where will it all end?

This article was first written for and published in the March, 2016, edition of f11 magazine.

Cole Thompson is a self described fine art black and white photographer whose work I enjoy. Somewhere in my reading I came across this quotation from Cole. “Rule of Thirds: 1/3 vision, 1/3 the shot, 1/3 processing.” The quote seemed pertinent on a number of levels. First it gives a new slant on the over hyped conventional rule of thirds. Next it makes one aware that good photographs need care and attention to all three of Cole’s rules, particularly, in my view, the last.

As my photographic interest evolves I find that image processing becomes ever more interesting with all the possibilities as yet unplumbed. Rapid developments in sensor technology have given us a dynamic range approaching 15 stops, a level unimaginable not so many years ago. In parallel with the hardware improvements, new innovative software keeps appearing which give us ever more tools to take all the goodness in a RAW file and bend it to our liking without unsightly artefacts.

Photography has always been located at the intersection of craft, technology and art. Just what proportions of those appear in one’s work depends upon personal likes and abilities, but today, with the development of amazing sensors and software, the possibilities for the artistic interpretation of an image are greater and more easily achieved than ever before. What’s more, once an image is created, identical reproductions can be made at any time with a few clicks, something the creative darkroom worker could never achieve.

If we want to think of photography as art, what does that mean? In 1853 one view was that photography was too literal to compete with works of art because it was unable to “elevate the imagination”. Today, with some photographs selling for millions and hanging in the most prestigious of art galleries that view has long past. 

Ever helpful Wikipedia says “Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism …” which is not at all helpful particularly when Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph “The Steerage” is used as an illustration. Stieglitz’s photograph is representational and falls neatly into the category of photojournalism. Also interesting is Andreas Gursky’s £2.7 million photo of a grey Rhine River which appears to be a “straight” un-manipulated photo. Just why it has that value is perhaps something that only an artist can explain but it surely indicates that the ground has shifted forever.

The reason for rambling on about developments in sensors and software is that I see these as key for the liberation of photography from representational imagery. In the art world there are no rules and human imagination is given free reign. So, where will it all end?