Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Photography vs. Art?

I've been doing the "Photo A Day" challenges from Fat Mum Slim for the past 2.5 months.  Also, somewhere along the line a friend on G+ shared a circle of photographers, so now my feed is full of some awesome (and not so awesome) photos.
Seeing all these images and actually paying attention to the shots I'm taking, well, more attention than I had been paying, has got me rankled.  Actually, it has just brought somethings that have been festering in the back of my mind for a long time now to the surface.

As much as I love my digital camera and the ease with which I can take, and over take, pictures, I'm not sure  everything it's done for photography as an art is a good thing.  First off, with the price of cameras coming down, and the quality being pretty good, everyone and their cousin thinks they're a Photographer with a capital "P".  Now, I've been taking pictures practically since I can remember.  But, I still don't call myself a Photographer.  I'm a photographer.  I'm someone who enjoys taking pictures, not just snapshots.  I know a fair bit about how a camera works and what things like f-stop and ISO mean and how shutter speed and f-stop and ISO are all related.  I've taken a few classes in high school, but really they were for fun and practice and I didn't learn a whole lot I didn't already know.  I'm not an expert in lighting or staging a shot and I'm really no pro when it comes to using Photoshop or any of the other photo editing software packages out there.  And you know what, I don't want to.  I enjoy playing with my images and exploring the world and capturing moments as I see them.  I wasn't into big darkroom tricks when I was doing black and white film, and I'm not into big software tricks now that I'm digital.

That leads me to one, or maybe several, of the other things that is bugging me about photography these days.  All the "tricks" everyone and their brother seems to be using on every single photograph.  Like capturing a moment in time isn't good enough, but they've got to fiddle with it and make it "perfect".  Dad's always telling me there's no such thing as perfect.  Sure, I'll adjust the contrast or the "exposure" or color levels, but that's about it.  And yes, I crop pictures, sometimes a LOT sometimes just a little and sometimes not at all.  And no, they're not always perfectly square or in the standard ratios.

And what is it with long exposures (especially of streams, creaks and water falls), single color highlights and whatever this HDR baloney is?  And why, in the name of all that is holy must every single shot be made to look as if it was shot using a Polaroid with half expired film?  I just don't get it.  I'm so not a fan of any of this.   In my mind it destroys the purity of photography, it makes it dirty.  I can't come up with any better word for it, but it just feels dirty to me.  Maybe I'm a realist living in an impressionist world, but why must every single person feel the need, no the mandate, to use every single tool in the Photoshop toolbox?  Aren't their images good enough to stand on their own two feet without all these tricks?
Yes, I know that sometimes you can't say what you want to say without some of these tricks.  I'll freely admit that I have a photo hanging in my living room that's of some lilies that I took at a museum in California that I played with in Photoshop to make what I lovingly call a "faux-Monet".  I have a Monet lily poster hanging on the opposite wall.  They go well together.  But, I don't do that to every blessed shot I shoot.

I'm not really sure what the point of all this was.  I know I can't change human nature.  And photography is the latest "fad".  Actually, I'm sure my dad'll tell me it's been a fad since the first affordable Kodak camera came on the market and that in the days after WWII everyone and their brother thought they were a Photographer.  Maybe it is just the mass bombardment we get with social media and the 24x7 connections we've got these days.  Maybe it's that all these tricks are becoming "easy" and are cheap.  But quite frankly, I'm not sure it's doing photography as an art form much good.  It makes everyone go "I can do that" and they think they can and you get inundated with nothing more than a million snapshots.  Yes, I take a lot of snapshots myself, but still... I've been taught to "look" and "see" the image and compose the shot at least to some extent and I do that more often than not, even with snapshots.  (Point in fact, I can remember trying very hard to set up a shot and get the perfect picture of a man with a stack of what seemed like 100 hats on his head at the KC Renascence Faire back when I was about 7 or 8 years old and getting nothing but frustrated.  The man understood what I was trying to do and posed wonderfully for me, but it seemed like everyone saw "just a kid" and had no problems barging in front of me while trying to take a shot.  And since this was back in the 80's I was shooting film and hoarding every single exposure I had on my roll.)

And, I'm a bit of liar.  I've put a camera in my son's hand at the ripe old age of 3 (and now he's 4) and let him have at it.  I fully intend on teaching him the lessons dad and mom taught me along the way.  But, for now, I let him take a million snapshots and then tell him he's taken enough for now and put the camera up on a high shelf.  He does get some interesting ones and I think part of why I do it is because it lets me see the world through his eyes.  I'm sure this was an unintended (or maybe an intended) bonus for my own parents when they put a camera in my own hands at a young age.  (That and I'm sure dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and since photography is a passion and brought so much joy to him and a way to explore the world, he wanted to share it with Jon and I.)

So, with this jumble of thoughts and grumpiness (and no pictures today) I will leave you.  I haven't done well with the August challenge.  My exhaustion has been catching up with me again and my heart just isn't in it this month.  There have been some great prompts, but I'm just not feeling it at the moment.  (I am enjoying playing with Dad's Nikon D80 though... even though I really need to download the manual and figure out how to use the old non-AF lenses... I keep getting errors and the camera won't let me shoot...)

I bid you peace and joy in your hobbies.  (And for all that is holy step away from the photo editor.... please, just this once?)


Margaret said...

I'm definitely no expert at photography. I have appoint and shoot and phone. I take what I can and hope for the best.

Jenn Dixon said...

I am a semi-professional photographer, but I don't the the capital P thing. I agree with you here, Deb. Why use a camera phone to make a picture look old and crappy? I have actual cameras that do that! Anyway, I go for purity in my photos and don't over-post process.

Addey said...

Thanks Jenn. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels that way. I barely post process my pictures. Sure, there are times I wish I was better at post processing, but 99% of the time, I barely scratch the surface of the tools I have available. It just seems like anyone who has a DSLR these days thinks they're all that and a slice of cake... when a lot of it is just snapshots. I guess it's like the over saturation of all media these days.

And Margaret, practice makes better. I'll stick to photos if you stick to words. Your words usually make me laugh.