Article, essay -
Why Photography and Digital Photos Are An Important Art Form
Why Photography Is A Very Different Art Form

by Rick Doble

Photography can't get no respect when it comes to fine art. The painter painstakingly adds paint to every tiny piece of the canvas, slowly building areas to create just the right effect. It might take weeks or months!

But a photographer comes upon a scene, clicks a shutter and bingo a complete picture has been created. The assumption is that a photographer simply goes into the darkroom, processes the negative or downloads the digital file, then tweaks the picture slightly to create a finished print or image.

Photography can't get no respect.

Like all popular conceptions there is a little truth and a lot of misunderstanding. My point of view is that photography is a completely different way of approaching art and imagery.

The reason is simple. Photography deals in wholes and not in pieces. When a photographer takes a picture, he/she takes a complete pictures all at one time. If the photographer does not like that image the choice is NOT to rework the picture in the darkroom (probably) but rather to retake the whole picture again from a different angle, or distance, or with a different lens, or at a different moment, or with different lighting, etc. But the photographer is dealing (generally) with a complete image. Anyone who has done any darkroom work knows that trying to radically change an image is a lot of work that often fails.

To say it another way: painting builds an image from the bottom up; photography works from the top down.

The really professional photographers capture their images at the moment. This moment in photography is so important, Cartier-Bresson (perhaps the greatest photographer) labeled it the "decisive moment," the moment when all the picture elements come together to make a whole and complete image. Photographing an image at the moment also creates an indefinable sense of reality, that a real moment in time was actually captured. It can take hours and/or a number of sessions before the right whole picture is achieved. This is the way a photographer works an image (vs. the painter): shooting and editing from perhaps hundreds of whole images, looking for the right one to select and display.

Thinking in wholes instead of pieces is a quite different way of thinking, especially in the West. We are taught to break things down into pieces (Descartes), to dissect things, to analyze situations and conditions, to think like a production line, but not to think in wholes. This makes photography unique in many ways not just as an art form but as a way of seeing and thinking.

Thinking in wholes instead of pieces is a quite different way of thinking, especially in the West.

While the digital age allows more manipulation than ever before in photography, those who choose to think in wholes and work in wholes can still do so. And let me be clear. I am not saying you should not think in parts and pieces, rather that photography gives an artist the ability to think in wholes, an ability which is rare today.

I have generally emphasized a photography that is unmanipulated other than a few traditional photographic techniques. Virtually all of these photographs were not cropped and a digital paint brush, spray can, or eraser was never applied.

Recently I have created a series of more complex digital pictures that were processed using a number of traditional photographic techniques translated into the digital framework. I used solarization, adjusted brightness and contrast, changed lightness, hue, and saturation, and bumped up shadows and highlights. All of these are traditional darkroom techniques in a digital form.

However, I let each effect transform the ENTIRE image. I was still thinking in wholes. I tried to bring out outlines when an outline was barely visible. Yet I did not go in and add a line that was not there or emphasize an area with a brush.

When I work with a picture I see the whole image at all times.

This distinction may seem unimportant to some, but to me it is like night and day. When I work with a picture I see the whole image at all times. The pieces and details must work together to create a whole image, and no whole image can be strong if the details are weak. Yet the whole is my point of reference. It is why I love photography and why I keep finding new visions in the most ordinary places for the last 30 years.

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