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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.