When digital photography first came along there was a raging debate about whether or not we should even consider it to be photography. I’m talking about a time before the digital camera – digital photography was about scanning your negatives or transparencies into one of those new Mac things and manipulating the image with Photoshop (or similar).
Initially, I have to admit that I considered the use of computers and software to be seriously cheating. How could it be real photography when you were clicking a few buttons and making complex changes in seconds that would have taken me all weekend in the darkroom? For a while I actually got quite angry about it. After all, I had spent years (not to mention a small fortune on materials) experimenting and documenting and practising to get the standard of negative and print I was achieving.
Then one day I settled down to read the latest edition of the Royal Photographic Society Journal, which had been documenting the course of the digital argument for some time. They had an article by a highly respected professor who was going to clear the matter up for once and for all. Fantastic!
I had assumed he would be firmly in the “digital is for talentless people” camp, but I was wrong. He kept it all very simple and very clear. Follow the history of photography and every innovation is effectively cheating on the technology previously in use. The camera obscura allowed painters to cheat. Plates and film allowed the artist to put down the pencils and brushes altogether. Later we had TTL exposure meters and auto-focus. It’s all cheating. Isn’t it?
The professor’s closing statement was so true: the tools are not what makes a photograph – it is the ability of the photographer to create a picture out of whatever tools he chooses to use. At the end of the process there is a good picture or a bad picture.
And there it is – good pictures and bad pictures. Simple.
So, is there a point where it stops being photography, or just a point where it stops being good photography?
I only wish I could remember the professor’s name.