Does the application of technique, de facto, make everything it touches "art"?
He is widely quoted as saying that he "photographed things to see how they would look photographed." Which implies that photography itself changes things and it does so, sometimes, in interesting ways. But he didn't manipulate his images in post processing. He presented straight black and white prints to his audience so they could share the slice of the past that he captured and hence, owned.
He was a voracious shooter and left behind thousands and thousands of rolls of film that were shot but undeveloped. And more film that had been developed by not contact printed and examined. He was obviously in a hurry to shoot as much as he could.
In a very real sense we've made an enormous aesthetic and theoretical schism from the photography of Gary's time to present work. A current and powerful aspect of photography is the routine post processing and random manipulation of images we take. Since many of the applied effects are supplied in a random fashion by the software used I wonder if the thoughtful practice of either previsualizing or conceptualizing the final effect is still in play. Or whether the idea of "satori" and instant recognition at the time of capture is still relevant.
But, at the core, the question really is this. Does the random and yet nearly statistical homogenous application of effects (canned or otherwise) bring value to the core image or, through its overuse does the same manipulation actually devalue the image?
The analogy that pops into my mind is hot sauce. Lots of people like the tang and bite of good salsa and, taken in moderate quantities it adds a special flavor and spice to regional foods. But there has become of subset of hot sauce fans who, having burned out their taste buds through egregious overuse, look for hotter and hotter versions of the sauce and take delight in their ability to ingest it without running for a huge glass of water (best to try milk instead).
It almost seems to me that instead of working to find more interesting things to see or more interesting ways to express the things we can already see that we have developed an immunity to subtlety and grace and are on the "hot sauce" search for more and more "heat" in our images. And we apply liberal canned manipulations like salsa fans dumping more and more habanero sauce over their plate of enchiladas, huevos rancheros or even meatloaf. At some point the power of the spice and pepper overwhelms the dish we're trying to savor. The salsa becomes the quest rather than being the adjunct to fine foods.
People move through their lives quickly and I'm guessing that the fragmented quality of modern existence requires more and more stimulus in order to capture attention. And the preponderance of images also demands that ever more "hot sauce" be applied to make them "burn" and stand out.
At some point we realize that the "wrapper" has taken precedence over the content. We're buying the shiny aluminum foil and not the chocolate. I don't have any answers. I just know that we're heading in a direction where style trumps meaning. It's nice to be able to perceive intention and direction in content, not just in the wrappers.
I get that every new art form is challenging at first. But the real question is whether the application of glitter to the canvas really counts...