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Photo-Based Art Emulating natural-media painting techniques

Philosophy of photography and art

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Old 04-29-2009, 12:28 AM
romme romme is offline
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Philosophy of photography and art

Canvas pictures

Since the advent of photography, it has been negated by most as an artform with the ludicrous thought that all you have to do is aim the camera and push the shutter, photography is always mentioned as being separate from art.

The reality is that photography is as much an artform as painting or any other form of expression or communication.

In many ways, photography and painting are very similar, in other ways they are very different. Both have their inherent challenges, but photography can be as difficult as painting and sometimes more so. Each is a two dimensional creation, each uses composition and design and each takes varying amounts of time to create. Like painting, photography is a very lonely, solitary profession, only one person at a time can create a photograph, only one person at a time can look through the viewfinder, only one person at a time can make the final print with all the decisions that entails.

Painting starts with a blank canvas, a palette of paints, a brush, and the artist's skill. Painting requires the artist to create or copy from life, or from his/her imagination. A painter is free to choose which elements in the world excites him and which will be used or discarded from the paintings.

The photographer is challenged by the entire world. Photography is a process of selection and elimination much more than painting. One cannot move a tree that is in the way, so one has to use the viewfinder to find and select the best composition to include the tree in the picture. It's also a process of waiting for the right thing to happen, as in reportage, for the animal to make himself seen as in wildlife, waiting for just the right light as in nature.

Photography is a process of creating the light with artificial means if it's too dark or when shooting in the studio. It's a process of interacting with models and actors to achieve a look, a feeling, an emotion. It's a process of looking for the unusual, from point of view to detail, of being aware of all the things in life that we pass by every day and making the viewer notice them. A wall is not a wall, it's brick and mortar, it's stucco and graffiti, it's tiny insects who make their homes in the nooks and crevices, it's the mountain for a vine to climb, it's the prop for a man to lean on… and on and on.

All aspects are inter-dependent on each other. A teacher of mine once said, "photography is one thousand little easy things, but you have to be on top of all of them at the same time, miss one and there goes the shot."
Just like in painting, only the imagination limits the scope and just like in painting, the photographer who can and does create the entire scenario by starting with a blank background and adding and arranging props and or models/actors to create and illustrate his idea.

In fact, some feel, and I’m one of those, that just like in painting, the purest creations are those done in that manner, starting from scratch and creating the entire photograph or painting from the mind.

Painting requires technical dexterity to draw with a pencil, paint with a brush, mix the colors so that they emulate the ones from real life, or to form a shape on the canvas. Photography requires technical expertise in a more technological manner, chemistry, physics, as well as manual dexterity for focusing, camera angle, changing aperture, etc.

Responsibilities are different as well, photography is perceived as reality, the cliché: "the camera does not lie", gives people expectations that the photographer must deal with. Painters are expected to "invent" or create the world in which they work.

Photography should be considered as a three phased process:
1. Taking or "making" the picture.

I want to emphasize the idea that "Amateurs TAKE pictures, pros MAKE them", particularly in the arts. Unless the photographer makes his own prints hands on, he is not an artist, but a commercial photographer.

2. Developing the film.

There is much control in chemistry, it is agreed that the technology of color film processing is so refined as to require most photographers to have color film developed by labs, but there is more variety of film/developer combinations in black and white that require the photographer to keep control of that aspect of the work. For example, contrast, tonality and grain are affected not only by the chemistry, but by the temperature of the chemistry, the amount of time in the developer, the agitation during development, etc.

Digital photography is no different except that with the computer and the software available, the photographer now has not only all the time in the world to “expose” the print, but he has a multitude of effects that he did not have in the traditional “wet” darkroom.

It must be said that most of those effect should be left alone, they do not all enhance a picture and many detract from it and are responsible for some photographs these days being all technique and no aesthetics.

3. Printing.

There is no question that whether black and white or color, an artist MUST print his/her own work. Only in commercial photography is the use of a lab or assistant acceptable. The decisions as to what and where to dodge and burn in, crop, color filtrations, whether overall or selective, all must be made by the photographer. When printed by the photographer, each print, no matter how careful the photographer is, will have subtle differences which make each an "original" image.

There are many mechanical devices that make processing the color print as simple as inserting the paper at one end and taking it out dry at the other. With these technologies, such as the various computerized printing processes, it's possible to make a first print with all the decisions named above, then save the results in a file and print as many as desired with each print being "identical". The result is no longer an original or multiple print, but falls under the category of reproduction. The criteria for "reproduction" being that the work has been done once, sealed and delivered, and each succeeding print is nothing more than a duplicate of the first one. There is no more creative input from the photographer.

The same reproduction issue can be said for the use of labs or computers and inkjet printers, up to the point where the photographer "OKs" the final print, the prints can be considered originals. The moment he "OKs" the final print, the moment the information is recorded and sealed on disk or in a file, the succeeding prints will be duplicates or reproductions. The comparison analogy to other printing processes is that the negative or transparency (slide) is considered as the "plate", and the print is the finished product. Without the print, the negative is useless, cannot be read or interpreted by the eye, is too small to see properly and cannot be sold… how would it be viewed? Therefore, the negative is one half of the photograph, the other half being the print. Once there is an original, all copies of it are reproductions.

One must not forget that as much creativity, and as many decisions go into the films development and the printing process as in the taking of the original negative. Ansel Adams put it another way, relating it to music: "The negative is the score, the print the performance".
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