I was noodling around last night, after writing the previous post on Copyright, thinking about what it is that photographers think they own. These guys who say "it's miiine" in a sort of vague and formless way, arguing against things like fair use and so on. They want total control of their pictures. But what is it that they think they actually own?
Obviously, everyone knows, one can own an embodiment of a picture and one owns only that embodiment. If I own a copy of a novel, I own a pile of paper with marks on them and that's it.
Some people, particularly photographers, imagine a sort of Platonic ideal, a notional object with no physical form of its own, which "is" the picture, or the novel. Some sort of essence of the thing. I suspect that this is, in sort of vague terms, what photographers think they own.
Unfortunately for them, property and ownership are social constructs, and society is when pressed unwilling to define "ownership" of nebulous bullshit. Therefore we have created the idea of a copyright, which is a bundle of rights surrounding the right to produce new embodiments of the whatever-it-is that we can't really define very well. If you're going to own something, it's going to be either an embodiment (a print, a physical book) or a copyright. You can own both, but they're two different things.
It turns out that this is pretty clever. Coming up with a formal, definable, thing which does a reasonable job of capturing the important parts of the abstract Platonic thing is not so easy, and copyright does a fair job of it.
Photographers strike me as particularly grasping and whiny about copyright specifically, and "ownership" of the abstract Platonic object in general.
I think this is, ultimately, because photographers tend to feel a bit like impostors.
There's a strong historical precedent for this. The whole Victorian era hand-work mess was, essentially, a reaction to the idea that photography is not sufficiently creative, it does not involve, let us be honest, all that much actual creation and therefore many of its practitioners decided to do some creating by painting on negatives, mashing gum-bichromate prints with their fists, and so on. We continue with this today, altogether too often we find people saying in a rather shrill voice that they do not take pictures, they make them. Usually by positioning lights, by extensive post-processing, and so on.
"Hey, nobody applies Lightroom presets in the same way I do! I make pictures, I don't just take them!"
In the end though, photography when distilled down, is just choosing a rectangle out of whatever happens to be nearby. At the end of the day, you're just throwing up index finger and thumb on both hands, and cropping out what's there, and then doing some technical whatever-the-fuck to fix that into some persistent embodiment which (let us review) is not the actual Platonic thing.
It's just plain not that creative, in the sense that you're not creating much of anything.
This doesn't mean that it sucks, or that it's easy, or stupid, or lame. It's astonishingly difficult. It's just not, you know, creative in the sense of creating something.
Photography, it seems to me, is very much its own thing here. Sure, you can go to work on it and be a failed painter with photoshop, or whatever. Feel free to run off a gum-bichromate print and do a waltz on it. None of that stuff is photography, although it may be very creative and it may be Art it's not photography. It's dancing, or painting, or scratching at negatives, or whatever. Which is lovely and fine. But not photography.
Indeed, much of this sort of thing is excellent. There are excellent painters out there. I've seen a fair number of collage-y things I quite like.
And no, the line is not clear. Where photograohy ends and other, more creative things, begin is not a precise line. The fact that the line is vague does not mean we cannot distinguish things on one side from things on the other. It's not as if you can no longer distinguish the castle from the invaders merely because the moat is rather wide and muddy, after all.
Photography in its essence is selecting, not making.
You can argue that it is creative after all, and drone on about the various tidbits of creativity you personally do in your work, and try to use that as a justification for whatever.
This is to get hold of the thing by the wrong end. Jut because photography isn't particularly about creating anything doesn't mean that it isn't worthy. Observing, seeing, is a wonderful thing. The ability to say "hey, look at that" and simply point out something worth looking at is pretty marvelous.
Just pressing the button at the right time is a fine thing to be able to do. We're not impostors!