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| p.3 #5 · Remote SW Vista Vertical |
I have no issue with what is or is not art. The issue for me is somewhere in the definition of "photography", as opposed to "photo illustration". For me, one of photography's greatest strength is its implied credibility. "Moonrise" is probably one of the photos that got me interested in landscape imagery and I would imagine that I have plenty of company in that. Would I feel differently if I learned that the crosses were not part of the original scene but were added later? Or if, say, a large interfering telephone pole had been "removed"? You bet I would!...Show more →
While I'm more fascinated by making and viewing photographs than by talking/writing about them, that probably tells you more about how much I love photographs than about how much I love discussing! ;-)
I think the role of what you call "implied credibility" and which I simply refer to as "believability" is an interesting and important one in photography. I don't believe the highest calling for a photograph is to reproduce the real, but I think that it is important that the photograph be honest in the context of whatever truth it claims to portray. That is a confusing enough sentence that I should probably illustrate what I mean.
To my way of thinking it is fine for a photograph to be as fantastical and non-realistic as the photographer wants to make it, and the photographic distortion of the real can be the very point of the work. Anyone who hasn't already done so should take a look at the wonderful (film!) work of Jerry Uelsmann. It is most certainly not realistic. However, the distortion and invention is clearly acknowledged and embraced and, in fact, makes the images work. (It is also quite fair to point out that the fact that these fantasies are created using the supposedly "real" medium of the photograph makes them work in ways that would not be as effective if they were paintings.) For myself, there is no clear line between photographs and other forms of visual art. (I was tempted to say that the fact that photographs generally begin with "captures" or real things could be the difference, but then I remembered that some painters and sculptures include photographic material in their work.)
But this work is entirely credible. It is precisely what it appears to be, and it does not lie to us (not can it) by making us imagine that the world could actually look the way it does in Uelsmann's prints.
On the other hand, if a photograph (or the photographer who made it) makes a claim that the image does represent the concrete and "real" thing, yet also distorts it and claims not to do so, we have a problem. I'm thinking of a particular photograph at the moment that was the subject of some discussion a while back, about which the photographer told a compelling story of searching and privation and finally achieving a singular experience that resulted in the photograph. Yet, upon further examination, it was plainly obvious that the photograph (and apparently the experience it represented) had not actually occurred at all, but had both been constructed by the photographer later on. I'm thinking of another photographer whose work I've seen in a rather large commercial gallery that carries his name. The marketing material for this person takes great pains to paint a picture of a person who eschews modern technologies, who makes photographs that portray the things as they were, who doesn't "manipulate" images in the ways that others do, blah, blah, blah. However, any reasonably aware photographer or lover of photography who looks at the work can easily identify the specific alterations that were applied to "juice" up the images.
In the first case (Uelsmann) the images have been "processed" to a far greater degree than in the second. Yet Uelsmann is the photographer whose work is credible since it is exactly what it claims to be, and the other photographer is the one who cannot lay claim to credibility since he felt obligated to present the work in the context of his own falsehood.
I know some of you find this sort of thinking to be tedious and pedantic, and I can understand that. On the other hand, some think that the primary goal of art is to express the person of the artist - and that the question of whether that core of the work is real or faked is a pretty important thing - whether the work leans more to realistic depiction or fantasy and invention.
1. By the way, none of the unnamed photographers I'm thinking of as I write this are people who have any connection at all to this thread.
2. You can see some of Uelsmann's photographs here. A number of them are quite definitely landscapes. :-)
3. Speaking of removing things from photographs and of Adams, are you familiar with the story about his famous photograph of Mount Whitney in winter morning light that features a horse in a pasture? The photograph includes a hill behind the horse on which the local students in the town of Lone Pine had place large white letters "LP" - which Adams removed in post! (And if you know the photograph, you'll probably agree that the world is a better place for his decision to do so.)