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?
In the words of Ansel Adams:
“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce,
but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions,
and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”