Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Defense of Art -or- Hell Yeah!

Still much to process post-show, (isn't that a good/large part of the internal process?)  and am reflecting on another overheard comment last Saturday evening in which a show participant was talking about another participant's work (both having submitted photographs),  "... he's used some tricks" in a low, hushed, nearly ominous tone.  Why use the word "trick"?  Isn't all art a bit of a trick?  (and ironically I'm not using the word "trick" in the same way I did in the previous post in which I was talking about the challenge, here I'm talking about the negative connotation of  'fooling' someone).

I've let previous comments, thoughts, etc. out in the art/photographic world steer me into some perhaps misguided belief that an altered photographic image was not pure, not of the highest caliber.  Why is that?  Because I believe we are critiquing the end product not the process to a greater extent.  I think maybe sometimes that this concept of trickery in art/photography comes to mean when it is easily accessible by all; the notion that anyone given the right tools could conjure up the same output and thereby lessening the value.  No doubt cameras are ubiquitous and software abounds for digital manipulations, but it certainly doesn't mean everyone is going to come up with the same stuff. 

Well today is a new day for me -- yeah, we all may have greater or lesser access to certain tools, but it's the mind/brain interaction that is at play.  Every painter uses paint brushes, and paints... it's how they use it and how they edit their work that will create differences (not to mention not every attempt "works" so to speak - but that's better left for another post).   So... here is to post-processing of photographic images... hell yeah they are manipulated; call it tricks, call it skill, call it style, call it technique - I don't care anymore.  (Oh wow, I just realized I'm moving towards 'not giving a damn'!)

I can tell you this... I spend a lot of time using post-processing software (on the images I decide to "work" with), I use at least 4 different products (none of which are Photoshop).  Sometimes I use multiple combinations of programs and nobody can produce exactly what I've produced -- not even myself as I rarely remember the exact formula.  Like a painter, I keep adding (sometimes purposeful, other times not), effects, layers, manipulations (tricks - hell yeah), until I like what I see.  Yes, there are some benefits to using software, like I can normally undo a step or two if I don't like the effect, but I still am driving the decision making process -- no tricks there.

So, is this brick building a great post-processed image?  Better yet, simply: is this a great image? I don't know, time will tell perhaps -- but it sure looks a lot better than what I started out with.  The colors are pleasing to me.  I'm not sure it tells me a story right now, or if in time - image familiarity will become the value - but this is art (you can call it a trick if it makes you feel better).


Sandy said...

Your comments about art photography (or art and photography) are very interesting! I have something to say in response to this and couldn't quite figure out how to say it without jumping to an analogy where the differences are a little clearer.

So, my analogy is to music recordings and, specifically, live music vs produced music recordings. Live music recordings are capturing something that actually happened, pretty much how it happened, which re-creates (to the extent that's even possible) the experience of being there. Unaltered photography is sort of the same thing -- this is capturing a moment or creature or whatever, pretty much as it is, duplicating in a printed image the same thing that someone else would see in real life. When I shoot events, people often say my photos take them right into the experience of being there, and that is the highest praise to me -- I'm not aiming to make a statement with my photos; I'm capturing "being there." That's the heart of photojournalism.

Now, back to my analogy... produced music is very different. It is rarely capturing music as it happened -- it is usually taking the best "takes" on parts of the musical pieces, and in cases where there's more than one musician, they sometimes didn't even record the pieces at the same time together. So, the editors of an album take the best of everything that happened in the studio and put it together to make something that may be more magical and perfect than what would have occurred without the post-production.

Both types of music recordings have great value, but the qualitiative experience of them is likely very different for a lot of people. People who have an authenticity bias (that is, seeking to experience something that occurred naturally) -- which would be people like me! -- will likely favor the live music recording, live performances, documentaries, non-fiction, and "live" photos (for lack of a better term!). None of that means that the other types of experiences -- produced music, produced movies, fiction, photos with post-production -- are any less valuable or worthwhile, but the experience of that type of work will not be the same for many people. And why would it be? Does that make sense?

Stone Bridge Studios said...

A very interesting and well though out post Sandy, thank you! Yes, I do like the analogy. One thing I like to play with in my work is the concept of what is left out in a photograph - photo journalistic shot's are still altered by the variables - framing of the photographer and the limitations/selection of equipment, etc. We all know what a camera angle can do for some of us! (To follow the analogy, the recording equipment also would add a layer of alteration in a live recording.)

Where is starts to get gray for me in terms of an altered or post-processed work is when I try to think what's the difference in a shot that is taken with B&W film and one that is converted to B&W in post-processing? Is one photo journalism, and the other an artistic statement?

Postcards from Detroit said...

Beautiful, I like the "altered" art just as much.