Photography, A record Of Reflected Light

A record of reflected light and the burning of variable light. Technically, a representation of the real world in tones from white to dark.

Photography is a medium of documentation at its core. Prior to having fully been exploited as a creative medium, photography was used for archival purposes: portraits of important persons and records of architectural designs.

Perhaps more unique to photography than any other medium, the purpose of and technology surrounding photography has co-evolved, co-opting and cooperating between an artistic and purely record-making function.

Cyanotype print

At least for the past couple of decades, photography has become so broadly accessible due to the camera’s ease of use and affordable cost. Especially with the digital camera, most barriers to entry have been effectively eliminated.

These days the caliper of a decent camera (digital the standard) varies less dramatically with cost than in decades past, at which time the caliper of a decent camera (analog) would have varied hugely with cost. Prior to the advent of digital photography, a very high quality image was reserved for photographers spending the most money on equipment.

Today, without much technical knowledge of optics, light sensitivity, or general camera operation, anybody can take a beautiful picture. It’s as simple as clicking the shutter release. In that spirit, even digital cameras are designed and marketed toward kids as young as five years of age.

Image captured with an iPhone

The ease and popularity is further evidenced through the continual inundation of images on social media and smartphone application platforms. With SnapChat, a smartphone application originally designed for still image and video messaging, users are essentially curating their own virtual gallery!

Each user profile is a public, temporary catalogue of images or videos selected to save and “broadcast” throughout the day. Is this phenomenon, the ability to make a photograph with a split second of preparation, detrimental to photography as an artistic medium?

The definition of art may expectedly vary from person to person; however, for those who have studied art, several prerequisites are common. Of course art is an expression of creativity. Fundamentally, though, art is about decision, selection, exclusion, and personal logic and intention.

120mm scanned-film
Scanned 120mm negative, image captured with a Mamiya 645

Therefore, photographic art is the result of these decisions in a photograph. Technically a photographer/operator possesses a limited number of tools from which to choose that have an aesthetic impact on an image and/or photographic print. The most obvious of the tools available is content.

When art creation is dependent on equipment, transporting that equipment is always a conscious decision. Content is where or how one positions ones camera in order to capture a particular subject or subjects in action, still, purposefully arranged, or naturally occurring. When a photograph is made, a moment is curated by what is included and what is omitted in the frame.

A photographer may also skew a normal view of the world by altering perspective, exposure, color balance, focus, or sharpness. Manual adjustments to settings affect the amount of light that may enter the camera or sensitivity to light. The stillness of hand and intentional alteration of the balance of a perfectly exposed photograph are significant to the resulting image.

Thus, contrary to popular belief, an image can actually be the product of planning, operational prowess, clever application of technical knowledge of light, optics, and camera specifications. But who really needed to be convinced? Me, a self-identified photographer?

The millennial photographers, myself included, are in a gigantic complex of the ego. Perhaps we feel that a practice, which spawned as a technical craft and evolved into a creative empire, has become cheap. We have a feeling, perhaps superficial, that our work is becoming devalued since basically everyone, without much study or effort, is photographing too and gaining exposure.

Image captured with a Canon 7D

We’re offended that someone who spontaneously buys a $300 DSLR for a new hobby gets more attention and experiences more “success” than a committed photographer. By contrast, the committed photographer has dedicated time in studies and practice, money in diverse equipment, space for storage and studio shooting, energy and emotion deliberating the perfect photograph, how to refine a photographic concept, off-camera lighting technique, or handling.

I expect that this insecurity has, in part, led to a small resurgence of analog and alternative photography and printing. The people learning these archaic techniques subscribe to the idea that artistry is more easily recognized in analog practices.

This school of thought may actually have some truth to it though. Non-digital photography has some limitations that contribute to its actual preciousness. Non-digital photography is material-dependent; materials are expendable and costly.

Each photographic print is reproducible by a single film negative. As with instant film, each exposure is designed to produce one print only. Other alternative techniques are similarly more one-of-a-kind than what one expects of traditional photography.

Additionally, the photographers prowess and knowledge seem more important with non-digital photography. Manually applying light-sensitive emulsion is difficult to perfect and depends on a even hand. Printing from a negative requires a science of exposure and physical dodging and burning.

But does the physicality, repetition, preparation, and scarcity of work associated with non-digital photography necessarily translate to a greater artistry?
No. However, creative ability with regards to photography may not actually relate to the application of knowledge and expert operation of photographic equipment. Photographic creative ability or skill, artistry, may only be evaluated on the basis of the final image regardless of the way it was created.

The viewer of a photograph is generally blind to the process of how a specific image was created, unaware of whether the image is the outcome of sheer quantity or a careful planning and execution. The nature of the image is anonymity.

Author : Alicia Chiaravalli

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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