Sunday, December 09, 2012

The War on Photography

There's a war on photography going on and it's being fought by photographers on both sides of the battle lines. No, I'm not talking about the war on photography as perceived by the folks at PINAC. (Photography Is Not A Crime.) In that war, it's photographers vs. cops, not photographers vs. photography.

My metaphorical War on Photography is a bit similar to Fox News' imaginary War on Christmas. But my war on photography isn't imaginary nor do it's legions of soldiers hold enmity towards each other. In fact, most of them enjoy each others' company and are enlisted on both sides of the conflict. But it's a war all the same. Well, sort of.

What's this War on Photography all about? Well, I'll tell you what it's all about. It's all about the differences between images which still look like photographs in their final form and images which more closely resemble digital art.

Where does the line or point exist where an image, one that began as a photograph and later, via digital manipulation and post-processing, become digital art?  I can't specifically say. But like the Supreme Court of the United States once said when trying to define the differences between generic and acceptable porn, i.e., legal porn, versus porn that is obscene and likely illegal, "I know it when I see it."

Now don't get me wrong. I don't find anything obscene about digital art. I like a lot of it. In fact, I like it very much. But there are a lot of images floating around out there, images intended as portraits of one sort or another, which are no longer images that seem to be photographs. What they seem to be are unrealistic digital images of people who no longer look like real people in a photograph. Instead, they more closely resemble images of faux people created solely on a computer. (Even though I know the images were first created with a camera.)

So, what's wrong with depicting people in images which have been magically transformed into, what looks like, digital art? Especially, if you're really good at doing so? For the most part, nothing... depending, of course, on what the intended use of those final images happens to be.

I'm a guy who has snapped an awful lot of photos of people who intended to use the images I snapped (or someone else intended to use them-- a company, an agent, etc.) to "sell" the people depicted in the images. In my case, the images might be used by an actor, a musician, model, porn star, nearly any sort of entertainer. And I know that if I turn those images into "photos" which more closely resemble digital art, there's a good chance (depending on the actual intended use of the photos) that those of them which appear more like digital art pics rather than photographs often won't do the client or customer much good. Leastwise, in terms of selling the person in the photo... selling their appearance, that is, their physical reflected image.

You see, while some of those digital art images might look really, really cool, and they might showcase the photographer/digital artist in positive ways, they may no longer look close enough to being true, photographic, depictions of the subjects, the people in font of the cameras, for use as a head shot, a commercial portrait, or many other uses. Why? Because when those images have been digitally manipulated and processed into, what appears to be digital art, the people they're submitted to -- people who may be in positions to hire or effect the hiring of those entertainers -- don't believe what they see. In a nutshell, they don't believe the images are true enough reflections of the entertainer or other person. Instead, they look fake, phony, and unreal.  And that's because those people, those people who hire entertainers and others, also know the differences between photographs and digital art. They might not know why or how they know but, like Supreme Court justices, they know it when they see it. And when they see "photos" which look more like digital art, they're less inclined to hire that entertainer or call them into an audition based on the images that have been submitted to them. Why? Simple. They don't believe what they see.

So here's my advice: Always consider the end use of the pictures before deciding how much digital manipulation and processing you will apply via your considerable skills at transforming photographs into digital art.  There's nothing wrong with being on both sides of the War on Photography but you need to know when to be on one side or the other. You might be able to turn, via digital processing, an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan but the person you photographed remains, in reality, an ugly duckling. Believe it or not, there's a lot of entertainment work out there for ugly ducklings, but only if the people hiring for that work are aware, by looking at the photos of your subjects, that they are, indeed, ugly ducklings... or something in between ugly ducklings and beautiful swans... and not an unreal, almost surreal, image of a person you digitally created.

The pretty girl at the top goes by the name, Sage. (Click image to enlarge.) I shot Sage last week during one of those 5-minute sessions I've talked about. Not a lot of processing on the image... not that I ever overly process my images. Perhaps I would if I was better at doing so? Or, maybe not. I'm a photographer, dammit! Not a digital artist.

1 comment:

Rick said...

The topic of photo manipulation has been around since the tin type and the glass plate were used as negatives, but then the question centered around the "staging" of the photograph.

More to your point however, the end result has to justify the extent of the manipulation.

Here's an old quote for you Jimmy in the spirit of photographic manipulators everywhere:

A very fine photographer asked me, "What did it feel like the first time you manipulated an image?", and I said "Do you mean the first time I shot black and white instead of color, do you mean the first time I burned the corner of a print down, do you mean the first time I 'spotted' a dust speck on my print, do you mean the first time I shot with a wide angle instead of a normal lens, I mean what are you referring to? Where does it stop?" -Dan Burkholder

Remeber the film days when the negative was retouched by masters in their fireld? Millions of high school seniors were extremely grateful for their talent in removing acne scars and the like from year book pictures. The end justified the means. Not so much though as to manipulate an old hag into a super model.