Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Not the Response I Had Planned

It has been several days since I posted the video asking whether or not the photographs discussed were cheating. So, since I have nothing to rebut or discuss, I don’t have much to say. I have been publishing my opinion on the subject for years so everyone already knows how I feel about the photographs.

I did learn about Robert Frank compositing the elevator photograph. I always considered Frank’s work to be more journalistic and therefore without manipulation. I was already aware of Adam’s work on Moonrise Over Hernandez.

I love the people that say, “Oh, that was before Photoshop.” Henry Peach Robertson who did in 1901 was a master of the combination print. I am not sure if it was Robertson or one of his contemporaries that did a composite that used over one hundred negatives. And, of course there is the story of the photographer that visited Yosemite and wrote back to Adams how disappointed he was the Yosemite did not look anything like it did in Adams photographs.

The simple act of taking a photograph is an act of manipulation as is pointed out in the video. 


  1. I'm going to try this one more time. I believe that this argument is ridiculous. Photography is not special, it is not fundamentally different than any other art form. The camera is a tool just as is the pen, a chisel, a hammer, chainsaw, a paintbrush. It is how you use those tools that is important. So, when I say 'how', I am alluding to your intentions as the artist. If your intention is to pass off something as real that is not, after addition/subtraction of material that changes the original image, then you are not only cheating the public you are also lying to the public. It doesn't matter if it looks real or not. It is my belief that images should be categorized and the photographers intent be published with the image, especially if they fall in the grey areas between categories. Why would you not want to tell the public that you have manipulated your image to convey your idea?

  2. Clayton, herein lies the difference. There are many ways of looking at photographs. The position you take is that of the documentarian. There is nothing wrong with being a documentarian as long as you do not confuse that with being an artist—which is what you seem to be doing in this post. I take my distinction between the two from Minor White, who in my not so humble opinion, was the greatest teacher of photography that has ever lived. Over the years, White categorized many different ways people look at or use photography, but he had two that I find very illuminating. One he called the interpretative documentarian and the other the poetic photographer. Here is what he said about each. The documentarian sees the photograph as a BRIDGE TO an experience whereas the poetic photographer sees the photograph AS the experience. There is a sizable shift in the mindset between those two positions. It is a mindset that as I have discovered after some seventy years as a photographer is extremely difficult for the person that believes there is truth in the photographic image to accept. On another occasion White uses this paraphrased analysis. The documentarian says to the viewer; if you had stood where I stood when I took this photograph, we both would have seen what we each now see in this photograph. The poetic photographer says to the viewer; if you had stood where I stood when I took this photograph, neither of us would have seen what we each can now see in this photograph. It has nothing to do with passing off what has been manipulated as real. It has to do with a tool that you seem to be overlooking—the vision of the artist. The desire on the part of the photographer to express his personal vision is the distinguishing factor between the documentarian and the artist. The greatest asset of photography is verisimilitude, the appearance of reality. The greatest drawback to photography is verisimilitude. A photograph easily beguiles the viewer into believing he is seeing reality when in truth there is no reality in a photograph—simply extremely realistic draftsmanship. There is no more reality or truth in a photograph than there is in a watercolor, pastel or oil painting. White’s definition of a photograph was that it is smudges on a flat sheet of paper. Which is what it is—just like the three previously mentioned forms of visual expression. What the documentarian willing accepts in any other visual art but is unable to accept in photography is the intrusion of the artists vision. Like many photographers, I function on multiple levels, including snapshots, but my primary goal for my serious photographs is to be White’s poetic photographer—expressing myself as fully as possible. So, to be clear about my intent as a photographer: it, my intent, is to show the viewer what I see and how what I see affects me ascetically or emotionally on a personal level. I want others to see my photographs as experiences. There is no intention that they be bridges to experiences—I reserve that for my snapshots.