Internet, Rants and discussions

Finger Painting in photography

Agfa Isolette I folding camera, Shanghai GP3 film, developed in Rodinal.

I picked up this quote (I haven’t been able to check it’s authenticity), alleged to have been made by the renown photographer, Harry Benson: “Boundaries of photography are changing, the Royal Photographic Society will show digital photography that’s been Photoshopped to hell. That’s not photography, that’s finger painting“.

The heavy use of PP (post process software such as Adobe Photoshop or LightRoom) has, and continues to be much debated.

The critics will say that good photography is made in the camera, that post process is a crude way of trying to cover poor technique, that it can not make a bad photograph good, but frequently makes a good photograph bad.

The defenders of post process software will insist that it is nothing new, that even before digital photography, many acclaimed photographers made edits using traditional dark room techniques such as cropping, dodging, and burning.

Either way, both camps will recognise that unless in the hands of particularly skilled, experienced, and creative artists, heavy photoshopping is not a very good idea.  It often causes eyes to bleed.  The current fashion for heavy HDR or faked HDR, are two examples of eye-bleeding gore.  Well, at least in my humble opinion.

Yet so many people do it!  This leads me to wonder how we see our own images, and how others see them.  That we can make a good image dreadful, in post process, suggests that we must see our own images differently to others.  We need to listen to our critics more than we listen to our own egos.

I mentioned the fashion of HDR.  I saw a digital photographer recently suggest, that if you can tell that it is HDR, then it is too heavy.  I agree with that.  It’s not just online.  I’ve seen rows of gory, vac packed HDR images on display at camera club galleries.  Just as we use to see rows of selective colour (color splash) on display.  A fashion.  In fifty years time, we will be able to date images by their post process mistreatment.  “Ah yes, the Horrible Dynamic Range style, early 21st Century.”.  Maybe we also need to listen to the imagined critics of the future.

I’m being cruel.  I am aware, perfectly, that taste is personal, that photography styles are horses for courses.  It’s unfair to pick on the HDR crowd.  It isn’t just them.  Look at the digital glamour photographers, that plasticise the faces of their models, the virtual botox style.  I’d better shut up before I upset everyone.

Do I use post process / scan software on my hybrid film photography?  Hell yes.  The first level occurs in the digital scanner software.  Even switching all available controls to manual, the scanner software cannot resist correcting and balancing the scan for us silly humans.  Rather like a full digital camera does, in microseconds after we press the shutter button down.

I’ll sin even further.  I scan fairly big, then open it using an Open Source post process software package called Gimp 2.8.  I’ll more often than not, correct levels, curves, heal dust and hair, maybe straighten or crop, then resize and compress a little for upload to an online web server.  That might make me a bit of a hypocrite then.  Except for one thing.  I still want my images to look natural.  I don’t want people to notice my post process corrections.  I want them to see a photograph, hopefully sometimes, a photograph with feelings.  A photograph that was captured using the technique of silver salts in an emulsion, painted onto a film of plastic.  Not a glossy supersonic image painted with virtual pixel brushes.

That is what I want to do.  Make photographs.

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2 thoughts on “Finger Painting in photography

  1. A very fair rumination and one that preoccupies me more than I’d like also. The thing that nips me the most is occasionally feeling hopelessly out of sync with my own photographic era – like we’re listening to something to Charleston to on a gramophone when others have rock ‘n’ roll on their record players. There’s a place for every kind of photography but I’d like once in a while to feel like I could be contemporaneous if I wanted to! This does not mean I’ll be doing HDR any time soon, however.

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