This isn't a post about a book, but we start off with a book:
Over on The Online Photographer, we have a book review. It's a book of wet plate photography, apparently beautifully reproduced and so on. I believe that the reproductions are wonderful, I trust both ToP and the specific reviewer completely. I don't even know what's in the book, but the samples given in the review and on the amazon.com page for the book suggest that this is a pretty mixed bag of images. Some not very good ones, and a some really very good ones. It does look oddly like a collection of snapshots, although obviously one does not "snap" much of anything with collodion. It strikes me that this is primarily a book of wet plate photographs, and that the images themselves don't really matter all that much.
Please note that I accuse nobody of anything, I have no reason to suppose that the book reviewed is anything but 100 percent genuine. However, imagine the outcry should we find out later that the portfolio was actually make up of 20 wet plate images, and 46 digital ones that were photoshopped to look wet plate.
The fact that it was hard to make should not elevate a photograph one millimeter. We should not value photographs more for being shot on film, or developed in coffee. We should not value photographs more for being shot on large format, or wet plate, or from hard-to-reach vantage points. What matters is whether the result is any good. We might respect the photographer for laboring, but we must not judge the results based on the labor. Paintings are not judged or sold by the hour worked, nor are sculptures. Photographs should not get a special pass here.
Why does photography continue always to trend to measuring the value of the result by the labor that went into it? Is it because photography is, ultimately, very very easy? You just press the button, after all. Is it because we prefer an artisanal component to fine art, and so when artisanal labor is introduced to photography, we feel easier about treating it as fine art? This was never a very good idea, and in this age of trivially easy fakery, this is surely a more dangerous and wrong-headed notion than ever before.
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