I see that yet again the issue of post processing of images continues to be under the microscope both in the news and on various photographic sites/forums. The former in the shape of another american catalogue further thinning an already ridiculously skinny model and a clothing manufacturer chopping arms off in catalogues etc.
The latter, ie the photography sites and forums, frankly, never cease to amaze me. There always seems to be some kind of snobbery surrounding ‘film’ and ‘darkroom’ photography to the point that any form of digital imaging is somehow inferior or easier. I find myself wondering why this might be. Is it that these hardy old souls wish desperately that things remained as they were? Or, are they simply jealous of the standard of photography that is now being produced via digital cameras and clever post processing? There seems to be an inherent attitude emanating from them that great images can be produced from bad photographs and that anything other than slaving over smelly toxic chemicals just isn’t cricket at all! Now this wouldn’t be a problem normally, each to their own and all that, but often, these individuals sit in very influential positions in the old photographic world. Even worse, they often put off young creatives and at best silence their less confident voices and at worst, drive youth and their ‘new fangled’ ways away from otherwise worthy and supportive environments.
Lets spend a second considering the approach and whether the argument has merit at all? Film photography (in its different guises) has indeed been around for well over a century. The process evolved slowly over this time but always resulted in either a high volume machine process or individual slaving over nasty chemicals in a darkroom that produced the final negative/slide or print. This meant that an individual photographer had very little control over the colour saturation, contrast or final overall effect produced, if the image was processed by an automated machine. A more controlled approach was to process the image yourself or at least ‘oversee’ the results.
The more skilled and talented ‘developers’ were able to manipulate images to quite some degree depending on the camera used and the ‘film’ the image was captured upon. Indeed, many of the world’s top professionals of the day would use sophisticated techniques to obtain the results they required. Words like hue, saturation, contrast, clone, dodge, burn, heal, blur, brush etc etc were all commonplace in a professional developers studio/darkroom. These techniques were sometimes used to produce ‘perfect’ images for advertising or to produce special artistic effects with ‘cross processed’ colours and other fashionable effects of the time.
Along came the digital revolution that transformed not only the speed of this development process but gave access to all forms of photographers, the ability to manipulate and enhance their own images without the need for specialist darkrooms and expensive chemicals and ‘enlargers’ etc. This revolution now allows photographers the world over to produce images that were both time consuming and difficult to achieve in the old film days. This includes specialist effects and also ‘blended’ or ‘composite’ images, those that combine more than one image into one. This flexibility isn’t easy to master and doesn’t come cheap. Photoshop, the industry standard processing tool, is currently in its 6th version and the full suite comes at a whopping £900+ in the UK. Cheaper versions are available but are more limited in their content and flexibility. On top of this, other software producers supply ‘plug-ins’ that offer instant effects based around certain criteria and range in price from £30 to over £300 themselves.
It is unarguable that digital manipulation is much easier than it used to be with film but it isn’t true to say that mastery of it is either easy or automatic. As always, and as with any art form, the skill is in selecting the shots that will look amazing and then transforming them in a way that is pleasing both to the viewer and the producer. This skill is one that is hard to teach and master. A bad photograph will likely remain a poor image with even the cleverest of digital trickery.
My over arching view of the debate over manipulation of images is that photography has forever been thus. Today it is quicker and easier to achieve. However, a great photograph is a great photograph. I am willing to like a digitally manipulated image as much as a film produced one, quite frankly, I don’t care how it is produced (other than educationally and out of pure interest) as long as it is a great image. If it works, it works. IPhone photography has as much relevance as the most expensive large format cameras on the market today.
Surely, it is the final image that is important.
The grumpy people that frequent these forums can take their jealousy and prejudices elsewhere. Maybe form their own narrow minded little clubs around the country. Please, please do not put down the young and influenceable and drive them away from these otherwise very supportive and helpful forums or worse, make them feel that their take on photography is not relevant or important in this climate. Lets appreciate photography for what it is, an art form and nothing else. Each to his or her own and lets enjoy the medium collectively, whatever we think of any individuals output.