Comments: Yes, but is it ART?

Good questions about CG and photography. My dad has been working as a photographer for the last 40 years, and he tells me the field is somewhat torn apart over it. On the one hand, the major stock photo studies now expect their photographers to be able to do some digital touch up at home. The exception are the stock agencies that specialize in journalism, and they are terrified of digitial effects because they have a reputation for realism to protect. The amatuers mostly hate CG. My dad has been a member of the local camera club for 30 years. It is one of the largest and best run camera clubs in the North East. They have a lot of arguments over whether CG photos should be allowed in.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at May 18, 2004 09:00 AM

That's what I mean. When your ability to manipulate a CGI software program is the measure of your "artistic ability"...well, I don't know. What will that mean to us?

Not that the photographer in question doesn't demonstrate any artistic talent. There are some amazing photographs with his name on them, but I find myself wonder if they're 'live or Memorex', so to speak.

Posted by Anne at May 18, 2004 11:35 AM

Of course, for a long time, people argued about whether photography was really an art. The machine played such a large role in it, there were so many chemicals involved, and the quality of one's work was partly determined by one's ability to spend a few $1,000 on top of the line equipment, so in the end how much of a human element was there? But nowadays people commonly accept photography as an art. The argument over CG seems like a bit of a repeat of all that.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at May 18, 2004 09:00 PM

And it very well may be a repetition of that argument, of course.

I do think the ability to use CGI to completely change the source material is a tricky twist on the situation. A photographer photographs what's there. The quality of the end result may depend largely upon the quality of his equipment, but he can't add aliens or the face of someone long-dead in the background.

And now it occurs to me that a painter or sculptor can use their medium to work distortions or 'improvements' into source material, so maybe this is more of a step "back" for art than a new step "forward"?

Posted by Anne at May 19, 2004 08:27 AM

When you speak of photography are you thinking mostly of photo-journalism? I'm a little confused by your remark "A photographer photographs what's there". Obviously there were some photographers who experimented with abstract art, special effects, and compositions. My dad's best selling image of all time was a composite of fire works - none of his firework shots were dramatic enough, so he combined several, to get a very dramatic sky. He did this repeatedly with different shots in different cities - fire works in New York, fire works over the National Mall, fire works in Atlanta. He did this back in the 1960s and 1970s using traditional photo compositing techniques. These were always his best selling shots, corporations loved them as backdrops to various kinds of marketing.

And, of course, it goes without saying that, going back to the 1920s, those photographers who worked for advertising agencies were under pressure to bring out things that maybe weren't in the original - if they were doing a perfume ad, and the woman in the center was supposed to look glamorous, the photographer could use traditional dark room techniques to add in certain special effects - a halo for instance.

Your remarks seem focused on photography as photo journalism. If that is what you meant then I think everything you said is correct - CG is big steps backward to photo journalism, and a dangerous threat.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at May 19, 2004 09:37 AM

No, no, I'm not talking about photo-journalism, although now that you mention it, I can see the CGI dangers to photo-journalism.

I'm talking about "art" photographs, although I suppose advertising photographs would also be a part of that.

The problem is, you see, I'm anything but an expert on photography. I was aware of the existence of "composite" photographs but didn't think of them.

I think of photography as pointing a camera and capturing what's in front of it.

Now I'm considering the existence of various filters. And of composites.

Now I'm not even sure I know what "photography" means any more.

Posted by Anne at May 19, 2004 12:16 PM