Sunday, May 11, 2008

Photography Snobbery

An article appeared in the New York Times this week that annoyed me a little. In "Sepia No More" by Virgina Heffernan photography is classed as an art form that should be reserved for the Art College photographers who still shoot on film and post process in their darkrooms. Anything digital or that has been "photoshopped" is just not proper art. Heffernan particularly looks to Flickr and Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir (who's name she can't even spell) in her criticism. Stating that the whole of Flickr encompasses a certain common "style" (of digital manipulation) that is not considered a pure art form, of Guðleifsdóttir, this photographer she writes:

might have amounted to nothing in analog times, when elaborate deference to institutions, hard-won group shows and expensive years spent in unnoticed toil were the only way to success. But just as certain ne’er-do-well writers have found themselves in blogging, and failed filmmakers have taken to online video, these seemingly out-of-step artists have both invented and mastered the Flickr photograph. Other photographers have added still more levels of processing — including the otherworldly contrasts achieved with high-dynamic-range photography — to the quintessential Flickr image, and it’s becoming only more eye-popping and stylized.

And none of it looks like Diane Arbus or Henri Cartier-Bresson, the photographer many critics still consider the greatest of all time.

Well, blow me down with a feather, could digital photography perhaps be an art form in itself and it's photographers actually artists in their own right? I see Photoshop as tool, just like the paintbrush is the tool of the painter or the clay the tool of a sculptor. Arbus and Adams manipulated their pictures massively in the dark room, they didn't just come straight out of the camera. I don't see why I should be belittled for using a digital darkroom - it's simply more efficient. What's more what post-processing has enabled us to do is an abandonment of reality and I find that really interesting. Of course I don't consider myself an "artist" really, but through photography and photoshop, exhibiting on Flickr, I have found my means of artistic expression and creativity. It's just like publishing really, just because you get your work in a high brow journal / gallery doesn't mean it's the best piece of work in the world, just that some editor / gallery owner thought you were good. When you open up your art to the world, you open yourself up to the disapproval or acceptance of anybody and everybody and I get more through that. Oh well, each to the their own. Personally I don't consider a half-filled bag of sand being exhibited in the center of a big white room "art" (I'm still recovering from my last trip to the Hayward). All this art snobbery is a bit pretentious really!


Anonymous said...

Without reading the whole article by Ms. Heffernan, your point about Mr Adams is right on the spot. Most of the great photographers did a lot of development work in the darkroom.

powJana said...

I have to say I agree with you, too! It sounds, to me, like she's holding onto her own (and possibly old-fashioned?) stubborn pride--and simply because digital photography is easier and cheaper (essentially!) than using film. I much prefer it, and am happy to consider myself a digital photographer, thanks! :)