Saturday, 8 December 2007

The death of photography?

Seeking Mozart, Salzburg, November 2007
Definitely what was there but certainly not real

So the talk of the town is Newsweek's article asking if photography is dead. Once more into the breech. Lively discussion at T.O.P. and more to come at the Landscapist. As Mark Hobson points out, it is really a discussion about whether "photography as reality" is dead. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject (sometimes repeating things I've said before - at least I'm consistent):

Why is it that photography needs to purely documentary (in that it depicts something that actual happened or exists as it was at the moment)? If we're talking about the medium from an artistic perspective it is just another means to an ends. If you are doing accurate reportage (e..g. journalism) then accuracy is important, but framing and cropping still come into play.

I love it when photographers talk about photography as being "real" and then present black and white images. they are not, and can never be, truly real in my opinion. The world is in colour. Sure they can show the actual objects in form, just not truly as they are/were. Black and white is as much an artistic choice as digital manipulation. Don't pretend it is anything else.

Don't try and pass-off manipulated images as being "as is". That's just fraud. I've no problem with digital (or darkroom) work to deliver a final product as the result of artistic vision. Just don't tell me it's accurate. In this sense "truth" is a wider issue than true representation, from an artistic point of view. Even if I take landscape photos the way in which I present them is my view of what I saw - this may not be yours. Heck, if it was a sunny day and we were both wearing shades we wouldn't have seen the same thing anyway.

One strength that photography has over other artistic media is that it can depict things as they are. It is also able to do so in a very short time. That is just one technical result, though. Doesn't mean that artistic expression with photography need be limited to reality.

Photography can go in 2 non-realism directions. Real form, unreal content: i.e. the picture is truly representational of what was in front of the camera, which just happened to be made-up (think Jeff Wall or Aaron Hobson). The other end is real content, unreal form: it is a picture of something actually there but developed in such a way as to look different than the reality (my view on B&W comes here, as well as soft-focus, colour manipulation etc).

A large part the discussion in the Newsweek article stems from the premise that proliferation is bad for Art. It's not - more art is good, in my opinion, for Art. It might make it harder to make serious money doing it but that's not supposed to be the point. If you want to make money, go take portraits - the time-honoured way for visual artists to support themselves or get an original vision. It is also reminiscent of the arguments put forth in the '50s about painting by numbers. I don't think painting is dead as a result and it might well have brought more people in touch with art than would have done otherwise. If you want to worry about the death of Art consider that one of the World's largest sellers of art is actually Ikea.

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