Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When does a photograph stop being a photograph?

I've seen the question asked a thousand times, and I've had it asked to me several times recently, so here are my hopefully coherent thought on the subject.

When does an image stop being a photograph and start becoming something else?

This is a discussion that has been going on for some time and will never have an answer that everyone agrees on.

Please understand, that my point of view is colored by being someone that I consider to be shooting "straight" photographs.

The key to me is "Representation". How are you representing your image? As long as it is being represented accurately, then no one should have a problem with however you choose to express yourself. Someone superimposing an image of a gigantic moon behind the silhouette of a sailboat and claiming it is an "authentic" photograph, even though it would have been physically impossible to create the image with a single exposure is being misleading.

Now it gets even stickier. Where does "manipulation" begin that would force you to represent your image as something other than "straight" photography? To me, it is the introduction of elements that were not in the original, or, other manipulation that is obviously something that would not be seen by a person with normal eyesight. Any processes that could easily be done in a darkroom (dodging, burning, saturation/desaturation, etc...) that simply enhances an image will still allow me to call my work straight photography. If I go to a balloon rally and take 8 photographs of 8 different balloons, then come home and use my computer to put them all into a single frame, I can not represent that as a photograph without a clear explanation as to what was done to alter it from the original state. It can still certainly be art, and some will probably still call it a photograph, but I couldn't represent it as such. I could call it a "photo-montage" or a "photo-mosaic" or something similar. I couldn't represent it as such even if I had done the work in a traditional darkroom by using multiple exposures or overlaying negatives.

Part of this reasoning is what I feel is my responsibility to any aspiring or beginning photographers that might see an image and be inspired to reproduce it without knowing how heavily manipulated it really was. They would go out time after time, attempting to recreate an image and would be unable to do so, possibly becoming discouraged and stop trying. Everyone wants to be able to create something they consider beautiful. They should be given all the information to do so.

Maybe something that is created as art shouldn't have to be explained...maybe it should just be able to stand on it's own and be admired without it being labeled or categorized...maybe something beautiful to look at should be just that....

9 comments:

Donna said...

I agree! I photograph should be a genuine photograph! Manipulations are fine if they're good art, but they aren't real photographs in my opinion!

Sarah McBride said...

interesting points to ponder.
another great post scottbulger!

Rosebud Collection said...

You give wonderful advise, but I was trying to take a picture of an osprey this morning and got the chimney..need I say more?

Crystal said...

I agree that art need not be explained...only admired! Its nice to put a face to the name BTW...

UniqueNurseGranny said...

Good points.I admire your honest approach though andd consider you a good dole model for aspiring artists in your field.

Patti said...

I never cease to be amazed at the quality of your work and your writing, Scott!

PamperingBeki said...

This is such a good point!

I'm far from being a photographer, but for the most part I like to keep my pictures as natural as possible. I might sharpen or brighten a bit, but I love the challenge of getting a shot that needs no editing!

Lucid Dreams said...

Thanks for answering my questions!

Your wisdom is what I treasure the most.

Grasshopper

Anonymous said...

Hi im doing Photography as an A Level Course and i've chosen to do a 'Personal Study' on whatever i liked as long as it related to photography obviously. So i chose to basically do it on when a photograph stops being a photograph and it needs to be said your views are near close to mine even if in short but it has been a big help in my search.
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