Posted by: David Vernon | June 2, 2009

A Little More Ranting

Peoria Sunrise Pano 2

Let’s expand on the rant.

A few days ago, I ventured forth with my opinion about photography as art and manipulation. Yada yada. Today, my troublemaking good friend Stacy showed me a blog entry by photographer Prajneet Singh, entitled “Post Processing: How much is too much?

“Photography is an art… an art that has the power to bring people face to face with the raw realities of life. And at the crux of every art is a creative thinking process. When we become dependent on PS [Photoshop] to such an extent that the creativity that goes into taking the picture starts getting overshadowed by the effort put in PS, that is when the line is crossed.”

He goes on to say:

“But today, I somehow feel a lot more respect for all those wonderful photographers who have the spirit of practicing the art as it is meant to be practiced. My thoughts at the moment are mixed…. And I really don’t know if Photoshop is a blessing or a curse. It may be a blessing for those who can use it to overcome their lack of talent in the actual process of taking a picture, hence being a curse for ones who are brilliantly talented in making beautiful pictures without needing PS.”

Alright so as you can guess this probably raised my hackles a little bit. I think he misses the point in the last paragraph cited (and please read the whole article – along with my other citations below to get the real context) – why do talentless people get it as a blessing, but great shooters get it as a curse? I much prefer to think that talented shooters are the blessed for using a digital darkroom, just like folks like Ansel Adams were blessed when using a wet darkroom. Good in camera, better out of the darkroom.

Now Prajneet was also hoping to stimulate a little converstaion on the topic – which is good – because he really is looking to answer the question – a question I’ve already answered for myself. And sure enough I was excited by one of the comments, from Kansas photographer Matt Needham (comment #4). Matt says among other things:

“Photoshop has only changed one thing: the general public’s awareness as to what is possible. Photo manipulation has always been going on; it’s just that it was hidden in the dark, and few people were familiar with what was going on in there….

Now we have Photoshop. Is it easier than the darkroom? Yep…. And instead of processing by prediction, and living with the results if I predicted wrong, I now process by inspection, and can start over from any point in the processing. Is that cheating? Well, I guess that depends what the contest is. Is the winner the one that works the hardest? Or the one who creates the most interesting photo? Most folks only care about the finished photo, and not how it got there.”

Matt then links to a wonderful article by Huntington Witherill. I urge you to go read it in full [click on Huntington’s link to the left, then “Interviews, Articles, & Reviews”, and then “Farewell to the Revolution”], but here are a few snippets:

“The myths I refer to in this context stem from the idea that a photograph, in and of itself, can (or does) represent or depict some form of inherent “truth” and/or “reality.” I’m not sure where this myth originated, but I suspect it was hatched up soon after the invention of the photographic process, in the early 1800’s. (How easily we mere mortals seem determined to adopt illusions as reality!)

In truth, photographs have never possessed the attribute of depicting intrinsic truth, much less that of sufficiently defining any reality as we know it. (That’s a lovely picture of your wife, but isn’t it a shame that she’s only ten inches tall and, dare I say… flat?). Photographs are stylized interpretations of a given reality that lack the fundamental factual information with which to confirm or deny the absolute truth or reality of anything depicted within the frame….

Many of the lingering knocks against digital-based photography seem fixed upon the idea that manipulation of a photograph is both bad, and far too easily accomplished with digital tools. This argument seems to imply that because conventional photography can not facilitate the same level of manipulation that digital affords, the conventional approach remains pure and thus, the only realphotography. Does someone need to mention to Jerry Uelsmann that he simply can’t be doing what he’s doing? Or more to the point, do conventional photographers really believe they are somehow immune from manipulation? (Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!)

Are you sitting down? All art is accomplished through the creative and imaginative use of blatant manipulation. No exceptions! With photographic art (just as with every other form of art) the act of practiced manipulation of one’s tools and materials is both necessary and crucial to the implementation of the resulting artwork. From the point at which the photographer sets up a camera to isolate a particular scene  by carefully choosing which elements of that scene to covertly hide from the viewer  to the point at which the resulting dodged, burned, pushed, pulled, cropped, flashed, masked, bleached, toned, spotted, mounted, overmatted and titled print is presented to the world for assimilation, carefully controlled acts of outright manipulation have been judiciously employed by the artist at each and every step along the way. How much actual truth and/or reality can one fairly attribute to any endeavor which involves so much manipulation?”

Well THAT about hits it on the head for me. Wonderful. He goes on to counteract a few other arguments quite well – and again I’ll leave it to you to read the text – but here’s his concluding paragraph if you want to be lazy:

“The near universal acceptance of digital photography as a means of producing legitimate art has now ushered in a new era of awareness and enthusiasm for photography’s limitless potential as a truly compelling art form. And while a few holdouts will continue to grumble at the new kids on the block, I am reminded of two favorite quotes which seem remarkably well-suited for delivering this particular revolution to its final resting place…

Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions.” ­ Henry James (1888)

and finally…

Only in men’s imagination does truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.” Joseph Conrad (1912)”

Folks – have a great day and go out and shoot something – would ya?


  1. I do like the stir the pot, but that original article just got me a little hopped up and bothered on the inside.

  2. Hi David

    I read your post more than once, and I finally seem to have gotten the answer to this question that had always troubled me.

    As for photoshop being a curse for the advanced photographer, I must admit that I got carried away.

    But thanks to you and everybody else who contributed and responded in their own ways (special thanks to Mr. Witherill), I’ve taken one more step forward in my photographic journey.

    And I really liked what Mr. Needham said… “Photojournalism has rules. Art does not.”

    I don’t think anything more needs to be said 🙂

  3. “…And I really don’t know if Photoshop is a blessing or a curse. It may be a blessing for those who can use it to overcome their lack of talent in the actual process of taking a picture, hence being a curse for ones who are brilliantly talented in making beautiful pictures without needing PS.”


    How’s this for a pot-stirring, table-turning response?

    ..or maybe it’s the people that can’t the digital tools as well as others that see it as a curse, and those that are very proficient using the digital darkroom find it a blessing!! 🙂

  4. I wanted to say thanks to Prajneet for throwing his two cents in over here – it sounds like he’s gotten himself further down the road photographically – getting an answer to an important question. So thanks for asking it – I’m glad I stumbled into the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: