Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection?

Conventional thought says an image is only as strong as it's weakest part.

That's one big reason why so much post-processing is performed on so many images.

The digital world has left us intolerant of flaws and imperfections. We strive to capture perfection. When we fail, which is so often the case, we attempt to process perfection into that which is imperfect.

Perfection, like beauty, mostly exists in the minds of those perceiving it, trying to create it, or those hoping to benefit from it.

In other words, it's entirely subjective.

For most photographers who share their work with others, the notion of the perfect picture is the critic's playground.

"The strength of criticism lies in the weakness of the thing criticized." Henry Wadsworth Longellow.

Somewhere along the line, the concept of (photographically) capturing what is became the pursuit of creating what it could be or should be or might be. So much so, pictures without perfection-creating manipulation--certainly, when it comes to pretty girl pictures--garner less positive responses and, often enough, are perceived as weak, attracting criticism like a magnet held close to iron shavings.

I'm guilty of this myself. Both in my own work and when viewing the work of others.

Often, when editing my work, I'm drawn to images that contain, what I soon perceive as having, certain notable weaknesses.

I try to fix them.

I try to process the weaknesses out.

Unfortunately and for the most part, there's nothing with true strength to replace those weaknesses with. So, I eradicate the weaknesses, replacing them with things that, hopefully, draw little attention and go unnoticed. But, when I'm finished doing this, I often decide I no longer like the image and toss it into the recycle bin, casting it adrift into the vacuum of cyberspace.

Perhaps it's those imperfections that first attract me to an image? Maybe there's something more human about pictures of people that are imperfect? Something in those photos that stand out? Imperfect qualities that, in some way, reassure me that my own imperfections are simply normal and natural.

But then ego kicks in.

I have these tools at my disposal.

I can manipulate and recreate. I can fix and alter and massage perfection, leastwise near-perfection, into the picture.

I am God with a mouse and a computer and some software.

I am like Dr. Frankenstein, except what I create is beautiful, not ugly and monstrous.

But still, the results don't look quite right.

They don't feel right.

I'm cheating.

I'm committing photo-fraud.

And as for those I'm defrauding?

Usually, they embrace, appreciate, and are thankful for the fraud I've perpetrated.

Mixed emotions for me.

Sorry about the (somewhat) esoteric ramblings. It's a gloomy/rainy day out there.

I prefer the light of a near-naked sun.

The pretty girl at the top is Charlotte from 4 years ago. Some imperfect pursuit of perfection applied.


Kristian Tjong said...

Wow, what a statement!! of which, I completely agree with. BTW, the Bali offer still stand. Regards.

John said...

Not such esoteric thoughts. I think everyone (at least, everyone who worked with film and now work with digital) involved in photography has at least sometimes similar thoughts.

jmxphoto said...

There are competing motivations when you arrive at a certain level of "photographic consciousness." The first is that a camera innately captures what's in front of it. It documents a slice of reality. We can pose, make up, dress up, and do all sorts of things but in the we snap pictures of what's in front of us.

The other competing motivation is that "you're only as good as your worst image." As a beginner you don't know/care so much about the flaws in your image. It's more "Yay! Someone's looking at my pictures!" When you try and make money from pushing that shutter button, things change. You're asking people to judge you with their dollars. Suddenly "imperfect" perfect images can be seen as pitfalls to potential clients. Your own self editing kicks into hyper drive. I know some pros that live and breathe the this maxim of only being as good as your worst image.

FWIW this didn't start with digital, retouching LF negs with pencils and razor blades has been around for a while. As has over exposing skin, soft lighting, and soft focus filters. If our photographic forefathers had a healing brush, liquify tool, and the ability to sphere-ize, they would have too. The problem is that the more perfection you "create" the less credibility the image has.


jimmyd said...


True that. All that.

Lin said...

All artists are God. Isn't that the whole point?

Great art picks up where nature ends. ~Marc Chagall