Friday, September 27, 2013

The Dishonesty of Straight Photography

Somewhere at the beginning of the 20th century, "straight photography" became the dominant mode of photography. I think it was a backlash and so on, whatever. I don't really care all that much about the history. The point is that for the last 100 years or so the default setting for photography has been: sharp, in focus, exposed to give detail throughout the tonal range. That is, pictures which show us as much as is technically possible about what was actually in front of the camera.

This is not to say that straight photography is all there is or has been. I mean only that other styles are viewed as relative to straight photography. Straight photography is the dominant thing. If you want to be "edgy" or "creative" start doing something else. Further, photojournalism and other reportage genres are all straight.

The trouble is, a straight photograph isn't any more honest than a.. bent one. In fact, it's arguably less honest. By presenting itself sharp and clear, with details in the highlights and the shadows, and with a fleet of social conventions attached, we take a straight photograph as truthful. It is in fact no more truthful than any other photograph. Straight photography methods allow the photographer to paint a veneer of truthiness on anything. A bent photograph might be more honest, more truthful, and more real. What newspaper today would publish a photograph that shows what it felt like to be there over a straight photograph that does nothing of the sort. See also Robert Capa's "Falling Soldier", which would be much lesser as a straight photograph, which might have been staged, but which may be the single greatest photojournalistic shot ever made.

I rather hope that we are on the verge of a new idea of photography, one which finally steps away from straight as the standard. With instagram filters, with easy digital processing, with any number of approaches and idioms in play, one at least can imagine a new generation of society which treats photographs with a skepticism as well as a little more art. One can imagine a future, I suppose, in which the New York Times publishes an honest picture of what it felt like to be there over a dishonestly cropped straight photograph that supports a lie about what it was to be there.

That might be pushing it, though..

No comments:

Post a Comment