What Happened to Photography?

Bless my daughter. I learn so much from her. So okay, she has learned to rant like her mother, and yeah, perhaps the sarcasm comes from me too. Yet I like to think I've taught her something in all our years together.

She and I have done school together for six years now. Oh, she was supposed to be the student, and I the teacher. But the truth is, I didn't remember half of what I had to pour into her. All those algebraic equations somehow escaped me in my twenty plus years since high school, and I didn't remember the science at all either. (I quickly remembered how much I hate experiments!) However, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to teach her photography. Here was a subject I knew. (I knew English too. I do, after all, proofread for a living.)

I broke down the basics - aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance - and we did exercises. We went places, took photographs, and I got to see the world through her lens instead of mine. It was fascinating, fun, and one of my best memories from her years of high school with mom. Along the way, her eyes opened just a bit (though she'll never admit that). She began to delineate between "good" photography and "bad". She learned to critique herself and to expect more out of her camera than your average, standard shot.

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What is it they say? Sometimes things come back to bite you? There is nothing like the wisdom of an eighteen-year-old to set me straight. I'll admit it. I'm not an HDR fan. I've said this before. For the most part, it looks really bad to me. I'm also not an Instagram fan, or any of those "I-will-filter-your-photograph-for-you" websites. In my opinion, they take away from what photography is supposed to be. Yet I never would have put all of that quite as succinctly as she did.

We were looking at this image someone had taken and overlaid onto an image of something else (badly, I will say) when she made the comment that I will never forget.

"That's not photography. That's crap."

Kudos to her. I could have jumped for joy. However, the more I think about that statement, the more I think it applies to more than just one terribly edited image. I've seen some really fantastic creations on the web. Mind-blowing stuff so breathtakingly beautiful; surreal images created from the fantasy-world evolving inside someone's head, and images that took great talent to 
make. Yet none of it is photography. At some point, they crossed from photography into art.

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Don't get me wrong. Art has its place. But I remember when entering a photo contest had rules against editing. What happened to that? I remember when "get it right in the lens" was the standard to live by. I still take a photo, run it into the computer, and often do nothing to it. This is photography. Search the web for tutorials on creating art and they are everywhere. I have used many of them in my graphic design work. However, never do I put them out there as a photograph.

There comes a point when you have filtered and re-filtered and filtered again, that you walk over the invisible line in the sand. What you have created is no longer a photograph. It may be one of those mind-blowing art pieces I commented on. However, it isn't photography. At the same time, taking a bad cell phone pic and turning it purple or orange doesn't make it better. That's not photography either, at least, not good photography.

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Perhaps I am a purist. I take that label and wear it proudly. I believe in picking up my camera, aiming the lens, choosing the settings, and letting the camera do what it was created to do. I believe in getting the best image within the parameters of what my camera is capable of. (Why say, "I took that with my ..." if you altered it beyond what your camera could actually do?) Yes, I could take a string of shots of that same photo, line them up, overlay them, and make HDR. But is that photography? I can add in a soft filter, some texture, and alter the overall color scheme. But is that photography?

So you have now picked up a stone to toss my direction. That's okay. I have a thick skull. But when I think of Ansel Adams dragging his monster camera out into the wilderness to capture that perfect shot, when I watch videos of Ben Horne, who I have featured here before, take his 8x10 into the desert sands of the Western U.S., what I admire the most about their work is the PHOTOGRAPHY. Photoshop, Lightroom, any other editing software is supposed to ENHANCE what is already there, not alter it. It should take the original image back to what you saw when you were there, what you wanted to capture in the first place.

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I know, I know. Editing is fun. Filtering is fun. "Whew, lookee at what I did," is fun. Yet call it what it is - ART. I love art. I admire art. I will comment on art. I will share art on my Facebook wall. I will like your art. What I will not do is call that a photograph. No, I reserve that for something special, something dear to my heart that I hope will never die out.