“There are two parts to the process: taking the picture and finding ways of using it.”
– Martin Parr
“When that shutter clicks, anything else that can be done afterward is not worth consideration.”
– Edward Steichen
Two opposing viewpoints about photography (in celebration of the partisan political cauldron we’re engulfed in here in America!). I clearly am in the Parr camp, which seems to me more reasonable, pragmatic, inclusive, less arbitrary and less authoritarian – but, then again, I’m a Democrat…
I had a long talk this week with a fellow photographer who claimed that what I was doing with my images makes them no longer fall into the category of “photographs”. He couldn’t quite tell me what category they should be in – maybe digital montage, mixed media, ??? What he really meant by “photography” (when pushed) was “straight photography”, meaning a literal capture of something out in the world (the Steichen model).
The history of photography is filled with one identity crisis after another. In the relatively short history of photography (less than 200 years as opposed to painting which has been around for much longer) there have been a number of revolutionary changes that have caused confusion among photographers and audiences of photography. By far the biggest has been the introduction of digital capability. Many techniques used by photographers for years can now be done more easily and some techniques are only possible digitally. Photography has had a hard time hanging onto it’s self-image.
It is really, really hard to draw lines around these categories. The extremes are always easy to distinguish – some things are obviously not photography any longer, when they’ve been manipulated so heavily that clearly the photographic elements are playing a very secondary role. But as you move closer and closer to “straight photography” the demarcation lines become very personal and very arbitrary. My work tends to be (I think) in the gray areas where these lines are drawn and redrawn. Means I have to spend more time than I’d like talking about the process or just what this thing is, than looking at the finished product.
Many times this issue is irrelevant and I ignore it. Other times I can’t – when submitting work for juried shows, when selling your work directly (like at the Open Studio event we’re having next month), even when putting a tag on the wall next to a piece in a show describing it, you have to put a name to the category.
Sometimes I wish I was just a regular old oil painter!