Hard work is hard. Everything changes.

The sky behind this construction person was there.  It's been enhanced but it wasn't dropped in.

I'm usually as resistant to change as anyone else I know.  You find stuff that works and you try to stay in that groove until something pushes you out.  I'm coming to grips with the idea that post production isn't just a way to fix stuff we didn't get right in the shooting, it's also a way to finish out your illustrative  vision.  Maybe a path to completing what you had in your head when you were out shooting but what can't be done by camera alone.

There was a time when, by necessity, most everything was done in camera.  At some point in the 1980's or the 1990's the art of photography starting to diverge along two pathways.  One path was litered with the saints of documentary photography and its religion called on followers not to crop, not to heavily burn and dodge and never to change the contents of a photograph with retouching, air brushing or other methods.  And it was good.  And these people were called, "photojournalists."

The second pathway was engendered by the relentless needs of the marketplace.  Here anything you could imagine could, with time and budget, be done.  This was the land of top technicians and people with visions that couldn't be easily realized with regular, in-camera techniques.  This has become the land of post-processing.  In the past it was the land of air-brushing.  Nothing in the photograph could be taken as "truth" but it sure did look cool.  These people were imaginative.  And what they do we called, "Photo-illustration."

I was always in the first camp.  Henri-Cartier Bresson implied, to an entire generation of photographers, that only pussies needed to crop.  Real men saw the composition in the decisive moment and leapt upon it like panthers.  Generations of magazine picture editors forbade radical color changes because they would not be objective.  Never mind filter effects or added grain.  Anything that broke down the presumed objectivity of an image was forbidden.  And this was not just the provence of journalists.  The most powerful advertising icons, from the Herb Ritts/Calvin Klein underwear ads to the "Marlboro Man" ads to Bert Sterns Smirnoff ads were all done in this manner.  As are many ad images even to this day.  Sure, we retouched the frazzled edges but we didn't light em up.

PhotoShop changed everything for professionals and the ardent.  And now programs like Snapseed* are changing it all for everyone else.  It's everywhere.  The unspoken mantra is that a photograph is not ready for viewing until it's been dipped in the magic pool of post production.  Every image.  Every time.

I used to fight stuff like this.  I used to make impassioned arguments that photography should remain "pure" but I've given up.  This  change feels permanent.  When we came to a cultural conclusion that, if all the stuff coming off a camera sensor is already filtered, manipulated and color tweaked by firmware and software then wasn't it already "retouched" for all intents and purposes?  If you shot jpeg and you liked your files with a little extra sharpening and more saturation and you set your camera that way weren't you already toeing over the line of strict objectivity?

But it was all just an academic construct in the first place.  After all, even in the early days of color you could choose between the palettes of Kodachrome and Ektachrome and even Scotchcolor.  You choice of film speeds could buy you some extra grain and so one.

It's always tiring to tilt against windmills.  I'm tired of trying to bail out the Titanic with a small plastic bucket.  And I'm equally tired of trying to catch a two edged sword with no handle.  From now on anything goes.  Everything goes.  If it sells better with a coat of psychedelic paint spilled on it then who am I to question the marketplace?

I've written my last column disparaging HDR.  If you like it, more power to you.  I'm taking a psuedo-intellectual sabbatical from taste.  I'm working my maximum Zen and trying to live in the land of "no judgement."

We'll see how that works out.  I'm off to figure out how to automate Snapseed so I can churn my whole catalog of images through the "grunge" filter.  With enough grunge and tilt n shift I may even be able to pass myself off as one of the crowd.

*Snapseed is an app that was developed for use on the the iPhone or iPad which would allow you to tweak you images with contrast, color, sat and sharpness corrections but it also enables you to apply filters to create trendy looking images.  You can control the effects and combine them.  It's $20.  Now they make a version for the desktop.  I've taken the plunge, stopped lighting or even trying very hard during the shooting process, confident that I can just "auto-grunge" any of my images to save it.  You can too.


hugo solo said...

Only feedback with satisfaction guarantee OK
Both great photographs with or without hdrwith
and more better you in a atmosperical way or not
you are the best the one.

Peter Morgan said...

I presume and hope you won't post every photo you've ever created with grunge added, but the effect on your self-portrait was kinda good. Grunge, like everything, just needs a sentient editor.

The construction person's sky was not quite enough much too enhanced, perhaps? I like artificiality best, like satire, when it's laid on heavily.

Pat said...

I shoot both but prefer film and the "old school" methods of getting it right in camera because I'm lazy and would rather be outside than staring at a computer in post working on my blurred vision and future carpal tunnel.

I think they are two different styles (or classes) though and to each his own. I do wish photo contests had separate categories: Film (with negative submitted with the print)and digital.

Anonymous said...

You can still just plain dislike how excessive HDR "tone mapping" looks. It is like the painting of Elvis on velvet of our day. The fact that it is popular with others is of no great concern ... to an artist ... but to a businessman, I don't know.

A similar thing has happened to music. Everything is now compressed and processed to death. Supposedly this helps sales, and heck, maybe it does. Sounds like crap though, the aural equivalent of a microwave dinner compared to a fine restaurant. When you listen to a direct-to-two-track recording of the 1950s, you realize how much has been lost.

Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, your B&W portraits are beautiful, and I believe that you believe that is your true style. Please don't start "grunging them up" just so your style merges with "everyone else's" style.

If you want to - fine; but you certainly shouldn't feel like you "have to". That would be a terrible shame.

Dave Jenkins said...

I'm probably condemning myself to fossilhood, but here's my credo, as expressed in an article I wrote a few years ago. (Please note that I am not advancing this as a formula for commercial success.)

Those who alter their photographs are limited by their imaginations. They can only do what they can conceive. But photography goes beyond human imagination. The magic of photography is that life holds so many amazing and wonderful things that are entirely unanticipated, unexpected, even unimagined in the deepest sense; that is, that no one would ever have thought of such a thing happening. And then, suddenly, right out of the fabric of life, there it is.

"I can do a beautiful illustration, but it doesn't have that 'instant of wonder' that a photograph will have." (Art Director Tony Anthony, quoted in "Photo District News," February, 1987.) Photography shows us things that lie beyond our imagination and compel our amazement because they really happened. It revels in the beauty, the mystery, and the strangeness of life. It is the most powerful purely visual medium ever created.

And yet, what a sad, unloved child of the arts photography is! Her own practitioners, who should love her most are so often seduced by the siren song, "Artist! Artist! You can be an artist!" that they trample her heedlessly in their mad scramble to call their works "art". Something of great value is being thrown away, and most of the people who are doing it so casually do not have a clue.

Photoshop your pictures to your heart’s content. No doubt there’s an art form of some kind in that. Call it imaging, maybe, or whatever you like . . .but please, don’t call it photography.

John Krumm said...

That filtered portrait seems to be holding back some kind of primal scream. "It's all good" only applies to the internet and Thanksgiving dinner with in-laws.

Anonymous said...

It's probably pointless to keep trying to fight the good fight. The masses have no taste. With any luck, they'll tire of snapseed in short order (maybe they'll tire of stills in another couple years). But just because there's an old adage that says "if you can't beat them, join them" doesn't mean those are your only options. You can also ignore them.

Patrick Dodds said...

You look a bit sad in that shot Kirk. Don't worry too much about Snapseed et al - the next thing will be along in a minute.

Paul Glover said...

From their website: "makes any photo extraordinary".

*Any* photo? Are they sure of that? I mean, I've taken some real clunkers in my time. Technically incompetent, compositionally void, emotionally derelict boring subject matter, shot on hopelessly inferior equipment in conditions it was entirely unsuited for.

And they're telling me that even those can be extraordinary? Holy light leaks, Batman! I'm sitting on a goldmine here! I WILL BE THE NEXT GREAT ARTIST!! With my own reality show and everything.

Jim said...

Along with the choice of film there were filters (the kind you put in front of the lens). Somehow it was okay to use a popularize, a warming filter in cold light (or the reverse) to "correct" the color, red/yellow/orange filters to change how colors rendered on B&W, etc., all done before the shutter was tripped. But if you did anything at all after that it was considered dishonest. Some manipulations are not appropriate depending on how the photo is to be used. Certainly 'evidence' images (those representing facts) need to be as unedited as possible but no photo is truth with a capital "T". Even the choice of viewpoint is an editorial decision.

SteveN WILLARD said...

I had to check my calendar to be sure it's not April 1st.
Why does it have to be one way or the other?
I can recall the trouble it took to make a really nice lith or split toned print, and then how hard (impossible) it was to duplicate it. Of course I didn't use those processes on every print, only if the subject seemed to benefit from it. Over the years I've come to realize my "style" is to use whatever style works. I don't see all subjects as black and white or color, square or rectangular. It's all good. The more tools, and that's what I think Photoshop is, the better. We just need to remember, that just because we have a hammer in our hands, everything in sight isn't a nail.

Jeffrey Friedl said...

It's been interesting to see your take on this evolve over the (relatively short) time you've been blogging. You've had a lot of angst about the impurity of what so many "artists" do, even as late as a month or two ago when you talked about all the "artists" using Instagram. Perhaps part of letting go of all that angst will be to realize that not every cup of coffee must be the pinnacle of culinary refinement... folks using Instagram (or whatnot) are like you stopping by Starbucks... sometimes you just want a decent cup of joe, and for you, Starbucks falls within that range, even though for some others the thought of Starbucks just makes them cringe.

Just as I don't suspect that you fancy yourself to be a highfalutin' coffee connoisseur when you stop by Starbucks, I think most people using Instagram (or whatnot) just like the cool effect.

You've got considerable technical skill and an innate artist's eye, and that remains no matter how popular Starbucks becomes with the masses, and the results you produce speak for themselves (though most people don't speak the language, and that's okay). A small silver lining of holding the angst is that it might drive you artistically a bit, but it's probably not worth the stress, and it's probably holding you back artistically in ways you won't realize until you complete the "letting go", so here's wishing you a bit of zen in this regard.

Disclaimers: I don't use Instagram; I do like Starbucks' coffee

kirk tuck said...

I'll just sit in the lotus position for a while longer and have another hit of this great opium.... Everything is interconnected in the universe. You are HDR and HDR is you. We are all HDR.....can you feel the interconnectedness?

Jeffrey Friedl said...

My "zen" wish was more along the lines for you to acquire a "water off a duck's back" attitude for whatever schlock the masses consider trendy that might overlap with your higher ideals, but hey, whatever works for you :-)

Michael Ferron said...

Yes but it will come around full circle again Kirk. I remember when black velvet Elvis and tiger paintings best displayed under an ultra violet light was considered art by the dirty unwashed. The HDR and photo art enthusiasts are just frustrated painters who can't paint worth a damn. They are not photographers. Stick with what you do best. You'll be rewarded in the end.

hugo solo said...

Fear and reject.

Anonymous said...

These filters can work but only on a already strong image.

I like your grunge effect self portrait but that’s because the shot is so good in the first place.

A comedian (Jimmy Carr) from this side of the pond (UK) said ‘while you can’t polish a turd, you can roll it in glitter’..

I think that applies to filters etc ;)


Shootr said...

That Grunge effect is far out and way groovy baby.

Tony's Vision said...

I've loved reading all the varied and well-voiced comments on this issue, because recently I've acquired Nik Color Efex 4. Although my photographic roots extend deep into the film era, firmly grounding me in "traditional" photography, I've rationalized this new direction with the hope it would help me loosen up my work and help me "see" images more like the fun things my grandchildren come up with. While the Nik photo illustration results were fun, I had a hard time accepting them into the fold of my body of work until i started to distinguish them by applying one of Nik's borders. That helps a bit.

And so I plunged into the comments here for support and guidance. Dave Jenkins, of course, speaks best to my traditional self. But Steven Willard gave me the best base to move forward from. Jim's mention of the "popularize" filter really caught my attention, though. Alas, a search of Nik's long list of enhancements fails to come up with it. Perhaps in version 5, when I can look forward to attracting more "Likes" and perhaps even "Shares".

Many thanks for again stimulating an interesting discussion.

Bruce Walker said...

Kirk, I could have sworn that you said recently you'd always mark posts with a huge sarcasm flag when warranted.

Anyway, love the new look! :-)

Yoram Nevo said...

This post header photo would look great in B&W. Dont you think ?

kirk tuck said...

Yoram, I tried it. I like the color better.