ugly or boring, and chose diverse photographic views and visually discussed them in interesting and unconventional ways.

I am fortunate in that I get to see photos all the time, landscapes, portraits of people and animals, and the occasional close-up flower shot, etc. Usually they are very nice and some are downright beautiful, but it is unusual and rare for someone to show me an abstract created by using their camera to photograph something using a unique view.

Abstract art and abstract photography may not be to everyone’s liking and I know when we show our photographs to other people we want them to comment favourably about our pictures and that is more likely with picture of a pleasant landscape or an attractive person. But when a photographer takes a chance and tries to visualize and photograph something differently, one cannot worry about whether or not it will receive praise or criticism.  Look for the unusual, the ugly, the boring, and the unique. Then contemplate about photographing it in a way personal to you.  And as I wrote last week, you might well develop a way of photography that starts with the question, “How can I photograph my subject in such a way that makes it different?”

And if you have the interest, take some time and find out about those pioneer photographers Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand.  Their photography is very interesting.

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