Photography as Art – A Rant

I woke up this morning with a bug up my rear.  Something happened yesterday that really rankled me.  I decided I would use my blog as a platform to tell you about it.

The San Angelo Art Club is currently having an art show that, for the second time this year, photographers are welcome to participate.  A friend of mine, Mr. Bill Yeates, entered some of his very excellent photographs.  His work is as good, if not better, as mine on any day.  Well, the powers that be, in this club, decided that they had to place his images in the “computer-generated” photographs category instead of the proper photography.  The reason?  He post-processed his photographs.  Gad!  What an asinine decision on the part of those judges.

I consider this a slap in the face to Bill, and to me in association.  He and I shoot the same type of nature and wild life photographs.  Neither one of takes our photographs using a computer.  We use what is commonly called a (wait for it)……a camera.  Our photographs are camera-generated, not computer-generated.

Plain and simple, the individual or individuals, that decided this are plainly ignorant of the workings of photography, and need to get themselves educated.  First off, post-processing has been part of photography since the first photo was taken a couple of hundred years ago.  In the days of film, the negataive that the camera produced was developed in pans of chemicals.  We then had to print the photos, using dodging and burning techniques, to the get the light, contrast and sometimes the color right.  To anyone that believes the camera doesn’t lie, I would like to sell some ocean-front property out here in west Texas.  Most photographs directly from the camera don’t represent exactly what we saw.  It is all about the light.  If we expose for a certain part of a picture, another part of it suffers from being too dark or too light.  If the camera tries to strike a medium, the photo looks flat.  So we have to post-process to make any corrections.

To any of you that took your film to a photo lab, or to Wally World to get your photos developed and printed, they did the post-processing.  Yes, that’s right.  Their machinery looked over your negatives and decided how to best print your little 4x6s to your satisfaction. Sometime they didn’t get it right, and you had to take the negs back and ask for reprints.  Or you could do it yourself in your own darkroom.  That my friends, is post-processing.

Now here in the late 20th and early 21st centuries we have digital cameras.  We use our cameras to take photographs the same as before, but instead of using film, the images are captured on memory cards.  Again, we can take those cards to a photo lab, or back to Walmart, and have them produce our prints.  Again, they have to use their machinery to get the photos right, and depending on the operator, you might get prints to your liking or you take them back and get them to do it right.  Again, what is this called?  You got it.  Post-processing.

Now we can also do this at home as before, using our darkroom…..except it is now called the digital darkroom.  We can again, do our dodging, burning, adjusting color with the computer.  Except now, voila! we don’t get our hands dirty.

This photograph of the Mule Ears Peak in Big Bend National Park presented a problem for me.  As I looked at the scene I loved the different hues that the different ranges of mountains presented.  But the original image looked flat and so I had add contrast so to distinguish the different layers.  Aha!  Post-processing.

Mule Ears at Dusk

Mule Ears at Dusk

I captured this next photo early one morning down at the ghost town in Terlingua, Texas.  The sun was shining on the distant mountains.  I wanted to photograph those distant cliffs and have the adobe ruins in the foreground.  However, the structure was in deep shadow and the camera couldn’t react and get exposure I wanted for each of the elements.  So I did what photographers have done for ages, including the great Ansel Adams, I adjusted the lighting during, yes, you have already guessed……

Ghost Town Sunrise

Ghost Town Sunrise

So nowhere did I carry a computer on my back into the wilderness to capture my photos.  I carried a camera and a tripod.  Sometime I visited a scene a few times prior to getting the shot so I could decide when would be the best time to get the best lighting.

So, to the San Angelo Art Club, I say to re-think your judgement in deciding what categories to place photos.  This is the 21st century.  For the record, my photographs, and Bill Yeates’, are “camera-generated”.

Incidentally, computer-generated photographs, to me, are not photographs at all, and sometimes a camera isn’t even  involved.  They are just pictures of non-existent scenes made by using special effects graphics software.

39 thoughts on “Photography as Art – A Rant

  1. I have been there myself and can attest to the frustration. It just makes me laugh when people tell me how a photograph has to be “pure” like an Ansel Adams print. By his own admission, he was a journeyman photographer and a master (post processor) in the darkroom. Besides, isn’t “art” all about creativity? What’s the issue in the end?

    • I agree with you 100%, Jim. People treat “Photoshop” like it is a dirty word. I appreciate your comment. BTW, with the help of a friend in Tennessee, I am producing a DVD of my photography. 100 images in all with some music included. Should have it in a couple of weeks.

      • Bob, I’ve been following this topic and find it very educational. It’s funny that people are very quick to judge photographers for the beautiful work that is done. In my earlier years I did quite a bit of black and white …………. and spent many hours in the dark room or should I say the processing room editing my photos. Now that was a challenge How long to judge the light exposure to a certain area – plus many other tricks used to create a beauty photo. Oh My Gosh!!!! those days are rushing back. Today the word photo-shop is for people that only know computer alteration and don’t understand the editing process. Most of these people don’t know really how to edit a photo and how to take it to the next level. That’s why there work looks like what I call a snap shot, something for the scrapbook.

        • Peggy, it does my heart good to hear all of this from you, someone that knows what editing photos is all about. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said, especially that last sentence. Thank you for writing. 🙂

  2. Bob,
    I am also a member of the SAAC and I agree with your comments. In my opinion, there is a big difference between photo editing as you vs “photoshopping” as many refer to altering photos. Using software to enhance a photo is very much like the old days of darkroom processing. Photos that are significantly altered such that they no longer resemble the original photo should be placed in a separate category. This concept does create a grey area as to how much change is too much to qualify as editing vs modifying, but simply enhancing a photo to bring out the best image is a necessary part of the photographic process. I hope the club will rethink this policy so we can get more photographers such as yourself to feel welcome as members.

    • Hi Bob,
      In reading your post I can feel the thunder. It is true that some of the photos entered in the show were placed and judged incorrectly.
      Or, a decision was made to place photo shopped work (digital enhanced) in a separate group from non enhanced work due to the lack of computer generated art.
      Even deciding to do this would take a very skilled person to make this judgement call totally relying on the oblivious.

      I happened to be down there this past weekend and saw some wonderful work. There was only ( one entry) that was truly computer generated art, created by Heather. All of the rest were photos taken by a person using a camera. It’s sad that the art club made this mistake by not making it clear in want they were looking for at time of entry or to whomever the judge was. With everything said, I have to commend the art club for it’s efforts to bring photography to a show case level by having a contest and a place to show the wonderful art of photography.

      • Thanks for commenting, Peggy. I appreciate it. It is just a matter of education. The word “Photoshop” is very mis-understood as to many, it carries the connotations of digitally changed. I repeat, it is a tool for photographs to do the same things we did when we had to develop film in the chemical tanks. I wonder if some judges would classify Ansel Adam’s great work as ‘digitally enhanced’. His originals were un-recognizable, but he was a master in the darkroom, and that was where he created his magnificent art. But, yes, I commend the club for making the effort to allow good photography into the club. Some years back, I entered a beautiful 20×30 framed water lily photography. I got first place in your “Anything Goes”. That photo now hangs at Lee Pfluger’s ranch. That image was shot on film. I had it developed at an out of state photo lab, where they made all the necessary corrections and adjustments for light, contrast before printing it for me. That was before I was able to do it myself with my computer and a photo editor like Photoshop.

  3. Hi, Bob! As an acquaintance of yours, an admirer of your photography and as a member of the SAAC, I apologize, only on my part, that there was this problem with photography entries. I have no idea what the guidelines for photography
    entries were, as that is not my job, however, as the social media person on FB where you posted your protest, I will be sure to forward your comments and concerns to others in the club who plan and execute the shows, Thanks, Shireen.

    • Hi Shireen, so glad you commented. I haven’t heard from anyone else. The problem is that the word “photoshop” conjures up images of treachery, cheating, faking, etc. In fact, Photoshop is a tool for editing that takes the place of the chemical darkroom. Nobody claimed back in those old days, “Hey, that photo has been dark-roomed!” To use a photo without correcting is like using ordinary snapshots. I have been asked several times by members of the club, to join. But with the attitude of the club toward photographers, what would be the use. A photographer can’t participate like the paint artist. Oh, sure, the club throws the phototgraphers a bone once or twice a year and lets them compete. But there is a certain hypocricy here, as the paint artist can paint anything in a picture, or leave anything out. They can change the lighting or color saturation to their liking. But if a photographer does the same in his darkroom (digital in this case) the club looks upon him as a cheat. I hope the club reads this and rethinks their attitude towards photographers.

      • Thanks for your reply, Bob. Regarding your comments of 7/10, I am probably the first/only member to see them today, 7/12, and wanted to reply and acknowledge your feelings 7 concerns about the current “Photography, Sculpture & Computer Generated Art” Exhibit. I speak for myself as a SAAC member and fairly new artist, and also thru my experience with club members. I think that most of the SAAC members as well as artists of other mediums also think of photography as a form of art, just as much as painting, sculpture, textile art, mosaic, etc. Great photographs take a lot of time, effort and patience seeking the right subject and moment in time, yet still usually will require some editing for the best final result. I am sure that there was no intentional effort to insult or repel a participant in the exhibit. Perhaps the person excepting the art for our show did not fully understand the concept of photo shop or editing, as now days that is done with the aid of computers, thus the probably confusion and placement in the computer generated art category. Of course that was a mistake, as I understand it, but others may not have the knowledge needed and did the best they could at the time……all volunteers, not professionals, manage the club. That issue is something that we can address and correct, perhaps with your help and suggestions as a professional photographer? We would be happy to have your constructive input.

        Regarding the ten SAAC annual exhibits: The public is probably not aware that the club is limited in the number of times a year that we can include photography and other forms of art by our R. C. Meyers endowment, which is the majority of the funding that keeps The Kendall Art Gallery going and provides prize money for some of the shows….this endowment fund goes back many years and has rules by which we must abide to receive the funds. To the best of my knowledge, we have three shows a year that are bound by their strict guidelines. Otherwise, the remaining seven shows offer a variety of themes with a focus on different mediums of art, and there are more than two annual opportunities to include photography. There is no intended effort to snub any medium. SAAC tries to be inclusive of all forms of art for the benefit of all regional artists, and we aspire to have an interactive, cooperative, growing art community together.

        Keep taking those fabulous photos, Bob, and we’ll look forward to seeing them!

        Regards, my friend, Shireen, SAAC Social Media and Program Chairperson

        • Thanks, Shireen, for that very nice response. I thank you for enlightening me about your regulations, rules, etc. about your R. C. Myers endownment. I do hope, though, that I brought attention to the things that we photographers tend with. I appreciate you. 🙂

    • Thanks Bob for your public apology on FB. Please remember no one was trying to belittle anyone’s talent. I’m sure the club was trying their best to make a great show and award as many prizes as possible. Again all I can say is knowledge is the key to success and sometimes people make mistakes. If you were a member I’m sure your knowledge would have been of great help.

  4. Glad you vented, Bob. It tells me that we have to re-think these things. Reminded me of the time I entered in an art competition and there was discussion regarding “category”.One was a painting and the other was a digitally-enhanced/altered photograph of an abstract coloured pencil drawing that I had done.Can’t remember but maybe it ended up in “miscellaneous.”

  5. Thank you for posting. There is both art & technical expertise in photography and you & Bill Yates are at the pinnacle. It looks like there a real opportunity for the “art community” to learn from one another & respect one another’s creative talent. Again, thank you starting a conversation!

  6. I would think if you responded with the logical intelligence you did in your rant, the club would have to recognize their error. Well done!

    • You have an idea there, but I didn’t enter a photo. I had intended to but I didn’t make up my mind which to show in time and missed the deadline. But my good friend and fellow photographer did and that was what he was told. Thanks for your nice comment, Pat.

  7. Hope you feel better now that the rant is over. and the folks got the fact that they messed up. Now, if there was a green dragon in the photo, that could change things! Thanks for speaking up and caring enough to do it. big hugs!!

  8. That’s just plain silly! You didn’t post a ‘negative’ in a contest in the days of film, you posted a photo that you dipped and processed in chemicals. Today it’s dipping, just digitally (and much safer for the environment). Whoever made that decision doesn’t understand art, period!

    • I agree with you completely, Sheen. This controversy has been going on for years. People hear the wore “photoshop” and they immediately think something had been faked. In the old days, you would never hear from people, “hey, that thing has been darkroomed”. 🙂 People are so ignorant of the facts nowadays. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Perfectly expressed argument, Bob!! As being someone who is new to the art of photography, I can truly appreciate the skill that goes into your photos – both capturing the original image and also editing the results to get the very best from the image captured. I have learned that just trying to understand a photographic histogram requires a lot of intelligence! LOL I definitely think your photographs are art of the highest quality!

    • Hi Amy. Thanks for your comment. I did me good to get that off of my chest. So far, I haven’t heard any feedback from the club. I may have to run and hide in your dog house. 🙂

  10. I couldn’t agree more with you Bob! I’m a photographer that spent many hours in a darkroom processing my photos and printing my own. The time I spent in a darkroom was mostly…should I say “post-processing’: Pushing, burning, dodging, etc.etc. Nowadays the computer only helps the process of translating digital info into images. Judges are just looking for reasons to make things difficult for the people to express the art of Photography. (At the end they give first prize to a “selfie”) 🙂

  11. So frustrating, Bob, both for you and your friend. I know how much skill goes into photography, and into post-processing, in fact – because my daughter and son-in-law are professional wedding photographers. It is both a science and an art. I hope that the Art Club re-considers their decision!

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