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You Can't Believe Photography Anymore

The underpinning concept of course is the belief that somehow a photograph should be some sort of forensic recording of a slice of life and any other purpose for photographic images is somehow outside the acceptable usage for the medium.

Of course photography is not simply about recording events and reality in an accurate unvarnished way, though of course some genres of the medium do demand such an approach, for example reportage or real estate photography. Generally though the need for a totally literal interpretation of the original scene is not really that imperative and indeed is pretty much impossible anyway.

Lets think about the realities of photographic capture.

First the camera is only a rough approximation of the human eye and for a long time to come I doubt it will approach the amazing capabilities of human eyesight. Consider that the eye can easily see detail well into the shadows and highlights all at the same time, it can see colours and shades the camera can’t, it can focus (at least give the impression of focusing) on all parts of the scene with absolute accuracy. The eye can adapt to very low light and of course with good eyesight we can see much more than the camera lens can from a detail perspective.

So straight off the bat, the camera is at a distinct disadvantage and your photos will always be a pale imitation of the reality you saw at the time of capture, how often have you taken a photo only to find the final print looked flat, dead and colourless in comparison to how you saw it. It could of course be you saw the scene with “rose coloured glasses” or maybe your memory is just deficient, but in truth you probably just came hard up against the limits of the capture system.

Consider also that the final image will generally be printed, but a print can have a contrast range no wider than the black of the ink/dye used and no brighter than the paper base, and of course this pales in comparison to the natural worlds range of brightness values.

So photographic capture is nobbled to start with and the challenge is to edit and adjust the image and then print it so it more realistically reflects our original viewing experience, and trust me for the pedantic photo editor, like myself, this is more than just a minor challenge.

Moving beyond the limits of capture we then have the non-realities created by the system and tools. If you chose to use monochrome film or digital, then you are already well beyond human reality/truth and into the territory of your canines world.

And what about lens choice, a standard focal length lens will show the world more or less naturally from a perspective point of view, but any other focal length will be quite different to your eyesight’s reality and as yet humans have not evolved zoom eyes so this is likely to remain true for a time yet.

But wait there’s more, what about cropping, we see a sort of semi-spherical view of the world with quite a bit of peripheral vision but the camera crops the scene to a really neat oblong and then of course you will likely crop some more.

There is also the simple fact, that barring a nasty accident, we see in 3D but the camera (normally anyway) is a 2D device and I could go on and on about the deficits and differences.

You see the whole photography capture process is anything but reality.

Now of course with the easy availability of editing programs we are able to alter the image captured by the camera in limitless ways, some of those ways will of course bring the image closer to our initial vision but editing can just as easily distort that vision. Is this new and is it a problem?

Photographers and darkroom workers have been distorting reality since the very inception of the medium, it has just become a lot easier. Many photographers in the trade had collections of negatives of moons, suns, skies etc that were composited to lift images beyond the uninteresting and banal, its just that the average punter didn’t know this happened, so radical editing is anything but new.

Clearly for reportage, legal and truthful advertising purposes, photography should be as true a record as possible but beyond that photography is a highly creative medium/art form and it seems crazy to limit it to some artificial standard that will never exist anyway due to the limits of capture and printing.

That’s not to say photographers should lie and deceive, for example many of my works are not straight photographs, they are my interpretation of the world and a result of my imagination. But I don’t ever claim them to be reality, they are what they are because I like the way they look or the message they convey.

I do have a problem however when photographers claim something is reality and untouched when in fact it is anything but. For example, I really take an interest in landscape photography and have seen many Australian exhibitions, and a few of those photographers claim the images are unvarnished realities, that the colours are real etc. But the images are obviously nothing like reality, with this I share the same disdain as many of my students acquaintances.....its just not right. If they said “yes I this is my interpretation of the scene”, then that’s fine, that is the licence of the artist, but to claim it is a reality that was only captured because they had the great fortune to be there at just the right time and used gear that somehow had magical qualities when it came to pressing the shutter time....well that is just a fraud.

So up front at the start of the life of my new website I am stating, there is not a photo I have offered for sale that is not edited in some way and I have never taken a photo that did not need some editing and I doubt I ever will. But heck that’s OK; I’m not a photojournalist.

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