When Photography Is Everywhere, When Is It Art?

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W Magazine Nov 2005 ‘Altered States’ – Gemma Ward by Nick Knight

Is photography dying? No, not exactly but in the age of the smartphone, the art of photography sometimes seems to be vanishing in a cloud of digitalization. Photography has already had a packed history, and now, several generations after photographers first claimed prime real estate in museums and art galleries, the old distinctions between photography and other mediums are eroding in a climate where many of the most influential artists use a variety of mediums, sometimes almost interchangeably.

In Is Photography Dead, the author Peter Plagens talks about the overpopulated medium of photography and how today “we live in a culture dominated by pixels”. He raises the question about how true a photograph can really be if photoshop manipulation is involved and whether the easy access to cameras today is taking the soul out of photography or just creating a new chapter for artists to explore. Photographers have been finding ways to manipulate their photographs since the beginning, even the decision as to how to frame, crop or even tone a photograph could change the impact of the photograph that the viewer experiences. I do agree that the medium can feel saturated at times, especially with the internet and camera phones, but to me it makes it even more exciting. If we didn’t react to the world we’re currently living in, would we even be making art?

Nick Knight, the famous british fashion photographer, has recently made headlines for saying he would prefer to shoot his high fashion editorials on his iPhone instead of his Hasselblad. People tend to have a lot to say when it comes to camera equipment and what you photograph on. When asked about the quality of the iPhone camera versus a Hasselblad or even just a DSLR Knight was quoted saying,

“Essentially, an iPhone camera is as good as the Hasselblad I used to use. There’s a weird judgement that comes involved with imagery in that people think every image needs to be ‘high resolution’. One doesn’t apply that restriction to a painting. That criteria isn’t used for anything except for photography…If the image works, then who cares how many pixels it has? There doesn’t seem any sense in having limitations on what kind of image capture sources we use…The machinery you create your art on is irrelevant”.

Knight isn’t interested in the camera, he’s interested more in the human engagement between oneself and the subject and to me that’s the most important part about photography. Who cares if the image is blurry? Isn’t it the moment captured that matters most? Isn’t that why we photograph?

Francisco Mata Rosas, the author of Documentary Photography: The Paradox of Reality, also talks about how the pillars that have defined the philosophy and ethics of photography are changing with the times. I think a lot of people are still unsure of what side to take when talking about the digital age and photography. It can definitely be overwhelming and I know sometimes I feel as if I’m cheating when I use too much Photoshop or add too many filters.  The manipulation of photographs with photoshop and other editing programs has changed the way we look at photography and art, but I believe that it’s a tool we need to embrace and not ignore. In this article Rosas says that,

“What we can agree on is that every photograph can be read from a documentary perspective.”

This specific quote really resonated with me. Before this semester I had always had a hard time understanding what was considered a documentary photograph. The first images I think of are those in publications like National Geographic, images with cultural and socioeconomic significance. I guess I never considered that a photograph I took at a party could be considered documentary or that even Nan Goldin’s work was documentary. I’m not even sure what I would have categorized it as, but somewhere over the last few years there was something engrained in me that made me think that all documentary photography was of black and white images in war zones and obviously I’m wrong on a lot of levels. I never would have considered a selfie a documentary photograph before this article. And why not? It’s someone documenting themselves in a specific moment, wearing a specific outfit, feeling a certain way. Why would that not be documentary? Documentary photography is about capturing a moment or a feeling and sharing it with an audience.

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