Is Extreme Digital Photography Art?by Kathy Bonham on 09/26/13
I was one of the last, it felt like, to finally switch to digital photography. What was the Big Deal, Really? To me there is no question that as of now I could get very deep and true color from a 4 X 5 negative than from any digital camera. It is questionable whether any digital camera right now, September 25, 2013, can get the same quality image that a 35 mm color film can give in Kodachrome. But this will come soon enough. Besides the easiness of taking multiple photographs and “developing” them by just connecting the camera’s card to the computer, and see them instantly, you can see them a millisecond after taking them on your camera’s screen. Instant, instant, gratification or disappointment.What is a snapshot, or a perfect photograph, versus a photograph that rises to the level of art? I originally thought that manipulating my photograph to make it more perfect, that is depicting the scene just like I saw it, was cheating if I used Photoshop for help. If I were a great photographer of realistic photographs I should not need any manipulation. I still feel that way. But if manipulation is used it should be ‘fessed up to. It is hard not to give in to the temptation to “improve” one’s photograph, especially if it’s important to you or to someone else.
A snapshot is what most of us take all the time and now with our extraordinary smart phones and small digital cameras, we get pretty good quality in terms of lighting and focus. People are taking hundreds of thousands of pictures of everything and multiple ones at that. What is the point? We can share them immediately in a myriad of ways. Where is the surprise? What do we do with all of those pictures? Perhaps we are historians rather than photographers. So far no matter how good the camera is it can’t frame the image you want for you. Feet and heads get cut off. The automatic focus may not focus on what you want to see. It might get the blade of grass that was right in front of the lens in focus and not the beautiful natural scene spread out before you. These are snapshots not digital art.
What if you master your camera to some degree and take a perfect photograph, just what you intended to do. The image is perfect and perfectly depicts the natural scene that you saw with your eyes or the portrait of a loved one. Often this happens by accident. But is this digital art photography?
What is art? I prefer Joseph Campbell’s definition. Art takes the viewer, listener, partaker to a transcendent place. True art, Campbell says “is transparent to transcendence.” Henri Cartier-Bresson's photography still can take my breath away. His black and white, 35 mm photographs capture images that cause one to see the magic in the moment. He said: "To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." His work in black and white, to me, epitomizes the magic of still photography in capturing THAT moment. He also said: “For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression." Is it a picture you want to capture or is it the magic of the moment? The latter, to me, is fine art photography whether you use Photoshop or not. But, as I said, it is deceptive to claim credit for the perfect photograph without acknowledging the use of digital manipulation
What do you think?