I was discussing printmaking with one of the regulars readers of this site recently when a thought struck me: one of the biggest turning points for me personally was when I started shooting with an eventual printability objective for all of my images. This happened around early 2012, before which I’d felt I was stagnating creatively somewhat – perhaps partially due to day job commitments (this was before I turned to photography full time) and partially because well, I didn’t have an output objective.
Some months ago, I wrote about the idea of clarity in an image: the experience of being able to see through the picture and beyond the facsimile representation to the scene or subject in itself; it’s akin to breaking the fourth wall in cinema, but In the opposite direction. Ironically, the ability for a still photograph to do this is very much related to technology: we need the hardware and technical chops to be able to make it look as though the hardware is unimportant.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with quite a number of people involved in various areas of the photographic industry – from the corporate juggernauts that make the hardware, to the niche manufacturers, to professional photographers, to amateurs, clients/ image buyers and everything in-between. I suspect the nature of my work and involvement with the greater photographic community means that I have a little more insight into the big picture than most, and what I’m seeing honestly concerns me.
The idea of a photograph looking like a painting isn’t a ridiculous one. In fact, I personally find it quite appealing, and a very good solution for the times when you don’t have strong enough light to make something more dynamic. It’s certainly a style I’ve been exploring increasingly – beginning consciously with Havana – but what exactly makes a photograph ‘painterly’?
I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’
Choices, choices, choices. From the ultimate image quality shootout.
We have a rather strange hardware problem: on casual observation, simultaneously too much choice, but at the same time, when all things are taken into account, a lack of it. It isn’t the problem of the perfect camera not existing, but rather that we have to jump through a lot of hoops for a complete solution. There are digital systems with sensor sizes ranging from 2/3” (Pentax Q) to 645 (Phase One, Hasselblad) – and to make things more confusing, surprising amounts of interchangeability*. So what is a serious photographer to do?
*Practically, this is nothing more than an illusion and a bunch of empty promises: even if you can do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.
We’re now into ten years into the mainstream DSLR revolution started by the Nikon D70 and Canon 300D; that’s a decent amount of time by any measure, and by consumer technology standards, an eternity. I suspect many readers of this site will remember those cameras well – they probably marked the point of switching from film, a revival in interest in photography, or the beginning of a new passion. For me, it was the latter: I go into the digital game in late 2002, with a Sony compact that I carried pretty much everywhere (and made zero memorable images with). A bridge camera followed in 2003, and was swiftly replaced with a D70 on release day in 2004. I would say that was personally the opening of the floodgates: I had good enough, and I didn’t have the inconvienience or cost of film. The rest was up to me.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned ‘the four things’ in any context – teaching, essay, article, review, photoessay…and promptly realised that there’s actually no article in which I explain and detail them comprehensively. Granted, there’s a sort of semi-prioritized proto-version in these articles (first part, second part) on what makes an outstanding image; I go through it in quite some detail as it forms the underlying structure of the making outstanding images workshop series, and of course I go into significantly more detail in the teaching videos (episodes 1-3) including examples – but after wrapping up the San Francisco Masterclass yesterday, I was looking through the archives recently and didn’t find any solid mention of it anywhere. So, here goes.
At first glance, the headline makes no sense whatsoever. But contemplate a bit further, and you’ll find that it’s a perfect summary of what happens when you turn your passion/ hobby into your job. It’s taken me a while to figure out where the balance lies – and I admit I nearly gave up a couple of times – but I think we’re just about there. Let me explain…