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Author Topic: When is a Photograph a Cheat?  (Read 17582 times)
wolfnowl
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« on: September 02, 2011, 02:22:43 PM »
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Interesting article, but what Person #1 doesn't seem to understand is that Person #2 looks through the viewfinder and moves the camera one degree more to the left or three degrees down.  Person #2 decides to include this branch or exclude that stone.  Person #2 sets a focus point of _____ and chooses an f/stop of ___ which will yield a field of focus from _____ to _____ and chooses a shutter speed of _____.  If that's 'cheating' then an artist cheats in mixing colours before setting the first brush stroke upon a blank canvas.  It's called 'vision'.

My $0.02!

Mike.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2011, 02:41:43 PM »
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This is still fundamentally the same old discussion I have been hearing my whole career. Is photography art? If it is then there are no constraints. If it isn't if it is just a means of recording reality, then throw aesthetics aside and just hire a chimp to point the camera.
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AFairley
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2011, 04:27:54 PM »
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This is still fundamentally the same old discussion I have been hearing my whole career. Is photography art? If it is then there are no constraints. If it isn't if it is just a means of recording reality, then throw aesthetics aside and just hire a chimp to point the camera.

+1  I'm an artist, not a photojournalist, so the idea of "cheating" is just silly.  Nothing to see here, move along.
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petermfiore
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2011, 04:39:57 PM »
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All Fine Art is Manipulation! All, no matter the medium.

In my case I'm a painter.


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MHMG
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2011, 04:43:56 PM »
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This is still fundamentally the same old discussion I have been hearing my whole career. Is photography art? If it is then there are no constraints. If it isn't if it is just a means of recording reality, then throw aesthetics aside and just hire a chimp to point the camera.

Well, for sure, this subject has been debated since the dawn of photography, and we won't solve it in this discusion. But it's fun to try Grin. My take on this topic is that the issue is not so much about photography being art, or photography being the most trusted medium for recording perceptual reality, or photography as a clever tool to manipulate the viewer's perception of reality.  It's about the basic definition of a photograph and how the photographic process differs from other forms of image rendering. In other words, is there a fundamental distinction between a "true" photograph and other 2-dimensional images created by other means such as painting, or drawing?  I've thought about this subject a lot over the years, and even more so now that digital image editing and image compositing techniques allow even more modes of "reality distortion". Yet, as others will quickly note, many opportunities to distort reality have been there in full spectrum of photography right from the start.  I concluded that my definition of a "true" photograph (digital or film workflows are equally valid photographic processes) ultimately hinges on the act of recording of a naturally occurring scene with but one single, uninterrupted exposure of light on a light sensitive substrate. The substrate can be film, electronic sensor, or even human skin.  It is the concept of a single unifying exposure as opposed to multiple exposures that sorts our photographic endeavors into two camps - the photograph versus the photo illustration. Tone and color manipulation are all fair game with a true photograph, but compositing separate exposures together render the final image into a photo illustration rather than a true photograph, IMHO. There's nothing less noble with photo illustration, but I don't consider it a true photograph.  For example, Philip Halsman's "Dali Atomicus" as published in Life Magazine is thus a brilliant photo illustration, but the camera original negative, printed without the additional retouching (which both added and took away visual elements in the scene) is the true photograph. That said, the rendered photo illustration is the "vision" that Halsman imagined. His true photograph was merely a means to that end. In contrast, Ansel Adam's "Moonrise" achieves its justifiable fame precisely because it's a true photograph. Had Adams composited a second negative together with the base image of graveyard to add the moon or the clouds or both to the image (something that would have been trivial to do in the darkroom even in 1943), he could have achieved the same final "artistic" vision in photographic print form, but the work would never have achieved the acclaim it has today because we know that the final image was indeed a decisive single exposure capturing a unique moment in time. Again, tone and color accuracy is irrelevant to a true photograph (black and white prints being an obvious distortion of tone and color reality), but the single exposure, whether long or short, is the key to a satisfying definition for a true photograph rather than a photo illustration, at least for me Smiley
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2011, 05:10:56 PM »
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Using your verbiage but from my POV b&w is not "true" photography to begin with as it is an extreme abstraction of reality. Extreme burning and dodging (including chemical intensification of the foreground like Moonrise) or extreme color enhancement also is a significant manipulation of the original scene and therefor in my world a not "true" photograph either. BUT I DON"T CARE! Because:

 
we are talking art here not courtroom evidence.
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Kirk

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kikashi
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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2011, 05:52:59 PM »
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Kirk et al are, IMHO, obviously right.

This topic has the potential to occupy a great deal of time and effort. It has been debated since the dawn of photography and will continue to be debated until its demise. Ultimately, thought, it's intellectual masturbation: good fun, immensely enjoyable even if only transiently, but ultimately unproductive.

Oh, and, like the physical form, probably even more fun if someone else does it for you.

Jeremy
« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 02:31:10 AM by kikashi » Logged
Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2011, 08:21:27 PM »
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I'm with Kirk and the others who don't care what you call it.

I will add that one of the characteristics that some photographs can have is what I would call "plausibility." I tend to enjoy images that I find believable, even if they are far-fetched or have been substantially manipulated. Jerry Uelsmann comes immediately to mind as someone who combines images to create mysterious worlds that feel as if they could have actually existed in some alternate universe, and I love his work.

Good fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkein do something similar in fiction.

But if the mechanical contrivances used to try to create an illusion are too obvious (--- I'm recalling the infamous "aspirin moons" that used to appear in camera club landscapes of the mid 20th century ---) then the result doesn't work (for me, at least).

So I guess I'm saying that IMHO there is no such thing as cheating in photography. Well, I admit that even I prefer some semblance of "accuracy" in photos in merchandise catalogs, but nowhere else.

Eric
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JimGoshorn
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« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2011, 09:23:58 PM »
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Compositing has existed for years in traditional analog photography done in the darkroom but that fact has often been missing in these conversations. Best example I can think of is Jerry Uelsmann:

http://www.uelsmann.net/
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tom b
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2011, 12:02:53 AM »
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Frank Hurley is a good example of an Australian 'cheat'. A good example can be seen here. The first clip is also interesting.

Cheers,
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John Camp
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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2011, 12:42:19 AM »
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The problem with all of the above is, documentation is about all that photography ultimately has to offer. You start getting into compositing, by Jerry Uelsmann or anybody else, the result is almost always an embarrassing mishmash of images, a kind of crappy collage. It reminds me of stuff that we used to do back in photo class in college in 1962, though his technique was better. But come on, a tree and roots cupped by hands? It's embarrassing. It's like black velvet paintings of Elvis. Then, on the other kind of manipulation, done by Jeff Wall and others, where we have phony documentation, the obvious question is, So what? I was once sitting on a couch playing with a digital camera and watching a well-shot thriller movie, on a big screen TV, and began taking shots of it. Some of them looked pretty good, because the guy who set up the original shots was a skilled cinematographer and had the benefits of skilled costumers, actors, location scouts, lighting, etc. But if you look at MY shots, you ask, So what? It looked good, but was essentially meaningless because it's bullshit.

Ansel Adams manipulated his images (with filters and other devices) but within certain ethical guidelines. As far as I know, he never snipped a moon out of one photo and composited it into another. The same with Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, whoever. When Avedon went out west, he took a studio with him, with assistants, and posed his characters, but he didn't *invent* the characters. They invented themselves.

So, there *is* cheating. And it's like one of the Supremes said about pornography, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."  
« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 12:45:36 AM by John Camp » Logged
David Hufford
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2011, 03:27:34 AM »
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Adams manipulated his images (with filters and other devices) but within certain ethical guidelines. As far as I know, he never snipped a moon out of one photo and composited it into another.


He never snipped a moon out and composted it in another photo, but he did go pretty far. On one of his photos, Winter Sunrise, he did some retouching to remove school initials: "I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.”


I don't know, of course, but I suspect had he Photoshop, he'd of cloned the letters out.

« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 03:34:04 AM by David Hufford » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2011, 04:59:01 AM »
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We have a local art show that has two main categories:  Art is the first (with oil, watercolor, etc. as sub categories), and photography is the second!  Makes me laugh every year when I get the brochure.  Apparently whoever runs that show isn’t shy about their opinion, yet is smart enough to realize you can rake in more entry fees if you include photographs.

I entered another juried art show last year. As a winner, I attended the “meet the artist” night where the judges explained their picks and the artists answered questions.  The show had the usual mix of oil, watercolor, sculpture, photography, etc.  Sure enough, when the group got to photography, someone made the cheating statement. In this case it was an oil painter.  Her point was specifically about digital photography simply being too easy.  

The funny thing was the photo I submitted had very few adjustments from the raw image.  White balance, highlight/shadow adjustments, minor clean up and that was it.  Now I was not going to argue with an oil painter about the difficulty of our crafts.  However, I did make a few points:

  • I don’t think the art of photography is any easier.  I made the comparison to an oil painter with a magic “undo” brush.  It is not any easier to create the art, but the magic brush makes it much easier to experiment and to practice.
  • What photographers do have now is control.  Control over brightness and color, both global and local.  And, control over the entire process from capture to print.  But that control is what painters have had for a long time!
  • As fine art photographers we still have limitations.  If she and I were standing next to each other working a scene with flowers in a slight breeze, I’m going away with nothing while she paints away.  I could of course change my artistic intent and photograph blurry wisps of color, but that requires me to, well, change my artistic intent!  Photography is still a time-sensitive, or event-related craft much more so than other forms of art.  Michael's previous home page image is a perfect example. The beautiful angle of the shadow that just misses the coke sign will change very quickly.  And that is precisely what I love about photography.

Dave
« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 05:13:35 AM by dchew » Logged

petermfiore
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« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2011, 05:23:14 AM »
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Of course when we are talking about ART, things can and should get "embarrassing". What that really means is that artist is taking chances, stretching their vision. When you play by the rules too much you get images with perfect composition, color, correct balance of values, exposure ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

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« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 05:26:59 AM by petermfiore » Logged

pegelli
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« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2011, 06:35:30 AM »
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By coïncidence I happen to be rereading "Ansel Adams, An Autobiography" where in chapter 6 he recites a conversation relevant to this subject:

Adams: "Stieglitz, what is a creative photograph, and what is this creative photography you are talking about and how do you go about making a machine be creative?"
Stieglitz: "I have the desire to photograph. I go out with my camera. I come across something that excites me emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically. I see the photograph in my mind's eye and I compose and expose the negative. I give you the print as the equivalent of what I saw and felt."

I think this principle still holds and as long as the photoshop manipulations are used creatively to genuinly translate the vision of the photographer to a print it can never be a cheat in my mind.  
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« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2011, 07:15:06 AM »
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We have a local art show that has two main categories:  Art is the first (with oil, watercolor, etc. as sub categories), and photography is the second!  Makes me laugh every year when I get the brochure.  Apparently whoever runs that show isn’t shy about their opinion, yet is smart enough to realize you can rake in more entry fees if you include photographs.
I entered another juried art show last year. As a winner, I attended the “meet the artist” night where the judges explained their picks and the artists answered questions.  The show had the usual mix of oil, watercolor, sculpture, photography, etc.  Sure enough, when the group got to photography, someone made the cheating statement. In this case it was an oil painter.  Her point was specifically about digital photography simply being too easy.  
The funny thing was the photo I submitted had very few adjustments from the raw image.  White balance, highlight/shadow adjustments, minor clean up and that was it.  Now I was not going to argue with an oil painter about the difficulty of our crafts.  However, I did make a few points:
  • I don’t think the art of photography is any easier.  I made the comparison to an oil painter with a magic “undo” brush.  It is not any easier to create the art, but the magic brush makes it much easier to experiment and to practice.
  • What photographers do have now is control.  Control over brightness and color, both global and local.  And, control over the entire process from capture to print.  But that control is what painters have had for a long time!
  • As fine art photographers we still have limitations.  If she and I were standing next to each other working a scene with flowers in a slight breeze, I’m going away with nothing while she paints away.  I could of course change my artistic intent and photograph blurry wisps of color, but that requires me to, well, change my artistic intent!  Photography is still a time-sensitive, or event-related craft much more so than other forms of art.  Michael's previous home page image is a perfect example. The beautiful angle of the shadow that just misses the coke sign will change very quickly.  And that is precisely what I love about photography.
Dave


I have to take issue with you here!

Photographing a landscape is BY FAR easier than painting one. That you may have to go home and tinker with it in Photoshop does not make your art "just as complex" as a guy who has to start painting it, and getting all of the detail and proportions right by hand!

* With 1 week of training, the amount of people who could bring an excellent camera to a nice sunset, aim and press the shutter, and come out with a very nice shot is in the hundreds of millions.
* With 1 week of training, the amount of people who could bring a bare canvas and some oil paints to that beach, and create a work of art from scratch, is in the thousands (maybe tens of thousands).

Re-creating the scene before your eyes is only a finger-push away in photography;
Re-creating the scene before your eyes can take days/weeks in oil painting.

There is absolutely no comparison in how much the level of difficulty is against the painter ...

Jack


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dchew
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« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2011, 07:33:50 AM »
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I have to take issue with you here!

Photographing a landscape is BY FAR easier than painting one. That you may have to go home and tinker with it in Photoshop does not make your art "just as complex" as a guy who has to start painting it, and getting all of the detail and proportions right by hand!

Sorry Jack, I meant the art of today's digital photography vs. yesterday's film photography isn't any easier.  I should have qualified that.  I completely agree from my perspective that painting is significantly more difficult.

Dave
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michael
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« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2011, 08:39:13 AM »
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There is absolutely no comparison in how much the level of difficulty is against the painter ...


You are conflating effort and craft with art. I don't believe that there is a priori any correlation. It wouldn't take much to find many paintings that were apparently easily executed, that are brilliant and moving, and ones which took hundreds of hours of effort but which are crap.

A friend of mine is one of the only people in the world who makes carbon pigment photographic prints. Each print can take as much as a week and some 40-60 hours to complete. They are exquisite as objet d'art, but are only as good artistically as the image from which they are made (which happen in his case to be very good as well).

Art and craft are not the same thing. They are partners. The worth of a work of art lies in its intrinsic ability to move the viuewer, not in how many coffee breaks needed to be taken during its creation.

Michael

Michael
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petermfiore
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2011, 01:54:48 PM »
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Very True Michael. Art and craft are different. When they are present in the work, it is most definitely magic.




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graphius
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« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2011, 03:20:02 PM »
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I have to take exception to the "painting is harder, therefore it is more ART" argument. If a landscape artist paints a scene they can "remove" the ugly power lines in front of a sunset. If a photographer removes the same power lines in photoshop, they are suddenly a cheat. In the same vein, a painter can enhance colour, contrast, add a person for scale, etc without the wrath of critics.
Maybe it is because an average Joe understands, at some level, the work that goes into painting, while they just see photography as "just push the button...."
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