A repudiation of all the over complication of photography.

Just because I can change something doesn't necessarily mean I should.  Many, many years ago I was walking down Commerce Street in San Antonio.  There was a fantastic bookstore called "Brock's Books". It had been there just about forever.  I shopped there from time to time and my real pleasure was going into the maze like basement, through acres of magazines, books and other collections of paper, searching for the vintage photography magazines.  I'd stand there for an hour or so, until the smell of mildewing paper overwhelmed me, and I'd leaf through photography magazines from the 1940's and the 1950's.  The magazines were enormous then.  Hundreds of pages.  Hundreds of photographs.  And the writing........

It's enough to make you cry.  Back in the days of the American enlightenment, before the fall from intellectual grace that began in earnest in the 1980's and has accelerated since then, even visual magazines paid attention to the written word.  Interviews spanned five or six pages.  Discussions of trends and styles were meaty essays that left you sated, like a good meal.  Now.....American Photographer and even Photo District News run articles that are little more than captions.  Squiggly gray space between photographs.

The image above is so simple.  I was walking around with some sort of sad sack camera from Nikon.  I'll guess it was the original FE.  I had the cheapest 28mm lens on the front.  Had to be the old 28mm 3.5.  Probably had to be updated to meter on that body.  I was just out walking,  on the prowl for images and coffee and pastries, though not necessarily in that order.  I was alone.  Always alone.  Because photographers are like little magnetic fields and when they come into contact with other photographers or even just people who want to tag along, it distorts and disrupts the purity of the magnetic field and causes problems.  The creative impulse gets detuned and the underlying rhythm of of the walk gets distorted and wrenched out of shape.  Some people are totally immune to disruption.  I don't know what to say about them but they seem to be the same people who are immune to positive social pressure, subtle hints or straightforward instruction.

Anyway,  I walked over to Brock's Books and stood in the open shade looking down on the box of bargain stuff that they always put outside.  I don't know if they ever sold the stuff in the boxes or if it was just there to let people know that the store was open.  On this particular day I leaned over to see what was inside and loved the look of the True Romance magazine cover.  I shot two or three frames on automatic, with slide film, and then I moved on.  Didn't think much of the image at the time but it's steadily grown on me over the years.

It's too simple an image for anyone to appreciate these days.  Too quiet.  Bereft of flash and sizzle.  And that's what I like about it.  It's about the content and the juxtaposition to the close surroundings.  It's calm.  You can rest your eyes on the image.  At most it's decorative art.

But the process of bringing it to life was so simple.  An interested look.  A cutting out of the image from it's multi-dimensional existence.  A commitment of resources and then,  like water behind a boat I moved on and it receded from my immediate consciousness.  

Have you ever noticed that much great art is relatively simple?  I think of Picasso's Dove of Peace series.  Simple lines, casually drawn.  Quick, intuitive gestures.  And then he was smart enough to leave it alone, in a simple state.  Distilled to its essence.  The same with the line drawings of Matisse and the beautiful Nakamura drawings.

I was in a short, three way discussion with two other photographers last night at an opening.  I had an epiphany.  The difference between printing with Photoshop and an inkjet printer versus printing in an old fashioned wet darkroom is all  encompassed in risk and intentionality.  The traditional print maker must take a risk at the time of print creation.  Every segment of the process is analog.  It's never precisely repeatable.  Even the chemistry of the developer changes subtly between each iteration.

The wet printer makes decisions, executes them and moves through the process with necessary commitment.  Most artists have limited resources.  They needed to get wet prints just right in as few iterations as possible.  They didn't/don't have the luxury of endless tweaking and endless indecisive manipulation.  They can never really return exactly to a previous version.  Everything changes.  The motions of burning and dodging aren't mechanical.

Conversely, digital printers can, through soft proofing, try variation after variation after variation with no real economic or temporal consequences.  Rather than working to get the perfect image as a reflection of the camera capture, they become free to be like the clients we love to hate in our day jobs as photographers:  You know the ones.  You'll likely be doing a fashion shoot for some mall property with a little agency.  The art director doesn't get to do many photoshoots in the age of cowardly stock photography usage.  He knows there's real money riding on the shoot.  When asked "Which colored shirt should we use on the male model?"  He will become paralyzed.  Unable to make a strong, assured creative decision he'll move to cover his bases.  He'll answer,  "Let's try all of them.  Let's do some with the red shirt, some with the green shirt and some with the yellow shirt."  Then we ask the same thing about the female model's wardrobe and we get the same answer.  So if we try every combination of the colors for both models we may end up with a possible matrix of 12 or 16 or 20 pairings.  Imagine shooting that!!!!!!!  Imagine trying to keep up good energy on that set.

But I conjecture that the lure of PhotoShop and digital printing exerts as similar effect on budding artists and, in a way, diminishes their energy to truly create photographs.  There is always something you can fix.  But should you.  In the  photo above, it would be normal to find a pleasing color balance and exposure.  Once you do that the image is created.  But the addiction to "playing God" with the images rears its incredibly ugly head.  Now it comes to mind that with a few layers and a few simple key strokes you might just be able to increase the dynamic range.  You could restore the color of the cover (never mind that doing so would destroy the feel of the image completely....).  You could increase the shadow detail in the tennis shoes.  You could create a mask in order to do something to the tile floor.  You could add elements to the scene you could use filters and you could liquify.  But at some point you'll become paralyzed by two things:  1.  The enormous, almost infinite range of abuse you can bring to this image with no financial consequences and no rules.  2.  There is no stop sign or safety net.  There's nothing to stop you from absurdly continuing to torture a simple image until it's not longer recognizable as the original image or until you drop from exhaustion from your efforts.

None of this is to say that you shouldn't use a digital printer to output your images.  And I'm not saying that no one should use PhotoShop.  I just think it's instructive to think about how much less is required to make art than a current generation in love the with the ability to add ad absurdium is willing to admit.  The Mona Lisa won't necessarily be better if we fix the faults, add some glitter around the edges, drop in a few images of Lady Ga-Ga and 50 Cent into the background for extra flavor, maybe Photo Shop the Giaconda's outfit for a some cleavage and even the hint of a nipple.......

At every step there needs to be commitment to an original vision.  Otherwise every image is nothing more than a gessoed canvas waiting to be sprayed by the latest (soon to be cliche) technique.  I guess my first rule would read:  Be true to the content.  Everything proceeds from there.


Robert said...

I would love to read a real article in a photo magazine, that wasn't an over technical review. I hate buying a magazine that is half images, with a few words here and there, and half B&H catalog. We are in the age of the internet, I can go to the B&H web site if I want to buy something.
I always find myself looking at an image scratching my head wondering if I am done, when I should probably be asking if I am over done.

Dave Jenkins said...

As usual, a thought-provoking piece, Kirk. As a photographer who was in many ways formed by the photography magazines of the 1960s and ‘70s, especially Popular Photography and Camera 35, I have a few comments.

Popular Photography was once a broad-based and well-rounded magazine with good columnists, good discussion of issues, technical articles which delved into the why of photography as well as the how, and frequently a really good, in-depth profile of some outstanding photographer. The old Modern Photography had great, easy-to-understand lens tests, but was always primarily a nuts-and-bolts magazine.

Unfortunately, Popular Photography doesn't exist anymore. Modern Photography, the officially dead rival of Popular Photography, is actually alive and well and living in Pop Photo's editorial offices. I once read a story by H.P. Lovecraft about a malevolent being which, in the guise of a woman, married a man. This being then swapped bodies with the man (without said man's permission), killed off its old body with the man's soul inside, and went its way. That's pretty much what happened when Popular Photography was taken over by the editorial staff of Modern. Then, as a new staff was about to make Modern a pretty good magazine, it was ruthlessly killed off.

We have a plethora of photo mags these days, but nothing to take the place of the old Pop Photo or Camera 35. The British Black & White Photography perhaps comes closest, but it’s expensive and I seldom buy it. I do most of my reading on the internet these days. Wish there were more blogs like yours.

louisjkim said...

Kirk, This perfectly captured a sentiment searching for words.

Keith said...

I suppose that what is forgotten about the entire creative process is the dictum: "First do no harm".... Your lovely diatribe about analog versus photoshop dismisses the mature artist that just uses the tools available to bring their pre-visualization to life. Whether it is inking the negatives to make the skies more pristine, selenium toning to increase the coolness of the image, or adjusting the tonal range with Levels- if that is what brings the image to that moment of "yes"- then I don't give two Zone 3 turds if that is what it took!

Kirk, always a pleasure to read your take on the world. It challenges all of us to be clearer about our intentionality. (BTW: great imagery! The disconnect of the promised articles and her face are sublime!)

John Krumm said...

I have to agree about magazines. I still read the occasional long article in the New Yorker, but most photography magazines are a waste of $6, read in less than 30 minutes, if you can call it reading. I buy The Baffler when I can, Tom Frank's journal out of Chicago, but it only comes out a couple times a year. Even motorcycle magazines from the 60's and 70's used to publish long articles and fiction. At least books are still around.

I subscribe to Lenswork, which is interesting, but not quite what I'm after, which is more like a modern Life Magazine with an edge, good articles and great photography.

Bernie said...

Hmm Well ... Firstly I love the pic. I would love to have made it. It's a perfect composition. I just love those diagonals that won't let you leave the frame.

Now about the rant:-)

Art isn't about technique.

It's about communication of something in such a way that the viewer "get's something" and he get's it in such a way that it has some kind of impact.

Whatever he does to achieve that effect is part of the process. I agree there should be an effect, or vision, in mind before the shot is even ccomposed. But from there to whatever the final result is should be fair game, no matter what is involved.

Those who never had a concise idea for a shot before they pressed the shutter will indeed likely spend many hours trying this and that to make something of it. Maybe they will learn something and maybe not. But it isn't the techniques of photoshop that hold back art. I think it is purely a lack of something to say in the first place followed by whatever is needed to make their statement as impactful as they want it to be.

We need to know our tools well enough to know what they can do and how to make them do it and that can and does hold back many an otherwise good artist. But tools are just tools.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, your blog is AWESOME! And, this entry in particular resonates with me. I agree 547% that this country's, "decline from intellectual grace" started in the 1980's. A couple of years ago, I read that even the NY Times had to condense the international section of their paper because their surveys showed that relatively few people read that section. It certainly feels to me like we're living in a time when only the superficial, banal, shallow, and pop-culture oriented things are of mass interest. Large numbers of people cannot even stand to be alone with themselves for 3 minutes (thus, the 24/7 mindless cell phone conversations, texting, twittering, etc. etc.). And, finally, I too have felt that the overwhelming majority of magazines (regardless of subject matter), rarely cover anything in any depth; and this seems to specifically be true of photo oriented magazines. Usually, at most, it's 3 pages of technical info and the most basic coverage of a concept, product, or idea; so basic in fact as to be useless.

Ranger 9 said...

Artistically: I've settled on the following compromise. If I can't get the picture I want from within Lightroom, I stop and ask myself whether I'm still doing photography. If the answer is no, fine; I've got no problem calling myself an illustrator. It's just good to be clear with yourself, that's all.

Personally: I agree that the world started going to hell in a handbasket in the 1980s. But that's also, roughly, the decade during which I turned 25; Kirk T., too, if I infer from his bio correctly.

I've got this crude simulacrum of a psychological theory that the era in which EVERY male thinks the world started going to hell in a handbasket happens to be precisely the same era in which he himself was going through his 20s -- the first hints of physical aging, the gnawing sense that your hipness is fading, the growing realization that, in the words of an old 'New Yorker' cartoon, you're now "too old to be the youngest living anything."

Back when he was our age, my dad probably thought the world started going to hell in a handbasket in the 1950s, with all that crazy rock and roll music and kids not getting decent haircuts anymore. This year's crop of 40somethings probably think it all went pear-shaped around 1995 (Stock market crash! No more 'Calvin and Hobbes'!) and guys who just turned 30 probably are starting to suspect that the Age of Suckiness dawned around 2005 (Windows Vista!)

But it's not the era, it's us. It's just ego. We should up and get over it.

stephanelecoanet said...

Thanks Kurt!

Thank you for sharing this analysis with us. I'm sick of spending hours behind my computer trying to tweak some of my poor shots desperately trying to make it look like keepers, or trying to guess what people expect to see.
Best (worst?) example is HDR. I'm not good at it, and I can't stand it anymore, like a hangover.

I'm back to film, which I learned in the first place, to be able to slow down, shoot less, and enjoying it! Less is more (-:

Mandáš said...

As often happens, you come to wonderfully and simply write down thoughts that have been hovering in my mind about our art. I can't tell how and why this is, but it is so, but what is almost shocking is the regular timing of this. I have taken in the path of simple and humble, or, to use a famous Zen concept, of Sabi and Wabi: simplicity and harmony. A real worthy read, a worthy sunday morning start for me! :)9


Danny Chatham said...

Suberb article as always.your photo brought back memories of 'downtown',those old stores with white tiles leading the way in.I and Im sure many of your readers would love for you to consentrate your efforts on a book devoted
to the time when photography was a skill of few,
a passion of many,and not the playtoy of the masses.Your gift of the word delights.

Danny Chatham

Bold Photography said...

Kirk - I fully agree. The decline of intellectual grace really hits me when I see advertisements intended to hit the younger generation that are done in 'shortcut'.... I make a point to not give businesses like that my business/cash (nor will I hire anyone who writes like that).

For what it's worth, I think that the reason why some people are high gravity are because they lack their own vision, and are trying to borrow yours. I hope I'm not doing that! That's also the source of the problems in photoshop/whatever editing program - people are searching for their own vision, or worse - have no idea how to find it. They're hoping to come across it by iteration or accident...

For what it's worth - I've been doing more on my own - my own little photo walks, striving to work on my own style and vision.

kirk tuck said...

Keith, Not so. I don't dismiss PhotoShop as a tool to gently massage an image into its final form. Only to aggrandize an image in a way that is more illustration than photography. You hit the nail on the head when you say, "First, do no harm.."

We all use PhotoShop, my "lovely diatribe" was aimed at those who use it mindlessly, not in the service of their style....

kirk tuck said...

Ranger 9, Yes. We are like our fathers. If our fathers were the kind of people who pushed us to become educated and of the world. But I doubt our father's would have shared the sentiment that, in the face of mediocrity and sloth, we should just shrug, roll over and enjoy it.

Humankind goes thru periods of darkness and decline. It pulls out of these periods because groups of people refuse to give up and just take the easy way out.

It's easy to give up. It's tougher to have standards. none of us are perfect.

John Taylor said...

This brings to mind a documentary about Picasso by his friend Georges-Henri Clouzot made in 1956 (if you never seen it track it down!!). There is a scene, actually more than one, but one in particular, where Picasso compulsively continues to draw over and over redo and changing his initial drawing running through many of his styles as many recognizable images flit by finally pasting paper over large parts of the drawing so as to continue redoing it as it was to muddled to paint on top of any longer all the while muttering increasingly to himself about never knowing when to stop. Clearly the problem has been with us for a long time. By the way for those of us who by style and inclination don't have a "clear vision" as starting point and methodolgy, recognition and knowing when to stop are two tools that need nurturance.

Dave Jenkins said...

One who thinks a photograph can be intrinsically improved by doing something to it after the fact is a pictorialist. I used the term "intrinsically" because I'm not ruling out the use of darkroom controls or Photoshop to help make the meaning of the photograph more clear. But the meaning must be there to begin with.

As distinguished from other visual media, the art of photography is primarily the art of seeing. A photograph is created at the instant of exposure, and nothing done to it afterward will make it art if it was not well seen to begin with. Throughout the history of the medium, the works that have had power, the works that have lasted, have been straight photographs. Their power and their art are in the photographer's ability to see and to present his vision in a tangible form.

Each of the arts is wonderful in its own way, and each has its role in enriching our lives. But each medium has its own inherent qualities, both strengths and limitations, which make it unique. It is only within the context of those inherent qualities that a medium can become art. A work in one medium cannot be transformed into art by making it an imitation of some other medium.

Brian said...

This is one of the few feet shots that lend itself to a story. It's not about the feet, but the scene. Either a refresh, or an emotion meandered. I'm looking at the magazine in the box, and the feet are background. I like the composition. It's evocative.

I only have two FE's. I consider them valuable. They enhance my five fixed-focus lenses. And the slide films I playfully run through them.

"... encompassed in risk and intentionality." Yes, a different point of view. Microsoft asks "Do you know where you want to go?" Lots of techno-digital voices speak to an achievable perfection. Some grid of truth and episodic catharsis exists in their post-processing darkroom.

To me, the moment of truth is when I click the shutter. I do no processing or wet printing. As the father of quantification logic, CS Peirce said "Truth is asymptotic." So getting it at the event horizon is more enjoyable to me, than fixing it in my photo editor.

I think the techno-digital voices should lay back a little. Digital cameras are no longer new. Does the picture work? Or, not. In any case, I'll keep trying.

I spent all Saturday troubleshooting some Perl scripts, then after fixing it, redoing my documentation. Review, refactor, test, then again. And then, rewrite and reprint to PDF. I love the analog-ness of photography. Just do it, take your best shot, and move on to the next.

I worry about "Too many cooks spoil the broth."

And I remember Debussy's "The music is between the notes."

Amateur and growing older,

Cindy said...

Thank you for this article.. it was good to read.

Raianerastha said...

Thought provoking article, Kirk. It brings to mind something I think only those who learned photography with have truly experienced.

With the ease and low cost of digital (once past the initial equipment and software investment) I think what is lost, or at least unappreciated, is the inherent risk involved in using film and doing your own darkroom work.

I remember the first roll of Tri-X I processed. I followed my mentor's advice and shot a roll of relatively unimportant test images. Still, as I fumbled with opening the cartridge and loading it on the reel in the dark bag, my main thought was "I hope I get this right". I knew that if I didn't get it guided onto the reel properly, I could get places where the roll was touching and that would result in undeveloped areas.

Then there were all the other thoughts. Did I mix amounts correctly...ok double check the temperature of the developer...and the stop bath fixer, rinse, etc so that they were all as close together as possible...pour in the D-76...agitate just right, how many seconds? Ok now wait...oops, I got distracted and missed agitation by a few seconds...DING! ah finally time to pour out the D-76...pour in stop bath... pour it back out...now rinse...fixer...keep agitation even...out with the fixer...final rinse...

Open the tank and gently separate the reel and...


It worked, there were the images on the neg, just like they were supposed to be. As I hung them up to dry I had a huge grin on my face and didn't care if they were just plain old test shots. They were MY shots, I had done the work to bring the latent images on the film to life.

The time I waited for the negs to dry so I could cut them into strips for the contact sheet seemed interminable.

Before long I was familiar enough with the basic methods to start making adjustments according to the shooting conditions, subject matter and final goal I had in mind for the prints. Pull or push processing...changing agitation times and methods, etc. All the things done to subtly change dynamic range, tonal curve, Zone points and even sharpness/grain. Yet all of it done without seeing any of it happen until it was too late to correct mistakes.

There was a lot of risk in developing and printing your own film-so many little things could easily ruin otherwise fine quality negatives. So the rewards when you did it right felt that much the greater.

Now, of course, there is little risk in producing images. The amazing capability of digital cameras has in many ways supplanted certain skills that used to be expected of a photographer.

In many cases, not having the cost and risk involved helps lead to experimentation, at least: although if the experimentation doesn't result in an actual improvement in artistic vision, then it's wasted if it's only done for the sake of experimenting. For instance-manufacturers spend millions in research to eliminate vignetting from lenses, then someone falls in love with the effect in Photoshop and adds it to every flipping photo he posts on smugmug or flickr!

So I think that is what's missing from a lot of current photography. The soul that is nurtured and refined through true risk taking.

BTW, with the refinements in photo editors, your hypothetical art director is off the hook. She can say "Use the yellow shirt-we can always color swap it in post processing if we don't like it!" ;-)

kirk tuck said...

Fewer art directors are as conversant with the nuts and bolts of PhotoShop than you might think. I'm not sure very many are "off the hook" yet. More likely you'll just end up fixing a poorly implemented color replacement, in all three colors.

Risk drives inspiration.

Jet Tilton Photography said...

You are a daily inspiration! I did think of your approach as I wandered through downtown Sherman with a film camera and my digital rebel!

Photography has gotten too complicated, just open up the latest issue of Shutterbug, and you are led to believe that to do pro work, you must use a multitude of Photoshop/Lightroom/Aperture plugins, or your work will suck! Many are led to believe that to do digital photography you must have the latest and greatest software versions, it's almost as if the fast food mentality has taken over photography! Especially the portraiture software that takes a pimply teen and turns them into blemish-free models!

I'm trying to do only cropping, sharpening, and maybe a small contrast tweak, but other than that I do not want to spend 30 minutes on each image! I've also enjoyed using the film body alongside the digital, just something about the shutter click, and having to use my thumb to advance the film....

Keep up the good work!

Raianerastha said...

I was being a bit facetious about the art director, Kirk! LOL

Seriously: I've heard too many stories about both photographers AND art directors who muck up a shoot, then say "don't worry we can fix it in Photoshop". I worked at a commercial printing plant/newspaper for years. Quite often, we had quality control issues relating directly to a client sending us poor files, with an email asking the prepress people to "clean it up in Photoshop". (Sorry Mr Customer, but there's only so much we can do if you want us to use that 110KB, 400X600 .jpeg you pulled off your website as a full page, 4 color tabloid ad!)

Kirk, do you think a reason why so many seem to get into overdone Photo editing to "optimize" and image is because most of their experience is in viewing the nearly antiseptic appearance of (advertizing and editorial) photos in magazines and on the web? I see stuff that is simply TOO SLICK; too well done; too obvious that the master behind the image is as much the Photoshop artist as the photographer.

I think this leads to people assuming that a great photo is inherently free of the "flaws" of your sample shot. I'm talking about people who "correct" a photo ad nauseum, rather than those who are fascinated with special effects.

How many people who consider themselves some sort of expert in digital photography have ever actually gone to a gallery and looked at wet process prints? There is an organic nature to that analog process which lends a unique aspect. This is the reason why we see so many companies touting papers which replicate-or at least emulate-the look of classic wet process papers such as Ilford Galerie or the excellent Oriental Seagull Fibre Based papers.

Quality ink jet printers, with the right papers, can duplicate the look, of course. But there is still something unique about wet prints, just as hand painted artwork has a unique feel to it compared to digitally rendered artwork.

A major source of enjoyment for me in digital is seeing how close I can come to that "organic" or analog nature of K64 or Tri-X. I still have my Minolta 35mm kit, and I see a time approaching when I'm going to put together a wet darkroom again, load up some T-Max or HP5 and watch my hands get yellow stains! LOL

Patrick Snook said...


Coming a few days late to this post . . . the picture grabbed me by the short and curlies (esthetically, that is). Marvelous stuff. And the essay flies. I should say it more often: I love reading your blog, and return to it frequently. Keep going! You write, "It's too simple an image for anyone to appreciate these days." What? Look at the responses here! And figure that we're a fraction who have taken a few minutes to say so, from among the larger silent bunch of viewers. But I see that by "appreciate" you probably really mean "support financially" on an industrial scale; or even "buy". Ah, there I can't argue. What can you do? Keep taking them (or digging them up) and posting them here.

Photoshop? What's that? I use Aperture for everything (except pasting black pinlines around some of the finished work, for which I use an Aperture plug-in called BorderFX).

Photoshop. Baldershop! Or Bullshop, if you prefer. I tell my customers that I do not do surgery, or beam-me-up-Scotty work, on photos. A touch of exposure and color temp adjustment, here and there, maybe a slight crop. That's about it. Then, let go. That's the hardest part. As I write, I have two large sets of photographs in the hands of the brides and families who commissioned them, and it's humbling to wait to hear the sounds of approval . . . a reminder that I'm only as good as the job I've just done, and I'd better do it better next time!

Enough from me. Work to do.

Cheers, Kirk!


Paul Glover said...

Kirk, I think you might have been inside my head when you wrote this.

It's so very easy to slip into an infinite loop of "unhappy"...tweak..."no, still not right"...tweak...repeat... and end up just making an image worse or spending time pushing curves and sliders around to extreme positions without making any real difference.

Even for simple adjustments, ACR and Lightroom give you far too many ways to do very similar things, some of which effectively cancel each other out.

Curt Schimmels said...

I am not sure I think the 1980s were any more of a turn in direction than I felt in the 1970s when insipid Disco music started permeating the airwaves. I do agree that we are periodic in nature, but generally I think this is on a larger scale. I do agree with the concept that just because one has the tool to do something, it is not necessarily a good idea to do it. There's a photographer down in Miami creating some of the most vapid stuff I've ever seen because of his predominant approach to using software after the shot. Having said that, I think this is exactly the point at which discernment and taste must be interjected into the process. That is, to me, what separates art from the noise in any of the creative endeavors, photography, music, sculpture, et al. We are born to consonance, but must learn to appreciate dissonance. Too much dissonance, though, and it all becomes noise.

Craig Stocks said...

Thoght provoking as usual. Personally, I love Photoshop and enjoy working with computers as well as working with cameras. But, I also enjoyed working in the wet darkroom 35 years ago. They're both photo processing, but they're certainly not the same thing.

For one thing, I think digital has lowered the perceived value of a print. If this one is lost or damaged, just run off another. The work was already done on the computer. There was an investment and rarity to a wet darkroom print, so it was treated with more care.

The weird thing for me though, I miss burning and dodging with an enlarger. Sure, I can be much more accurate and repeatable with Photoshop, but it was a tactile experience when I was standing in front of the enlarger. I felt like I was painting with my hands, making little holes between my palms and directing the light to the areas I wanted to darken. Burning and dodging with a mouse just isn't the same.

Frank said...

This early amateur appreciates your message. Before me, I can see the risk of descending down the slopes of pre-process laziness and dependence on the post-process pig lipstick that you warn of in your essay.

As one who is still learning the technical aspects of photography, I use the digital sandbox as a way to experiment quickly and to build my intuition of some of the basics. My recent work and rework of some personal black and white attempts and histogramic comparisons to excellent work (albeit, the lesser digital versions of great work) has taught me valuable lessons. After hours of systematically adjusting my photos in multiple ways, I am beginning to understand how I limited my digital images when I created them. I am grateful for the abundance of inexpensive experimentation that enables me to learn more efficiently than if I had to build and maintain a wet process.

While there are risks to having lower barriers to entry and such inexpensive tools today, I believe there is an upside -- more talent will be able to discover and to improve itself.

Yes, it is valuable to know how limited post-processing is and even the limit of purely technical skill. I am only beginning to see how artistic skill enters the picture (sorry) before the photographer presses the shutter button.

Chris said...

My beginner's view of Photoshop.
I don't mind it really. I think its part of the process. I think the pain comes from thinking a bad pic can be fixed and after spending umpteenth hours trying, you realize it can't. But the salt in the wound comes from seeing all the possibilities of how the original photo could have been better. I put the cart before the horse. I started out by just taking a picture, instead of first seeing the picture I wanted and working toward that goal while on site. Now after trying "to make the picture better" I see want it should be, but I just can't get it there. Then I begin to wonder if my photoshop skills are up to par. Maybe I need more classes? Maybe a faster computer would be the fix? Maybe I should up grade? Kelby says the new tools in the newest version of photoshop work so well that it's a no brainer...but didn't he say that about the last version and the version before that? I know!! I need more plug ins!!!! But aren't most plugins just glorified actions and in using actions, aren't we relinquishing control?
I came a across a DVD set on beauty retouching in Photoshop from a professional in Argentina. She stated she has no problem showing everyone her methods because in the end, retouching on that level (High fashion magazine extreme close ups) takes a long time and she knows most people will not have the patience to put in the time to perfect the methods. DVD set is 11 hours long. Art is not easy, it only looks that way. So 11 hours in photoshop or 11 hours in a dark room. Nothing has changed, we just have more options. Ansel Adams is said to have spent years on some of his negatives, but he only did so to get every zone of exposure just right. He wasn't trying to put Mt. Everest in the middle of Yosemite and then trying to make it believable. Its much better to first start out with a good photo and tweek it then to try to polish a turd into something to hang in a gallery. Its better to start out with a vision and work toward that vision, then to have the visions later and try to massage what ever you have to that ideal. Its a matter of work flow. Get the steps in the right order.