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Camera Work: Photography An Art Form?

This week’s conversation is picking up from last week’s, with a partial quote taken from it:

“…the influence of technology, in terms of the ease of capture (smartphone), processing (Photoshop), and sharing via Internet. Also, how does the proliferation of umpteen images affect the perception of photography as an art form, and what are the contradictions with regard to using it to bring about change? “

From commenter norecovery, a very insightful comment, with at least three themes worthy of several chapters in book form, let alone a column on the subjects! So, I will divide it up and take each one in separate installments, keeping in mind they are all interrelated.

How does the proliferation of umpteen images affect the perception of photography as an art form?

Back in 1932, similar concerns were being voiced, and in that case, the discussions revolved around how photographs were produced as an art object. Indeed, what constitutes an “art object” made by machine? A tough one because the answer can seem to be both deceptively simple and maddeningly complex!

Group f/64

So because we are focused on photography as art I’m going to go to the end point, what is being delivered to the viewer? For myself, it is the print. Now that introduces an element separate from the capture of an image by a camera, storing it and displaying that capture on a screen. (We used to call that a slide show!). And what I have to offer as a print is an object whose beauty needs no particular reference to the image itself. That is I don’t have to be concerned with what the photo is of, say, Mt Hood. It can be a rusting car in the desert. Or even plain rocks. What it does need is a skill, a mastery of the medium, from encountering a subject to the final presentation. The best compliment one can hear then is “I never thought a rusting car in the desert could be so beautiful”.

The print is to the photographer what marble is to the sculptor. It is a medium where the highest form of expression is to be achieved, using the negative as the original source. Ansel Adams, who was trained as a musician, put it this way “The negative is the score, the print is the performance”. And, like any performance, the result varies, depending on circumstances, even down to the particular instrument (paper, developer?).

With current technology, that whole relationship has changed. Because of the demands for faithful reproduction of visual material in printed form, as for advertising, major technical efforts to present the screen image faithfully throughout the process has evolved, to the point that the need for a print is questioned. Today, we get to see, in some finished fashion, the image right on the tiny screen of the cell phone. For many, that is enough, and suddenly we are awash in images, by people whose only concern is that the picture look real. How this will play out over time will have to wait awhile, and by then, the technology will evolve again.

Check this out for yourself, by searching for a museum, collection or photo show where really excellent prints can be found. If in an institution with a large offering, you can ask the curator for examples they have which fall into the category of excellence at the level of the print. Then you will be better prepared to compare what you see there with what you find on Instagram, Facebook and answer: “How does the proliferation of umpteen images affect the perception of photography as an art form?” I for one, would like to hear your thoughts.

The way I decided to set up my web was to present the images as close as possible to how they would look in print form. But, and this is important, there is no universal standard fully in place for web sourced images. That is not to say that such standards don’t exist, they do, but they may not be properly implemented, all the way to how your particular screen is actually showing the photos.

My website for your reference.

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Lawrence Hudetz

Lawrence Hudetz