A painter sits at his/her easel by a beautiful lake… the scene is picturesque, but not quite up to the artist’s vision; it needs a castle on the shore maybe, a few seagulls perhaps – there, much better. The artist is happy and everyone applauds the finished product. No-one worries about the fact that there isn’t a castle within a 100km or that the seagulls were actually mobbing each other by the bins instead of flying gracefully over the turrets.
Try the same approach as a photographer and even a pneumatic drill won’t cover the noise of the hoards shouting ‘CHEAT’, 'FAKE' and ‘PHOTOSHOP’! (Incidentally, if you’re one of those shouting ‘Photoshop!’ you’re a bit behind the times, there are hundreds of other/newer image editing apps out there and more being created every day - it ain't going away anytime soon).
It’s a bit like the heady days when the first digital cameras came out and no ‘serious’ photographer would be seen dead with one; in fact, if you didn’t condemn them loudly, swirls of suspicion would engulf your work like a dark cloud.
Yet I too briefly agonised over the Photoshop issue – if it wasn’t straight out of the camera, could it still be called ‘real’ photography? Then I discovered that the vast majority of award winning shots are modified in some way. This was followed by a light bulb moment: what really irked me was that I didn’t have the required knowledge to achieve similar results.
If you can’t beat them join them, right? So I took a course and made all the usual rookie mistakes: I over saturated, sharpened in all the wrong places and so on. Eventually I realised that the ‘saturation’ arrow can move left as well as right, and that subtlety has its place. It’s a process, knowledge, skill; it takes patience, savvy, talent, understanding and many, many hours of work.
But technical know-how isn’t enough: like the artist by the lake, what distinguishes a good work from a great one is the imagination of the creator. And that can’t be learnt: you’re either artistic or you’re not. If you listen to the critics carefully you’ll probably find that those with the least imagination shout the loudest.
Maybe we need a new word, like IMAGE for photographs that have been modified – but in the end, who cares? Surely what matters is that the finished product touches the heart in some way – then terms such as ‘straight out of the camera’ and ‘modified’ become irrelevant.
What truly counts is the instant when what the eye sees makes the heart miss a beat – for is this not the entire point of ART in any and every form?