The art and craft of photography

October 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

This recent article, "the art and craft of photography" is from a photography magazine:

"The first question to address is whether photography is an art or a craft.  In 'our' view it can be both.  A person taking snapshots of their children is not going to claim that the results are works of art.  An enthusiast who  devotes time to mastering the features of their EOS camera is probably a craftsman, rather than an artist.

If the craft side of photography is mostly about the techniques employed, then photo editing (which we assume to mean digital manipulation) is just another means to an end.  If you take an image and edit it digitally, it could become art, but mostly does not.

Photo editing has been around almost since the birth of photography.  A popular technique among Victorian photographers was to take several different images and merge them into a single photograph.  In the 1930s and 40s photographs of film stars were rountinely, and often heavily, retouched to make the subjects appear perfect.  Often it would be a large-format negative that was worked on, so that many perfect prints could be made.  Some political regimes would edit discredited colleagues out of group photographs.

Many of the techniques now available to photographers in imaging software can be traced back to the photographic darkroom.  The difference is that what used to take a skilled photographer hours, or even days, to achieve in a darkroom can now be done in minutes using software.  The problem is that many photographers do not have the skills needed to use the software effectively and in some cases the results are actually worse than the original.

So, no, photo editing is not destroying the art of photography.  Most photographs taken are not art and no amount of photo editing will change this.  Digital cameras can help to improve exposure and focus, but they offer no creative input.  However, a person with a strong vision can provide a creative input which might produce art by photographic means.  Sometimes all the work is done before the exposure is made and the result needs no further editing.  Sometimes the exposed image is just the starting point for manipulation in a darkroom or with imaging software (often known as a digital darkroom).

It is very difficult to describe what photographic art might be, but not too difficult to recognise it when you see it.


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