“I’m not just interested in the pictorial aspects of the landscape – see a pretty place and try to paint it – but in some way to manage it, manipulate it, or see what I can turn it into.”
– Wayne Thiebaud
No one would criticize a painter for making such a statement – in fact, we’d be more likely to criticize them for lack of artistic imagination and daring if they didn’t have this attitude. But a photographer is often looked down upon if they seek to manipulate an image, particularly something as iconic as a landscape. Why is this? And is there good reason to view photography differently in this regard?
Photography, of course, began life as the ultimate means of simply capturing the scene as it appeared. Over time, tools and techniques to manipulate (I prefer the term interpret) the image grew more powerful, until today there is virtually no limit to what can be done. The ability to interpret photographic images has grown much faster than our willingness to leave behind the original literal objectives of photography. It may just take more time – after all, painting has a few centuries more history behind it than does photography.
As you might imagine, I am not in the camp that belittles manipulation of images in photography. As with all things, there is a right and a wrong way to approach this and there are a lot of hideous photographs out there (I should point out in fairness, that there are a lot of bad paintings out there too!). For me the fun is in “seeing what I can turn it into”. To use an analogy to painting, to go out and just capture a pretty landscape in a literal manner feels like a paint-by-number painting. Competent perhaps, with all the pieces and colors in the right place, but lacking any life.
I cannot think of a single reason to hold photographers to a different standard of artistic license than any other artist. I think we should all be free to “manage, manipulate and see what we can turn it into”!