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01-01-2012, 03:53 AM   #1
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When is a Photo no longer a Photo???

A friend of mine wanted my written opinion on when a photograph can no longer be called a photograph, for an article, as relates to the amount of post processing of film and digital negatives. I wrote a rather lengthy opinion (probably more than he wanted). I'm curious as to how the pentax community feels about this. Below is my statement to him. It's just kind of a rough draft and some things I should re word, but gives you an idea of how I personally feel about post processing of photos (sorry for the formatting, it was copied from a notepad doc.):

When is a photograph no longer a photograph? To answer that question, it would be sensible to first reference the definition of "photograph". Since this question can at times be the focus of heated debate, I would like to start with my opinion, as simply and objectively as possible. To me, the word "photograph" evokes the act of capturing a scene. Capturing a face or scene as it was recorded by a photographic device. Dictionary.com defines "photograph" as "an image of an object, person, scene, etc, in the form of a print or slide recorded by a camera on photosensitive material". So at what point can a photograph no longer be defined as a photograph? I believe that when a photograph has been post processed digitally or otherwise to the point that one easily notices that processing has taken place, the photograph can no longer be defined as a photograph in the classical sense. Modern technology and programs (photoshop, iphoto, etc.) have made it extremely easy to modify a photo in any way imaginable (with the right patience and knowledge). This freedom, over time, can seduce the photographer to become so artistically ambitious in the post processing of photographic negatives, that the end result has evolved into something beyond what the classical definition of photography is able to support. Since
the definition of photography does not include a limit to the amount of processing one
may apply to the photograph in order for the definition to stand, we are left to figure
out for ourselves where the definition ends. As a photographer, I always try to take a
photo in the most favorable conditions possible, with a few seconds spared to tweak
essential settings in order to capture a scene as close as possible to what I saw. If the
digital negative needs contrast, exposure or color adjustment, I tweak settings in the post
processing phase to get the "true to life" results I want (in most cases). The end result
is a photograph which most would not be able to tell if or what has been done to it. So
when is a photgraph no longer one? In my opinion, a photograph is no longer a photograph
after enough processing has been applied, that it no longer bears the "true to life"
scene which was captured. Based on the key word "capture", I think this is a reasonable
statement which leaves just enough room for constructive debate. Photography is a skill
and artform which starts with the eye and should stray as little as possible from what is
captured on the photographic negative. It is important for me to represent the art of
photography so that those younger minds will have a reference point which is as true to
the artform as possible. HDR capture, photoshopping has it's place and has become key tools
in commercial and amateur photography, but with these tools, the lines between a "photograph"
and digital art can easily and unconsciously become blurred, depending on what ones artistic
intentions are. The important thing to remember in preservation of the art of photography,
is that there is no substitute for capturing something pure, in the moment... as it is.

01-01-2012, 04:32 AM   #2
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I can appreciate your position, but I believe that all the technology does is provide us with tools to re-interpret what we see (not forgetting that we all see things a bit differently). If we took a purist approach to our 'art' and interpreting the world around us, then we would still be chewing up bark and spitting it onto the walls of our caves.

One could argue that the days of black and white were not a true representation of our world (we see in colour, well most of us do) and yet we still convert our colour images back to black and white to get a more pleasing image. No filters, no post processing, no interpretation, just the settings in the camera (film I presume), sounds like a 'technical' approach which would be hard pressed to hold onto the tag of 'art'. Embrace the technology, use it to expand the interpretive world of photography, create that which is pleasing to the beholder and don't be held back by the limited technology of the light capturing device held in your hand (or perched on your tripod). Well that is my 10 cents anyway.
01-01-2012, 04:54 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by outsider Quote
Since the definition of photography does not include a limit to the amount of processing one may apply to the photograph in order for the definition to stand, we are left to figure out for ourselves where the definition ends.
I think the highlighted text is key to this. There is no limit to the amount of processing one may apply to the photograph - it always remains a photograph. You can't apply some abritrary 'line in the sand' dictated by your own personal taste in order to limit what is and what isn't a photograph. There will always be images which blur such a line, or are open to debate in terms of which side of the line they sit upon. And whatever side of the line they sit on, they will remain photographs if they were created 'photographically' (light hitting film or sensor). That should be the only criterion - was the image (or component parts of an image) created photographically at it's inception.

QuoteQuote:
HDR capture, photoshopping has it's place and has become key tools in commercial and amateur photography, but with these tools, the lines between a "photograph" and digital art can easily and unconsciously become blurred, depending on what ones artistic intentions are.
HDR capture is a very 'photographic' technique IMO - the combination of different exposures, using different shutter speeds, draws on some very traditional photographic techniques and is a natural 21st century extension of the sort of wizardry practiced by Ansel Adams, even if it lacks the nuance and subtlety! As far as the line being unconsciously blurred, this is only the case if you arbitrarily decide to draw such a line, as I discussed above.

There is room within photography for many different genres - photojournalism, portraiture, landscape photography, art photography, heavily manipulated 'fantasy photography'. I despise the latter, but love photojournalism and street photography which capture the moment with minimum interference in post processing*. But I would never say that becuase I don't like something, I want to exclude it from what I define as a photograph.

*Actually I would accept B&W conversion with tweaks to contrast and tone, so actually if you think about it, these genres are quite heavily manipulated away from 'what you see at the scene' - it's just that the end result has an aesthetic 'look' which is long established from the days of film.
01-01-2012, 07:10 AM   #4
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I asked questions like this (in long polls) in my early days on the forum. My view: PHOTOGRAPHY means writing or drawing with light. Use masking tape to make a pattern on your flesh and lay out in the sun for a few hours. The resultant sunburn is a photograph. Any visual recording of light is a photograph. And not only visible light -- IR and UV and xray photography exist, so we're recording radiant energy. We can form images from non-radiant forms of energy. Think of sonograms and pressure graphs. Their output becomes photography when used to form recordable visible images.

How much and what kinds of processing turn a photograph into something else? I used to print B&W images on matte paper and hand-tint them with colored pencils. Do they remain photos? Suppose I had used water colors, tempura, oil paint. Are they yet photos? Suppose I had then photographed the results and made color prints. Are they transformed back into photos? NOTE: I have some color photo-prints of locomotives that were produced in just this way -- photos of painted-over photos.

Such work has been common since the beginnings of positive-negative photography. Photos are re-touched, extensively. Photos and other media are mixed. Photos are silk-screened onto coffee cups or cheap shirts or Warhol canvases. Photos are crudely printed on pulp paper. They remain photographs. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

01-01-2012, 08:51 AM   #5
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Even what we see with our own eyes is not true to life, but an approximation of it. I don't think an image is more deserving of the word "photograph" because the creator did a better job of manipulating it without it looking fake, but if any definition of a photograph is at some point arbitrary then it becomes tempting to abandon the word and call everything "images" (which may or may not have started out in a camera). The word "photograph" is too convenient to give up, so in the end I have to agree with the subjective definition that if it looks like a photograph than it is a photograph, accepting that one person's photograph is another person's image. In any context where the definition is important, the contest judges, news editors, and so on, can make their own definitions that are relevant only for that context. Any question of ethics should not be related to the definition of photograph. For example, there was an controversy recently where people were photoshopped out of a news photograph of Kim Jong Il's funeral procession, but the edited image was still a photograph.
01-03-2012, 02:43 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by outsider Quote
I believe that when a photograph has been post processed digitally or otherwise to the point that one easily notices that processing has taken place, the photograph can no longer be defined as a photograph in the classical sense.
To me, this just says "You need to do a really good job photoshopping your image for it to still be called a photo."
The fashion and advertising industries invest a lot in manipulating photos in ways that aren't easy to detect, but they're still always called photos.

That being said, I agree in a sense with what you're saying. A lot of people/companies produce art that involves photography, but photography is certainly not the only art in use. In the end, what do you call such a mixture of mediums? Seems to me that trying to define this is like trying to define what art is ... I'm not sure that coming to a final answer is possible.
01-03-2012, 06:03 PM   #7
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When I was young and just staring in photography I thought that photography was reality. I thought that if my photos were not reality it was because I was not good enough but slowly I came to the realization that photography is not reality. The things that people think make good photos are the things that make them less of reality.


There is no framing in reality. There is no selective focus in reality. There is no depth of field in reality. Color balance is a lie (a white lie) as the camera is capturing more acquit color then the lie of WB. Why these things and many more are considered good photography when they are not reality is something else.


Photography is the selective capturing of information and the selective destruction of this information. Better equipment allows one to have more control over what information is captured but a Hogla camera or a DSLR are the same the DSLR just destroys less information to start with.


Black and white for example is either not capturing color information and the destitution of the color information. If you put a filter on a lens you are selecting what information to capture or in post destroying the information. The end is the same. If you change some thing like brightness you are destroying information so that other information is more visible to the person that sees the photo but new information has not been added. That you cloned out a power line and no one knows it doesn’t make it less or more a photo.


That the person seeing the photo may not realize that this is not reality is not relevant as once you know that a photo can not be reality then the illusion is forever over. So when is a photo not a photo? When you add information that was not there when you started. Then you have something new, something more like painting.


Words have a meaning but they also have an emotional weight to them. Words like destitution, lie, destroys or even Hogla have a negative emotional weight to them. That is not the intent of what I am saying here it is just the baggage that the words carry.


DAZ

01-03-2012, 06:05 PM   #8
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Focal Press has published some encyclopedias of photography. These can be found in public libraries, or some scoundrels may find torrents to download. These are indeed encyclopedic tomes on the history and uses of photography. We find that MANY types and approaches and technologies exist, all worthy of inclusion in an encyclopedia of photography. We find that some folks noted for photo work have never touched a camera. (Think of xeroxed photo-montages.) We find that the very definition of 'camera' encompasses technologies many of us have never heard of, objects we've never associated with light-writing. (Think of using your mouth as a pinhole camera.) We can broaden out outlooks by reading this fascinating stuff. Highly recommended.
01-04-2012, 04:08 AM   #9
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I had an intersting discussion with my boss today. He is an audiophile, and we were discussing his research into amplifiers. One point was that no-one has understood the peceptual issues of what makes for proper stereo imaging of sound. This is an issue of technology meeting the perceptual space of hearing.

In photography we have the physics and technology of optics interfacing with our perception of what we see. In our case we have our perceptionof the image as presented to the viewer, and our perception and memory of the real thing of which the image was made (or for others theri memory of similar things) and our perception of the photo depends on this complex of perception and memory of previous perceptions. And we must remember, with Fullerton, 1907, The Philosophical Review, that no two people actually perceive the same thing - they perceive something prompted by their particular view of whatever happened inthe spance before them both, but they have different experience and interests leading them to perceive different things. And as photographers we perceive soemthign and try to convey to our audience what excited us. We can use all the traditions of art, applied in their photographic technical manifestation, such as DOF and bokeh and framing, to communicate what we see in a situation to others. The really successful images do not rely on shared knowledge ofthe event but rather stand for themselves as able to tell the story intended and to evoke the response the photographer intended. Less successful pictures may be ambiguous or fall flat.

And so we keep on trying.
01-04-2012, 03:42 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by tim60 Quote
I had an intersting discussion with my boss today. He is an audiophile, and we were discussing his research into amplifiers. One point was that no-one has understood the peceptual issues of what makes for proper stereo imaging of sound. This is an issue of technology meeting the perceptual space of hearing.

In photography we have the physics and technology of optics interfacing with our perception of what we see. In our case we have our perceptionof the image as presented to the viewer, and our perception and memory of the real thing of which the image was made (or for others theri memory of similar things) and our perception of the photo depends on this complex of perception and memory of previous perceptions. And we must remember, with Fullerton, 1907, The Philosophical Review, that no two people actually perceive the same thing - they perceive something prompted by their particular view of whatever happened inthe spance before them both, but they have different experience and interests leading them to perceive different things. And as photographers we perceive soemthign and try to convey to our audience what excited us. We can use all the traditions of art, applied in their photographic technical manifestation, such as DOF and bokeh and framing, to communicate what we see in a situation to others. The really successful images do not rely on shared knowledge ofthe event but rather stand for themselves as able to tell the story intended and to evoke the response the photographer intended. Less successful pictures may be ambiguous or fall flat.

And so we keep on trying.
This is along the lines I am saying but even more so. It is not just that 2 people can't perceive the same thing for the philosophical point of having 2 different perspectives but the same person can't persevere the same thing the same way. This goes beyond memory and has to do with the science of how we perceive.


The senses feed information to the brain. The brain then constructs a model world and projects this into the future. The brain instruct the eyes to scan for what it detriments to be the most reliant information and changes the construct. What it needs and what it is doing with this information we are still learning. As the construct is changing moment by moment things can appear and disappear at any time. Thinks like color or even people can change as the construct is changed. So even if some how you could see the same thing you probably will not perceive the same thing as you will make a different construct. This is the reason (and why so many have the problem) that the photographers needs to learn to see what the camera systems is going to record as it is so different from what we see.


All of this works to the advantage of photography as we can use it to limit what others see so we can show them the reality that we (the photographer) wish them to see. How well we do this is were the science changes to art.


DAZ
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