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.