The digital retouching debate
Awhile back I was at a local photographers get together and don’t remember what the original topic was but we started talking about digital photography and some of the post processing style some digital photographers have. One of my friends who happens to be an all film shooter started an interesting debate about what “photography” really is. Her argument was that digital photographers who did too much Photoshop weren’t real photographers because the image was so processed it wasn’t a real photo. It was a pretty good debate and raised some very interesting points. But the interesting thing is that this debate did not start with the digital revolution but has been going on for ages.
Since the beginning of photography there has been many debates on what photography really is.
Is photography art?
Is photography an honest look at life and reality?
Back when Alfred Stieglitz opened up his first gallery in New York, there was much debate going on if photography deserved to be showcased in it’s own gallery. This medium was fairly new and painters and other artists looked down on what photography was and really didn’t consider it an art. He started his gallery to show to the world that photography was an art form.
Now fast forward to 2010 and a similar debate continues. What is photography and what is art? In the portrait world is a portrait not a valid portrait because it was photoshopped? If film a more valid form of photography compared to digital? I believe a great portrait is an impression of that person at a point in time. Its something that can capture that persons personality, style and gives a glimpse of who they are. But it isn’t going to be a 100% true to the bone portrayal of the person due to a few reasons. One being that no matter how comfortable people are with you, when the camera is out they will act in a certain way and put up walls. You also bring you own style and personality to the shoot which effects the way the portrait is shot.
Since a portrait is an impression of a person shot with your sense of style and really a piece of art more than just a direct rendering of what the person looks like, modifying the image in photoshop in my mind is just part of the artists vision. We all have our own vision and with that there really is no wrong or right, we have to create the work that we have in our hearts to create. “retouching” or “photoshopping” has been around since the beginning of photography from the days of Ansel Adams when he would spend countless hours in the darkroom fine tuning his images to Richard Avedon one of the most respected portrait artists. Just because Avedon shot with film does not mean his photography is pure in any sense compared to a digital photographer. And to illustrate this point check out this proof which was one of his images before having the printer dodge and burn the print to retouch it. Was his photography “pure”, nope retouched just like a digital artists would be.
So what are your thoughts in this debate, would love to know.