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Photography Question 
RG Rottschalk
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/27/2004

Photography vs. Art

> I am very new to digital photography having purchased my first digital
in May 2003 and my most recent in November 2003. I don't consider myself to be a good photographer or art critic or really anything more than a person learning to use the tools of a modern fascinating hobby. I also have a
liberal opinion of the word "art" which is derived from a quote I heard
many years ago from an unknown source who said, "Art is anything that you can get away with". (Warhol perhaps?) I don't always agree with that but I'm close to that level of interpretation in my own way. This general philosophy is the basis of my commentary.
> It seems to me that there is a fine line between "photo composition" and
"photo manipulation" There are so many images out there today that have
been significantly altered by fancy, expensive software, several shots pasted together to get one awesome looking "photo". Here lies my issue. I realize that even with film / chemical based "analog" photography that there are techniques to make simple photos look far different or composed in the lab vs, through the lense. Over the years and with no specific research
performed on my part, many of the film-based manipulative results are
fairly obvious. My concern is that with digital, there are so many easy ways to alter what the camera saw. To go beyond small adjustments to an image
through software manipulation seems to be more like an art of "assemblage"
than an art of shooting a clear, colorful (when applicable) pictures,
properly exposed in whatever bracketing situation the photographer
chooses. In fact, bracketing and cropping seems the most legitimate use of the camera as a tool of manipulating an image versus the use of software to accomplish the same.
> To sum it all up, I'm leaning toward the belief that a lot of "good
photography" these days is the result of the software used to "compose" an
image. There is so much emphasis on the use of "Photoshop" for one editing
task or another. I too would be lost and incapable of participating in
the hobby if not for personal computers, software, and printers. My personal goal is to learn the hardware tool (the camera) to it's intended digital capability versus any software program that can correct my mistakes and miscalculations. While I can heartily accept these manipulated images as good art, it is difficult for me to accept them as necessarily good photography. I also don't thnk these differing media should be judged from the same pile.
> Maybe that delineation is best kept in the mind of the beholder. I
reluctantly accept the fact that what you see in the end is not always
what the camera saw at the beginning.

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1/30/2004 9:08:17 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  I hear what you're saying. You can say photography is an art, and then you could say photography can be an art. Painting is an art, and you wouldn't get too many arguments against that. But would you consider painting by the numbers art? You are painting, and you do have to make it look clean and not sloppy. But does that take you away from art?

Some things done with the computer aren't any different than back in the day when dodging and burning in was done with blocking light or making a circle with your hands when doing black and white prints. It's easier and faster with a computer, but doing it back then never was considered as taking away from being an art.

You can ask if art is the end product of creating something, as in if I use a computer to make an image that did not occur in real life like putting dolphins from sea world in a picture of the ocean. While it may be an appealing image, is it art? Or is coming up with the idea to make a stimulating image an art form? What about those images that are a simple photo, but somebody uses a preformed program image that any child could do if they "go under file, choose this design, then click okay" and then they have a fancy looking, colorful image of somebody's face surrounded by graphics? Is it art? Is it a plain photograph just dressed up with graphics? Is it both? What if it were graphics that the photographer had to take a long time to "draw" with the computer instead of just clicking the right keys? Does that make it more of an art?

It's going to be a long argumented subject. You could say if it didn't happen in front of you, it ain't art. But the use of collages has always been used to make an artistic statement. Long before digital. So you could say digital manipulation just makes it easier, faster, and that anybody can do it.

But one point you made that I say gets ignored is that digital has allowed, and made people not pay attention to whether or not they are looking at good photography. But you really can't stress over that. Because there's this thing about everybody with regards to art. If we're looking at something and we like it, we say "That's art". If we don't like it, we say "That's not art".

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1/30/2004 11:42:28 AM


BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  This question has been pondered since the times of Kant and before.

In a thousand years from now, people will be wondering what the big deal was about regarding computers and digital imagery.

I used to think that graphic art wasn't really art. In other words, I wrongly applied it to people who make signs and stuff like that. Then, comes along the internet. All of a sudden you have "graphic artisits" doing amazing stuff. I also realized that those other people were artists, I just had a certain image in my mind about it that was completely wrong.

Art is really what ever you make it. If I take a photograph of something, then tell the lab to dial out the green, dodge it here and there, then burn in some of the background, is that art, or not?

I don't know. But, what I am doing is creating my image the way I think it needs to be represented. The art of photography is not only in the ability to correctly expose your film, but also in the development of the film and in the creation of a print. All 3 processes require technical skill and artistic vision.

Musicians constantly manipulate a song while it is in the writing stages until they get it to sound the way they want it. So, is that not art? Why don't they just play it one time, record it and it's finished. Because, it would not sound right. They make tweaks here and there. They may add a keyboard sound later. Musicians are known to take years, sometimes, writing a composisition. You also hear the stories of them taking 5 minutes, but I think that's more rare. Do you think Sting just jumps up on stage and plays songs that he's only just once sort of worked out?

I think the thing is the final product. I think anything can be art. Manipulation of an image in Photoshop does not mean that a photographer is slighting their art. In fact, I would argue the opposite.

Digital technology has provided far more oppotunities for photographers to fine tune their art. Instead of relying on some dude in the lab to understand your vision, you can bypass the dude, and do it yourself, exactly the way you envision it. I think that it goes way beyond art. You can be as bizarre or as pure as you want. It's your choice. And that's the beauty.

I don't think that the technology will make average folk artists, if that's what you are sort of getting at. Will it make their prints look better? Maybe. But, what's wrong with that?

I tend to do alot of snapshots with my digital because it's free. The other night I shot a bunch of shots without paying any attention really to the settings, only to realize later that I shot on manual (I was wondering why the flash wasn't working) at night.

We'll as it turned out, I was shooting in RAW mode, so I was able to turn up the light, if you will. Was it art? Probably not. But, I was able to make a bad image okay.

Artists will always find a way to stretch. I don't think you have to worry much about it.


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1/30/2004 12:08:20 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  But he's got a point about the good art not being good photography. Using the music analogy, with all the things mixing boards and recording different tracks that you can do in a studio, many songs made are pieced together recordings. You have somebody in a studio and they don't flow from low notes to high notes very well. So you have them do half a piece here, then they just do the upper notes instead of doing the whole section. Mix it and dupe it and you put it all together and it sounds like they went through the whole song.
And you can say that's not good singing, that's studio techniques. And you can say the same for some digital photography. It's not something I worry about, but it is a valid point.

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1/30/2004 9:16:22 PM

RG Rottschalk
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/27/2004
  This is a challenging topic and I'm glad to see that there have been a few replies and additional opinions added. Thank you both for that......

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1/30/2004 10:11:19 PM

Dan Kachmer  
  Supreme Court
Supreme Court
© Dan Kachmer
Canon EOS 10D Digi...
Nothing makes me happier than finding out that a photo of mine came out exactly as I wanted it to when I took it. On the other hand however, some of those photos that come out "perfect", also look awesome when I play around with them in photoshop. By doing a little altering, or a lot of altering even, you get a totally different feeling from a photo.
My opinion is, the thing that makes photography artistic, isn't what you do to a photo, it's having the vision to take the photo. I don't mean to sound cliche, but I think we are always surrounded by art in the world, and we all have seen something that no-one else has. Capturing that on film, or digital media for others to see, however it is done, can be art to me. My wife tells me all the time that she would have never thought certain photos of mine would have even been worth taking. I see this all the time in other photographers work. Everybody sees things differently. That's what so cool about photography, and that's why it never loses its appeal to me. Just for fun Im submitting a photo I had some fun with. Its a combo of 3 photos. One from seattle, one from Mexico, and one from DC. Art? Maybe not, but fun? Yes.
You be the judge.

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2/8/2004 12:39:32 AM

RG Rottschalk
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/27/2004
  This is a great example of what I was pondering in my initial posting. The example provided by Dan is an outstanding example of art, and specifically "assemblage". (I haven't used that word twice in 35 years and here I write about it twice in 2 weeks, thanks again Mrs. O, rest your soul) He started with good photography, and any of those images may have been outstanding in the eyes of theier beholders, but this assembly is where the line is clearly drawn, I feel, between good photography and good art.

My only point in the whole discussion is that highly manipulated images shouldn't be judged or compared to or even considered in the same category as pure (perhaps lightly tweaked or cropped) original photos. It's probably a competitive thing I'm stuck on. A final example and possibly my last commentary here, is that we would not expect to find an oil painting submitted in a water color contest.

In conclusion, I just love all of this stuff, photos, collages, assemblages, paintings, architecture. What would this world be without them or those of us who are passionate enough to bother writing and exchanging views. All the while never forgetting that without this miraculous medium called the internet, these kinds of conversations would never happen. Happy retirement to the person who invented that wonderful assemblage of commands, Ctrl, Alt, Delete. Later.....bye!

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2/8/2004 5:42:47 AM

  One can relate your question in different ways. I have to agree with everyone answers. Since our digital age has come it has allowed us to do things more rapidly than what the great Ansal Adams done in his day. He would take days burning and dodging to make a photograph the way he wanted to reflect what he was seeing. Was this art? And then there were photographers years ago that would also spend weeks to make a collage that one could do now is much less time.

What it all comes down to is the photography that you enjoy. From the quotes from the master Ansel Adams

A good photograph is knowing where to stand.

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.

A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into.

A true photograph need not to be explained, nor can it be contained in words.


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2/11/2004 4:59:21 PM

Paul M   I have enjoyed this discussion thread.

I approach 'art' from a fairly liberal standpoint.

I see artistry as the application of personal creativity and the expression of some kind of artistic 'vision' to create something meaningful.

By that standard a lot of things are art - including heavily manipulated digital photographs.

And why not.

Why should someone who looks at a digital image and pushes a series of buttons that transform it into something that previously existed only in that person's mind not be considered an artist.

It is essentially the same process musical artists go through when they sample sounds and transform them into new kinds of music through software.

The musical artist Moby is a perfect example of that - most music critics call him a musical genius.

Here in Canada, when our first copyright laws were being written a century ago, all kinds of photography were excluded from copyright protection because people at the time rejected the idea that 'capturing an image' was an artistic act.

I don't think anyone would agree with that view today. The decisions we make about what photos to take, how to frame and expose them and later how to manipulate them, are what make the images artistic.

The tools we use to express ourselves are relatively unimportant compared to the creative decisions we bring to the process.

So, in my view it's art... which is not to say that it's all good art.


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2/12/2004 8:02:30 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Moby's a musical genius? More proof that the "artsy crowd" looks at how you act, more than what you do.

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2/12/2004 10:58:00 AM

RG Rottschalk
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/27/2004
  Wow, my original Art discussion has evolved into a music discussion.

(As I concluded this thread, I realize that I go to the opposite extreme as originally posted in terms of art. I'm getting down to "good art" vs "bad art" and not real happy with this. See what you think. Im no longer sure if there is a point or not or whether this is a 60's induced "experience")

This is such a prime topic and
reinforces my original indoctrination into the arts, via a humanities course in high school. The only Moby I know was a 60's group who had a last name also, Moby Grape. Never cared for them much.
To stay with the music side of this
creative process, us elders can look at the recording and performance history of Jimi Hendrix. Many feel that Jimi was one of the finest guitarists to walk the face of the earth. (I think he was an alien) Anyway, if you ever watch or listen to he and whatever group he had at they time playing live, they had a rather disjointed, discord going most of the time, and in it's own way, like the original photo. Art, pleasure or whatever the ear of the beholder felt.
I love Hendrix but have a hard time with the live stuff. Like a pure black canvas that someone pays $1,000,000 for. When Jimi and Eddie Kramer got together in the mixing booth, or Jimi sat down and added the bass line the way he wanted it vs the way Noel Redding played it, we end up with the "Electric Ladyland" or "Axis Bold As Love" albums. Pure masterpieces. I certainly hope that whatever future alien race unearths our remains that they find Jimi's studio work before the live stuff.....I wonder if they'll be able to tell the difference between a photo of what really was vs what was manipulated into an alternate reality. I suppose they wqoiuld have to find the "making of" Electric Ladyland or the Adobe capabilities over photography. My brain hurts, I'm done, later folks......

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2/12/2004 1:11:08 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Art, if one looks at "classical art", is the manipulation of one form of medium to create the image which the artist sees... with or without interpretation.

Photography is no different.

Digital manipulation of photographies is not different.

The only thing which is different between then and now is the amount of perceived "work".

Whether the filter is a piece of glass, gel, silk hose, or a piece of software which emulates the effect of a physical filter, you are still producing something.

I've heard some people say that art is the voice of an artist espressing themselves through a medium.

I've also heard that art is what the viewer, the perciever, feels is espressive to them.

To some people, it isn't art unless hard work was put into it, bits and bytes not counting in their minds. So anything digital is not art unless it is the burnt hunk of computer welded onto a steel plate.

To others, anything is art. That old tire on the road is art... if you put it in a gallery. Otherwise, it is just an old tire.

Art comes from the artist. Ie, something produced from someone or something. Whether the art is a piece of code which tells a printer how to draw what the coder had no ability to draw by hand or whether it is the photographer "painting" onto film with light through the use of his trusty camera, tripod, and lens. Or if it be the painter with a brush and paint, contemplating the blank canvas before him.

Art is a produced thing which others then experience.

If you take a photo of something, that is art. Sure, a robot or a security camera could have taken the picture. But that particular picture, that particular view of that scenery... it spoke to YOU. And so you captured it. It becomes your espression of that moment.

If you later digitally scan it and manipulate it and print it out again for display, how is that any different from someone seeing the same scene and picturing how he would like the scene to be changed and applying paint to canvas to produce the same image?

Art requires people to perceive it and to experience it. This happens at the time of creation and throughout its life.

Artists need tools. And whether that tool is a camera, brush, knife, axe, or a piece of high priced software... they are creating.

This does not speak for the different concepts people have of what is and is not artful or tasteful. :)

(Btw,where I say him/he I am implying he/her/she/him.)

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2/12/2004 2:36:04 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  I was half way joking about Moby. But Jimi Hendrix live was probably Jimi under the influence. I've seen clips of him live and I think he had more than adrenaline going.

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2/12/2004 3:06:27 PM

Paul M  
  Mug Shot of Lewis Payne by Alexander Gardner
Mug Shot of Lewis Payne by Alexander Gardner
(Public Domain - Not My Photo)
© Paul M
Nikon Coolpix 5700...
You were half joking about Moby, but I was half agreeing with you.

The difference between a photo taken by a robot or video camera and one taken by a human photographer is the creative process brought by the photographer to the process.

When a human is involved, even a mug shot can be artistic (like this one of a Lincoln assasination co-conspirator taken by Alexander Gardner).

At the time this picture was taken, however, photography was not considered to be artistic.

In fact, legally Gardner wasn't even considered to be the creator of the image (although he did own the plates).

The 'its not art' biases people have against 'photoshopped' images today are essentially the same biases the Victorians had against 'photography' back in the 1800s.

The use of mechanical or chemical processes does not diminish the artistry - it just allows you to express yourself in different ways.

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2/13/2004 7:44:45 AM

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