Friday, August 31, 2012

Tech and Anti-Tech

Lomography. Holga. Impossible Project. As always in any artistic milieu there is a constant reaction to perceived norms in photography. Technical perfection is one of photography's long-standing norms: sharpness, acutance, compositional formality, precise focus, correct white balance, and so on. As usual with any such norm, we find a community of people who are more focused on complying with the norms of technical excellence than any difficult questions like, is the photograph any damn good?

Lomography and its ilk are surely a reaction to the norm of technical excellence. Commendably, Lomographers eschew technical perfection in favor of more important issues, such as, is the photograph any damn good? This is, at any rate, the theory. As with all human endeavors, Lomography has a tendency to vanish up its own ass. Instead of the perfect photoshop effect, the artist now searches for the perfect light leak, the perfectly broken lens, the perfect absinthe-based developer, which will finally unleash the artist's creativity.

Layered atop this we see a trend toward photographers applying Lomographic effects to technically good digital photographs. At this point we've pretty clearly diverged from the territory of artistic integrity. The effect is (almost) always just being applied because it looks cool, or because there's the feeling that it will bring some "artistic cred" to the image. The artist is not eschewing anything, they are in fact doing extra work to create the appearance of eschewing technology in favor of art.

In all cases, of course, the photographers tend to lose sight of the goal and get lost in technique, method, process. An entirely analogous process occurs in music. Musicians seek out old equipment, or digital simulations of same. They seek to "dirty up" the sound in old school ways. Bad musicians, like bad photographers, ignore the question of whether the "dirty" sound serves the music they are playing or not. They just love the sound of tubes screaming in agony, or the digital simulation of tubes screaming in agony. It's a cool sound, I love it too. It doesn't automatically make you awesome.

There is nothing inherently wrong with technical perfection, or with a Holga, or with a Polaroid. Nor is there anything inherently more artistic about these approaches and tools. The only thing that really matters is this:

Is the photograph any damn good?

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