Tag Archives: digital

Heresy

High Plains Windmill Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

High Plains Windmill
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Not too long ago, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There’s a lot of art galleries in Santa Fe, including several that specialize in photography.  I was able to see quite a bit of photographic work spanning the range from old masters to contemporary artists, the majority of it captured on film and made as traditional silver gelatin prints.  Viewing all of this work, I came to a somewhat startling realization.  I’ve really grown quite fond of modern inkjet prints.

Don’t get me wrong, a well-done traditional silver gelatin print is a thing of beauty.  My interest in photography predates the digital camera revolution, and it was photographs made by film and darkroom processes that sparked that interest.  My appreciation for the medium remains firmly intact.

But…

Having started in photography as a digital photographer, and having worked exclusively with inkjet printing, I’ve naturally seen and worked with a lot of inkjet prints.  To me, inkjet printers and textured matte papers are a match made in heaven.  Done well, they produce prints that look and feel, to my eye, a bit warmer and a bit softer than their traditional counterparts, while still remaining distinctly photographic.

It’s a bit hard to put into words.  Once, I had a few photographs exhibited in a show that was mostly paintings.  I overheard a couple of the guests speculating on what medium my works were, and they went back and forth between photography and woodblock printing.  You might think that, as a photographer, I would be offended that someone would think my work could be woodblock prints.  I’m not.  It’s not a perfect analogy, but this is kind of what I mean when I say that inkjet prints on textured matte papers have a warm and soft quality.

By way of comparison, I couldn’t help but feel that the traditional silver gelatin prints I looked at in Santa Fe felt, well, a little cold and hard.  I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, they were still very beautiful.  But their beauty was manifested in a way that’s specific to silver gelatin printing technology.

I think among a certain group of photographers, my words here are a kind of heresy.  Throughout the short history of inkjet printing, silver gelatin has been the benchmark against which inkjet prints are judged.  The battle lines seem to have been drawn over whether or not inkjet prints are “catching up to” or “yet as good as” traditional film and darkroom processes.  Few seem to have taken the position that inkjet prints have their own qualities to recommend them, and that in those qualities can achieve excellence on par with the standard set for traditional prints.

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Is Photography Too Easy?

Cottonwood Copse Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

Cottonwood Copse
Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

Is photography too easy?  This may seem like an odd (and possibly pretentious) question coming from one who photographs, but I think it’s a fair one.

There’s no doubt that it’s now easier than ever to make a photograph.  Digital technology has eliminated the requirements for developing film and printing in a wet a darkroom.  And computer software makes it relatively easy to produce a polished-looking photograph that can be quickly and easily printed.  The barriers to entering this discipline have never been lower, and the world has never been flooded with as many photographs.

They’re not all good photographs, of course.  Most probably are in fact simple snapshots, with no aspirations toward being anything more, quickly taken with a mobile device of some kind simply because it was easy to do so, and destined for no purpose greater than being shared on a Facebook page or something similar.

Still.  The sheer number of photographs being made today suggests that many will be “good” simply by being happy accidents.  Beyond this, the lowered entry barriers to practicing photography means that more people are able to pursue photography seriously now than ever before, resulting in a larger pool of increasingly accomplished practitioners making work.  And among these practitioners, digital processes mean that they are producing more work more quickly.

As a result, there really is a large amount of very high quality photography being done today as compared to even 10 or 15 years ago, at least in my opinion.

I wonder, does this devalue the worth of photography as art?  Fine art photography has always labored under a legitimacy issue when it comes to being taken seriously as an art form.  In my experience, it still does not get respected by the public as art in the same way that, say, painting does.  Has the increase in the amount of good photography being done these days created a glut that further threatens the legitimacy of this discipline?

Or, is there still room for individual photographers to create unique, compelling art?  At the very least, I think the bar has been raised.  It’s no longer enough to make technically proficient, aesthetically beautiful photographs.  There’s just too many very good photographers who can do this.  I’d like to think that technical proficiency and aesthetic beauty are still prerequisites to good photographs (sadly, much of what is regarded as contemporary photographic art seems to lack these ingredients), but really good photographs require something more.  Reaching what that something more is is not easy to do, though I do think there are a number of contemporary photographers who get there.  The really interesting question is if these achievements will be recognized and embraced in a time when making photographs is just so easy.

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