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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Retouching


Last season I was standing crotch-deep in a pond casting for that elusive lunker when I saw this. It was amazing and I stopped fishing to dig my cell phone out of my pocket to try to record what was going on without dropping it in the water or missing the show before the light faded. This shot only shows part of the crazy color duality of the panoramic sky at the time. I had no time to set up anything skillful, no great camera to work with....just this view and my phone. When I got home I had to 'fix' what my phone captured. I used  a photo program to do it, but my goal was not to alter what I saw into something more magnificent, but honestly and accurately recapture the magnificence that nature provided, but which eluded my feeble attempts in the moment. And it was a "moment". It came and went with the steady setting of the sun, so my actions were as swift as I could manage in the less-than-ideal circumstances. Did I do wrong? Would an unretouched photo that depicted the sky inaccurately due to some setting flaw be somehow better than the finished image that gets it right?

Recently I was involved in a discussion with one of our 'new regulars', morningstar (whom I can't say enough nice things about) over the issue of using photo programs to enhance or alter an image beyond what was captured at the time of the shuttersnap.  She explained that her “old school” photography teacher imbued this purist philosophy in her and that she retains it until today. I am going to try to address this in a single post, but if we were writing for an art appreciation/theory book, this would be at least a chapter. LOL

What makes morningstar’s position even more interesting is that I simultaneously agree and disagree with it. I too have a ‘purist’ view with regard to certain things (the recent debate over altered photos as drawings on Dan's blog). But as she herself admitted...and my Rosa confirmed, it’s a “pride” issue…...and art doesn’t credit pride in a critique…….just the end result.  Just ask those defending manips as drawings. LOL And think of some of the commercially successful “artists”. Where was their pride? Hacks like Kinkade died millionaires while legitimate artists are eating ramen noodles every day to get by. So much for pride. 

What passes as art and makes one rich. "Painter of Light" my ass! What light? Fairytale light?

I promised you all some Bach in my last post and here it is. When Bach composed The Well-Tempered Clavier or The Goldberg Variations, the keyboard he wrote for was the harpsichord. In fact there was little choice until 1700 when Cristofori invented the piano. Nowadays it is easier to find these Bach pieces performed on a piano than the original harpsichord due to the perceived nuances a piano is capable of that the plucking harpsichord is not. Should this be sacrilege? It clearly isn’t. A better instrument comes along and artists use it to greater expression, with the end result being more important than the purity of the method getting there. 

The earliest known piano on view at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. (I've seen it. It's very cool!)

So too with art. And ESPECIALLY with photography which by its very origin and definition is dependent on a specialized mechanical device that did not always exist and which has been constantly improved from its earliest days until now. 

And what of film and film development? In the days of darkrooms and chemical baths, a photographer knew he could “push” an image with an extra few seconds of immersion, or any number of  “darkroom techniques”. Are these then also “impure” since they occur AFTER the shutter was clicked? A lot of the greats did it. Who, looking at the finished photo, cares whether the image achieved its appeal by an adjustment to the focal length or shutter speed before the “click” or to the time in a bath after? 

Do you really think Stieglitz didn't do some questionable things in the dark............room?

Now we have digital images and the whole game has changed. But…...as someone who loved to click their old “fully manual” Canon AT-1, after making all the focal length and shutter speed choices, the only thing that lingers in me is the nostalgia. Although I still find adjusting focal length digitally to be more difficult than it used to be on my 35mm. 

The fully manual AT-1.....talk about being a purist LOL

Now I still know other photography buffs who will take pride in a digital photo that hasn’t been altered afterwards, but really, does it make a difference?  If a program creates an effect that looks phony and I dislike it, I’ll dislike it, but if it looks good? Well, isn’t that an improvement? Or do I really need to re-take a shot to get it better rather than just ‘toy with it’? What if it’s a shot I took on a vacation to Peru? Should I just wait until I can afford my next trip or suffer with an unretouched photo as my punishment for not having gotten it right initially? I mean where does one draw the line?

Rosa took this of me at Machu Picchu and my face was a little too shaded by my hat. Adjusting "shadow" fixed it without destroying the scene.

Consider this as an example of how arbitrary such a self-imposed standard can be: imagine a chef about to make a pot of gourmet soup. Their expertise and pride challenges them to get everything right at the moment they toss the ingredients into the pot and start cooking. Then as the soup is done or close to ready, they taste it and find it needs more of some spice. What should they do? Not add it and serve their soup as is and take the criticism? Fix it with a dash of whatever, but inwardly scold themselves for having to make such an adjustment? Or just do what they need to to make it the best soup possible and serve it to a public who simply won’t care whether the celery salt was tossed in initially or later?

I mentioned elsewhere that the purist in me resents manips being called “drawings”, but I feel I can defend that better than I can understand technical purity in an inherently technical medium like photography. I engage in both and to me they are different.  If a technical medium can be improved technically then hey, why not? But if a manual medium is using technical means to achieve its end, then…...well…...is it still a manual medium? (but more on THAT in a separate post, and believe me the more I write on this topic, the more I see how it eerily relates to manips.)

The other thing, which will also enter into the “manip” discussion, is that this honorable reluctance to use a program on one’s own work is defiled daily by folks who’ll take your work and modify it anyway.  Now THAT’S a post production alteration that I can agree to disdain......though to be honest, I do it routinely. Nearly every photo here and those in my private collection have been adjusted in some way. Hey, I like my amateur flasher porn subjects to not have red eye, so sue me! LOL  But I am also not putting these altered images out there as my own.....and certainly not as art! And here's where I can start putting some "adult" back in an "adult" blog, just so the non-artists can still have some fun......if they're still reading. LOL

Oh my! 

I hope those poor girls didn't end up 'swallowing' those veggies! 
But talk about dishonest manipulation of a photo very likely not one's own. It's one thing to improve an image by adjusting color balance or minimizing highlights, but sticking huge fruits up not-so-innocent asses? Terrible. That sort of thing should be left for people to do in real life! (where's the lube? LOL)

The last point I wish to address is intent. The issue that prompted this discussion was one of obscuring identities in photos using a program. And even while I don’t agree with the premise that a photograph should succeed or fail on what happens at the time of the image being captured, there is certainly a difference between altering a shot via a program to enhance, improve, or otherwise change it artistically, and merely being considerate and practical with blocking out a face for reasons of anonymity. What of fixing 'red eye' in a portrait, or a 'spot fix' to hide one's graduating high-schooler's ill-timed pimple? In the former the intent behind using the program is to alter the image artistically, in the latter the intent is pure pragmatism and the program achieves it nicely.

The intent here is to deceive.

See? 

But while I know this color was also enhanced via a program, I also know that butt was that hot, swollen, and red from a spanking. It's an honest depiction of something genuine, but requiring some outside computer help to accurately depict it. 

I don’t want anyone thinking that I am saying “their way is wrong”. I struggle with my own purist tendencies and this digital purity is something my own daughter and even my wife, have strived for with their own work, bragging about a particularly successful image adding, “and that’s without any filters”. So I get it. And I’m certainly not poking fun at morningstar, especially when such a sentiment was driven into her by someone she respected. All I’m saying is that people often cite: “Life is too short to worry about such things” and maybe in this day and age, post-shutterclick programs are such things? Just make good art. However you achieve it is just part of your process, whether it's a newfangled invention like a piano, or a program to make your shot look like what you actually saw.....or even just what you WANT.

We need photo programs......because some shots are just not taken under ideal conditions. LOL



12 comments:

  1. The technology is there, so why not use it, it is hurting no one. As for the sexual pictures especially the afterwards of a spanking, that could be improved. Technology can leave you thinking did that person really get a spanking. Jack

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    1. Agreed. There can be certain concerns, but used honestly and on one's own work, why not?

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  2. I understand Morningstar's position from a point if something drilled into when you are learning. My art teacher in high school was not a fan of 'smudgers' To her they were a lazy way to shade. So my entire life, if I ever reach for one there is always this pang if guilt. Interestingly enough though, if I think on it, and after watching my son go through art in highschool and then college, I think many of these teachers say these types of things so you learn the basics skills and appreciate how to achieve things when they can be done. ( I don't use a smudger anymore unless I'm just colouring for relaxation not art)

    I tend to use my Google phone more now for photos than my Cannon. Mostly because I can turn any occasion into a great photo as I always have it with me. There are definitely some things that need colour augmentation. If time permits I can do it while taking the photo. I can look at my screen and the subject and have them match before I click the button.

    I loved what you said about art and the critique. So true. I think it is about intent and integrity. Sending a photo into a contest for the orangest sunset and you alter the pink to orange is abuse of the program. Lol. But if at home you want to hang it on a wall and you prefer a different vibe- why not. Sometimes the photo is not the piece of art, but what you create with it is.

    I mean ideally, you get the perfect shot, but like you said you don't always have the perfect conditions.

    I suppose it depends on how you choose to look at it. Is my photo a piece to catch whatever reality the camera catches ( yellow is a hard one for mine to authentically capture) am I trying to recreate the feeling felt why seeing the subject with my naked eye, or am I creating art.

    Sorry if I rambled I was thinking about specific photos as I typed. Lol

    willie

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    1. That teacher thing is so true. I still remember stuff my teachers at Pratt told me......and that was along time ago. And some of it was pure, personal, pet-peeve crap. Fortunately I have this aversion to being told what to think. LOL

      How many things are considered great because the artist broke some rule or ventured into a new use of the medium? One can become xenophobic with anything, art included, but is that the problem with things changing, or our aversion to things that change? And what's worse than adhering to a principle that is not only outdated or self-defeating....but isn't even our own but one told to us? Why should I carry some teacher's baggage around with me when I have enough of my own? LOL

      And at the end of the day, what doe it matter? People are not great judges of the arts, even "experts". Just enjoy life.

      And I don't think you rambled.

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  3. I am not a photographer other than snapping pics on my phone, so I haven't thought about this nearly as much as you have. In my uneducated opinion, to the extent there are any "ethical" or "moral" lines here, it seems to me they likely do revolve around intent, specifically intent to deceive. When you touch up a photo, the intent probably is either to most closely replicate the actual scene or to end up with the most aesthetically pleasing end product. And, either of those intents are fine and both may require using technology to manipulate the output of the camera. As you point out, this has *always* been done. The only thing that has really changed is where the manipulation happens. In the old days, cameras were very simple and lacked flexibility, so much of the manipulation and "touching up" happened in the darkroom. As cameras became more sophisticated, the photographer could have more impact on the final product at the point of shooting the picture. And, then along came digital images and photoshop, for allowed for all sorts of tweaking and manipulation on the camera or on the computer after the image was taken.

    I think what you find morally/ethically problematic about manipulating a photograph to make it look like a drawing is that drawing is a talent and/or skill, and it's hard to produce something meeting certain aesthetic standards without lots of effort and practice. When someone uses some program or process to produce a "drawing" that is really just a technology-enabled form of tracing, they are taking false credit for a drawing talent they may not have or drawing work they may not have actually put in.

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    1. Thanks for commenting on this. I don't know if you saw morningstar's post on photography on her blog and now I regret not drawing a more direct route to it. When she posted I found my response too complex to work into a blog comment.....hence this post.

      You are correct about my primary "manip" objection. There is also an issue of semantics. One can do great manips, and O'Toole's are top notch, but then call them manips. And please know that a full post will be coming addressing manip/drawing issues particularly in the case of O'Toole's work. But there will be plenty more in that one as well.

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  4. kd -
    I am not going to debate "to photoshop or not" with you anymore than I am going to debate the value of teaching/learning.

    I do know that photoshopping any BDSM picture to make it more extreme - eg the anal veggies - scares the hell out of me.. and who ever does it should be strung up by their toes... imagine some newbie seeing that and thinking IF they can do it so can I?? When I was first learning about bondage .. I saw a picture of purple body parts - when I had my hands turn blue - and go numb - I did not report it to my Top as I thought it was normal.

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    1. >>>>>>>"I am not going to debate "to photoshop or not" with you anymore than I am going to debate the value of teaching/learning."<<<<<<

      Hmmmm, I'm hoping this post didn't upset you, because it was clearly not my intention. And I think I said so numerous times in the essay itself. Still, while I had hoped for some discussion, I certainly won't (or can't) force you.

      And pictures can be dangerous. Your example is scary. I get annoyed with people online reacting to pictures like the girl in the swimsuit saying things like, "wow, can you believe she went out like that? How embarrassing!" I can't help but think, "NO, you yutz, if it seems unbelievable it probably IS not to be believed, and a quick right-click search would probably tell you so."

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  5. I spent MANY hours in the darkroom; entire days, sun up to sun down, and I reminisce on those experiences with pleasure. My teacher, Jerry Ulseman, preferred that we use simple, twin lens reflex cameras, so we could focus on the image, not the technology. But he did not forbid students from using something else if they chose to.

    But I am not an artist. I may be a more-than-average appreciator. But I am also definitely low-brow and so my eyes are not offended by Kinkaid's work even though I know it's factory-based capitalism at work

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    1. Sunup to sundown? What exactly were you doing in there, young man? ;-)

      The thing that bothers me about Kinkade is that based on pieces like the one featured, I used to....and obviously still......rag on him a lot. And then, one day I saw an earlier work of his that looked nothing like these pastel kaleidoscopes. It was good. Like good, good. And I thought, "this motherfucker CAN paint. So why does he do this other shit?" Obviously the millions of dollars he made answered that question for me. Which for me makes it worse. It's one thing to not have the talent and just get lucky with the public, but to HAVE the talent and exchange it for financial success seems so dishonorable and sleazy.

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    2. Darkroom? Developing film (although that was don in an enclosed canister - mainly a lot of printing - making proof sheets of all the rolls of film, printing, experimenting, dodging, superimposing, and refining the images - Getting feedback from Jerry. eating lunch....

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    3. I get it. I was just teasing you. Spending all day in the dark might lead to some encounters ......even of the self kind. LOL

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