Photography as art.

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Torus34, May 31, 2009.

  1. Torus34

    Torus34 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    There has been much written about this. A couple of days ago, though, I came upon a conversation which, for me, shed an entirely different light on the subject. I was listening to an ex-scientist talking about why he changed from science to a new career in the arts.

    He noted that a scientific discovery, while exciting, is not a unique creative act of an individual. [The operative word here is 'unique'. I'll use it again and again.] What one scientist discovers, another can also discover. In fact, there are many instances of more than one scientist discovering the exact same thing. I write this, btw, as a retired scientist.

    The artist, though, produces something unique. Each work stands alone. If Van Gogh had not painted 'Starry Night', the same painting would not have been made by another artist. No other author would have written 'The Gathering Storm'.

    So far, so good? Sorry 'bout being wordy. Just trying to be clear in what I say.

    Now let's get to photography. It is entirely possible for two photographers to make the same picture. Consider a famous building seen on an overcast day. Two people, not aware of each other's work, can take identical shots of the building and make identical prints. The image in the pictures is not unique.

    Now here comes what, for me, is the interesting part.

    There have been some comments over the past few years that 'Photoshop'(r)-ing an image in some way makes the final picture less worthy of consideration as 'art'. Yet, it is this very post-production change which lifts the initial picture from something that may not be unique [someone else could have made the same exposure] to something that is. And the more the changed image deviates from the original, the greater the probability that it will be unique.

    And I thought, years ago, that I was cheating when I burned in a corner of a print! Shows you how much I knew, way back then.
     
  2. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    An interesting view certainly and I would agree with it up to a a point. Sure you can take two people and show them the same scene and the same camera, but often the art side is already showing at this stage - the aperture, where to put the point of interest, the time of day, the weather etc...
    There is a lot in the early stages so that people can walk away with very different views of the same subject - of course there will be similarities and I don't deny that two people can walk away with almost identical looking images.
    Then we come to editing - again a minefield of common methods and unique twists - here though I think a few things are important to note;

    1) unlike taking a shot photoshop does not rely on hard physics and there are often many ways to get the same or a similar effect. With that in mind I think many people have different editing results because they have a vast difference in how they use and understand the program

    2) editing is always a key part of any image, but its important that an artist has a reason for making edits and is not just editing and changing for the sake of it. Take a walk through any Alevel or GCSE art gallery - you will see some great images and you can also see overediting problems - often from "lesser" students you can see the same image edited in many different ways or just edited in strange ways to give (say) odd colours. In many of these cases the student is not editing to get a look, but editing to make art as you loosly describe - something unique and different. IT does not mean that it works well and infact such editing has to be done very well to work effectivly.

    I can certainly understand the point of the scientist and his view that art is a creative activity and that people can have their own unique area - photography is a little different in that two people can more easily have similar visions based on similar subjects, but there is still a lot of scope for indeviduality out side of editing.
     
  3. roentarre

    roentarre TPF Noob!

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  4. PhilGarber

    PhilGarber TPF Noob!

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    Very cool. Monkey's and typewriters.
     
  5. William Petruzzo

    William Petruzzo TPF Noob!

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    That's an interesting observation. Which I mostly agree with. Except that I don't think that what is produced lifts something to the status of unique-art, but rather what was intended. Art isn't the finished product, but the process leading up to and usually including that finished product. That's why there can be many images that look very similar, but the art itself is not devalued (well, maybe monetarily, but who cares about money anyway).

    Consider this, it would be theoretically possible to build a robot intelligent enough to roll around a city taking very high quality, well composed, perfectly exposed pictures of the city buildings around it. Then, it would also be theoretically possible for software to be written that randomly applies subtle post processing techniques to the images to produce a finished product that likely matches the quality of the average hobbyist. But we wouldn't call the images the robot produces art. That is, unless the robot's creator stepped foreword and revealed his intention to produce these pictures using the robot he created. The inventors intention becomes the difference between images simply being images and suddenly being art.

    I think it's in that way that the method of the journey means almost nothing, while the mind and heart of the artist means everything. Whether Photoshop is used or not, whether images are burned in or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is what was intended. This is the reason that art can be timeless. It's the reason that photography or film can be art at all. If the "purity" of tools made a difference, then we'd still be confined to writing on cave walls with papaya paste.

    I think it's usually the attitude uneducated minds that rolls art entirely into what is produced at the end. If that were the case, then the word "original" would be almost entirely extinct. I almost never see something I'd call truly "original" or even "unique". That is, unless I consider the varying conditions of the artist producing what he does.
     
  6. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I don't fully agree with this simply because both instances apply to all examples. Consider this:

    Sure a scientist may discover something that is not unique, however it relies on the specific creativity of the scientist to look at the problem in the way he did.
    Apply that to photography and you get the same thing. If you give someone an apple and tell them to photograph it you may get 2 identical pictures. You may get two completely different pictures right out of the camera with a creative twist from the view of the photographer.
    Now to a still life painting. It is possible that two artists could paint a nearly identical picture of the same apple, but you will end up with differences for one simple reason. You are looking at the end result.

    In the example ignoring photoshop you're only considering the interim product. Much the same as putting the apple infront of the artists. Both artists see the apple the same way but their personal touches are what makes their images unique. Just like the personal touches applied in photoshop, or even in the darkroom are unique to the person who's moving the sliders. When you look at the end result of the final touched up photographs of the apple, you will most certainly end up with a unique result. Reproducible yes, but conceptually unique.

    Conversely it would also be possible to program a robot to use a brush and duplicate paintings. There is subtle differences of course due to the amount of paint on the brush, but if the definition of art relies on splitting hairs then it's not a good definition in my opinion.

    Thus I believe photography IS an art form simply just because you can get a non-unique result, doesn't mean you will get a non-unique result, especially since it's a creative person controlling the instrument.
     
  7. Gaerek

    Gaerek TPF Noob!

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    I'll agree and disagree here. I agree that photoshop (or post processing, as it were) is part of the artistic process. One of my favorite quotes from Ansel Adams is

    "The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance."

    I like it for two reasons, one it's a great musical analogy, and I'm a musician myself. Secondly, it shows that actually hitting the shutter is only part of the game. He is implying that there is a very important step between clicking the shutter and getting the print. Post processing is as much an art form as taking a photograph.

    I, however, disagree with the premise that two photographer could take the exact same photo. Although this is possible, I believe it to be more likely that the photos will differ in small, but unique ways. Take your building analogy. For those photographers to get the exact same image, they would have to have the same camera, set to the same focal length, standing in the same spot, at the same time, using the same ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Nearly always, at least one of those variables will be different, resulting in a different shot. Will they be similar? Sure, but far from identical.
     
  8. jbhaferkamp

    jbhaferkamp TPF Noob!

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    Just look up Eiffel Tower on a stock photography site and you will see how many people can come up with their own unique variations of a the same subject, even from similar vantage points. I cannot believe that there is another person out there that can see and express the same thing about a subject as I can. No more than I believe that anyone can see and express the same thing about a subject as Picasso or Dhali.

    Behind photographic art is expressing what we see. That's why Ansel Adams talks about the negative and the print. The negative captures what he sees (composition, lighting, exposure, etc.) and the print is meant to reveal to the viewer what he felt. Manipulation of the print (or digital negative) is meant to relay the photographer's emotion to the viewer.
     
  9. Gaerek

    Gaerek TPF Noob!

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    Couldn't have said it better myself.
     
  10. Henry Peach

    Henry Peach TPF Noob!

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    How can making photography more like illustration and painting be less artful or creative?

    I think the real debate for those folks is whether all photography should be straight photography. Some people want to define photography in a particular way, and if it deviates from that definition it's no longer called photography.

    The problem is not every one has the same definition of straight photography. Both Edward Weston and Ansel Adams are called straight photographers. Weston's methods fit what I would consider a straight photographer; he mainly contact printed with minimal manipulations in processing and printing. AA on the other hand, commonly manipulated his photos well beyond what a contact print would have looked like. So AA's photos don't necessarily reflect reality absolutely accurately, but because of the ignorance of the masses as to what goes on in the darkroom, he is still considered a straight photographer.

    It also seems to me that this sort of thinking comes from a very narrow understanding of the history of photography. A brief study of what came before turns up this sort of debate upon the introduction of every new process, gear, and technology. Before film was invented to be a photographer required extensive chemistry know-how. Collodion process photogs would see very little difference between roll film and digital. It really can't get much easier than modern 35mm print film; get the exposure within 2 stops, drop off at lab, return 1 hour later for good prints.

    Studying the history of photography also turns up other art movements besides straight photography. Straight photography as art is a more recent idea. Highly manipulated photos have been around since the beginning.

    Pictorialism in America | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Pictorialism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    http://www.d-log.info/timeline/index.html

    There is a very good essay about art, photography, and changing technology at Huntington Witherill's website in the articles section called "Farewell To The Revolution". Check out his amazing BW landscape photos while you are there.

    Huntington Witherill Photography

    As for two photogs taking the same photo it recently happened to me, sort of. I walked into an art gallery, and there was a photo I had taken about 5 years ago and was currently hanging on my wall at home. It was a horizontal and mine was a vertical, and their saturation and contrast was over the top to my tastes, but it was still amazing to me how similar the photos were. We must has stood in almost the exact same spot, at almost the same time of day, at the same time of year. Even with the obvious composition and processing differences I sort of had to really look at it a minute to make sure it wasn't mine!


    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2009
  11. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    To put it simply, any camera or editing technique MUST contribute to the overall effectiveness and visual impact of the photo. If it doesn't, then it is a weakness in the photo and should not have been done.

    skieur
     

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