Tuesday, 30 August 2011

I've got Photoshop so I'm going to use it...

The title isn't something I'm likely to say. I prefer to do the minimum of processing. It's not that I'm a technophobe it's that I don't like doing more to a digital image than I'd have done when printing a negative.

The 'improvement' of photos by removing elements really bugs me. I know it was done in the old days, but when it comes to street photography, in particular, I think that whatever is in front of the camera should be recorded in the final image - print or digital file. I'd guess that all the iconic street photographs rely on framing and timing for their visual success rather than manipulation. It's the fact that the photographer has recorded what they saw as it was (within the limits of the medium) which gives good street photography it's vibrancy. It's because what has been captured hadn't been staged that gives this kind of photography it's appeal. But if the image has been manipulated, then it might as well have been staged.

shoe seat
Nothing added, nothing taken away
However what gets called street photography seems to have changed recently. More and more people are styling themselves as street photographers because they take photos in the street. It feels to me like it is now just enough to snap (and most of the photos I see are no more than snaps) someone who looks 'interesting'. It doesn't matter much what they are doing, how the shot is composed, or anything else much. They're someone you don't know and they're in a street so it's street photography. It's equivalent to the mentality in wildlife photography which Eric Weight wrote about a few weeks ago of going to the same places everyone else does to photograph the same creatures in the same way. It's a lack of imagination

I got drawn in by this attitude briefly. Realising that my best street photos were the ones I'd put some thought into drew me back out. It's the speed of digital and auto focus that is the problem. It's too easy to either rely on the automation and shoot from the hip, or to snap without thinking. When you consider the making of each picture everything works better. You may come away with fewer images, but the standard will rise. I had thought about going back to film for this sort of stuff, but changing my mindset to a filmic rather than a digital mode has done the trick. And I'm starting to 'see' in black and white again.

There are some who think 'having an eye for a picture' is a skill which can be learned through study and practice, and there are others who think it's something you can either do or not. I'm in the latter camp. It seems to be a fashionable belief that if you work hard enough at anything you can get to be the best at it. There are books written about it. When it comes to creativity I reckon hard graft only gets you so far.

There can't be anyone around today who would dare call a dyslexic person stupid because they struggle to read and write. Could there be a visual equivalent of dyslexia? Is it possible that rather than there being some people who are naturally able to see pictures (which is what those who advocate the hard work ethic deny) there are people who will always struggle to see pictures no matter how much they learn about composition or how many photographs they take?

It's commonly thought, or expressed, that digital cameras (and camera phones) mean there are more bad photos being taken today than ever before. I'm not so sure. Besides, if people are taking more photos then if those who say practice equals improvement are right there should be more good photos being taken! I have a feeling that it is the ability to show photographs to a potential audience of millions that is the real difference. How many rubbish holiday snaps tucked away in draws does each family have which haven't seen the light of day since they were picked up from the chemist shop? There have always been thousands of bad photographs taken every year, but only a handful of people ever saw each set. Now they are all put on-line for anyone to find.

I'm beginning to ramble, so I'll stop now.

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