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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

An Interesting Historical Moment

Photography exists at this moment at a curious location in the space of philosophical possibility.

Name the most prominent and influential photographers, the photographers most likely to be named as "an influence" by an enthusiastic photographer. You're going to come up with names like Adams, Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Winogrand, maybe Stieglitz or Weston. There are others, but my list is going to overlap with practically everyone's list in several places.

Did any of these people do much modification to their pictures? The equivalent of photoshop? Well, you can argue that all day, but mostly they didn't. The adjusted contrast and tonality, for the most part (or had people do that for them) but most of them were somewhere between mildy and rapidly opposed to "retouching" to any substantial degree. Don't paint out the telephone wires, shoot it right in the first place! And so on.

The slightly sophisticated contemporary photographer knows to revile those awful pictorialists, and may even be able to give a few names to hate. And they hate them not because of anything about pictorialism, but because those awful pictorialists were inveterate modifiers of photographs. Smearing, cutting, compositing, scratching. Ugh. Those bad people. Most people conflate pictorialism with a set of modification techniques, in fact.

And yet these same photographers will, more often than not, declare that any photoshopping they choose to do is OK. Usually because whatever they are doing is Making The Image Better. Presumably those awful pictorialists (who were often actually trained in stuff like What Makes Pictures Better, unlike your average dope with Photoshop) were modifying their pictures to Make The Image Worse?

Anyways. The received philosophy, as widely held, is wildly at odds with the practiced philosophy.

There remain a few "don't use photoshop" people (me NOT among them) out there. Just watch them get pounced on when they show their colors in public, though!

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