Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Photoshop And The Creative Process, Part 1

I recently subscribed to CameraArts magazine without really knowing too much about the publication. A few weeks ago I received my first issue, and one of the first articles I read was an editorial authored by George DeWolfe entitled “The Master Print: The Photoshop Medicine Show” (CameraArts, January/February 2007). After finishing the article, I immediately knew two things:

i) that subscribing to the magazine was a good decision and

ii) that I wanted to write a blog post about that particular article.

Writing about the article, however, turned out to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. The reason for this is that I have changed my opinion about it several times and, in fact, it still seems difficult for me to sort out my feelings on the topic. I actually scrapped the idea of writing this post, but have come back to it with the realization that if I have trouble sorting it out in my own mind, then it would probably be interesting to others and hopefully make for some thought provoking commentary. I would certainly be interested in hearing peoples’ opinions.

Before I get further into this, I do, however, want to make a few things clear. First off, I have a deep respect for Mr. DeWolfe, even if I don’t necessarily agree with him 100%. I can only aspire to be as accomplished an artist and photographer as he is. In fact, I own his book entitled “George DeWolfe’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop”. Secondly, I e-mailed Tom Gibbons, the assistant editor of CameraArts, who encouraged me to write about the DeWolfe editorial, even if I didn’t totally agree with what was said. He even went further, agreeing to post DeWolfe’s entire article on line so that that readers of this blog could have a look at it for themselves…….thanks Tom.

The reason I was so sure that it was wise to have subscribed to Camera Arts is that you just have to respect a magazine that will print something that is non-mainstream and, in fact, potentially inflammatory to a large number of people who reside in the mainstream.

OK, OK, I have beat around the bush long enough. What is this all about?

Mr. DeWolfe’s thesis is essentially that a whole “cottage industry” has grown up around Photoshop to extol the virtues and abilities of the software, to the point where the creative process is pushed aside and the ‘tricks’ have become what is important. These tricks are then used with the ultimate goal of selling books, software and other miscellaneous items. The real problem is that these tricks have been developed as an end in and of themselves, not as solutions to a creative problem. He implies that in order to sell Photoshop paraphernalia the cart is allowed to come before the horse; a technique in search of a use is born.

He certainly comes out with gloves on and ‘swinging’ when he states that, in regards to Photoshop, “Unfortunately, there are those who spend much of their time talking too much about it, and they are (unnamed of course) the focus (target) of this article.” From what follows, it is clear he is speaking of the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) and the so-called Photoshop gurus. The annual Photoshop trade show is likened to the “selling of snake oil”.

The specific issue called into question is that these ‘gurus’ are really software people and not photographers. Their goal is to come up with tricks that Photoshop can do and essentially sell the trick and move on, whether or not the technique has a creatively useful application. Soon, the ultimate goal of making creative and emotionally stirring images is forgotten or made secondary in the minds of these gurus. DeWolfe feels that the true goal of Photoshop should be to enable the photographer to take their images, their art, and “make it human, making it match what the eye sees.”

Ultimately, he states that “Photoshop is a necessary evil in the photographer’s arsenal of tools today. It is a bloated application that contains much more than you need to make a masterpiece. As a point in fact, very few tools are needed to make a masterpiece, only the ones that you absolutely need to get the job done and no more. Keeping Photoshop simple and its use maintained with clarity should be a photographer’s mission in life. Lightroom, the new Adobe application for photographers, is making a decent dent in this problem, and I applaud its simplicity and workflow ease.”

When I first finished reading DeWolfe’s article, my initial response was “Bravo, someone has finally said what needs to be said!” Of course, I felt, everything that he states is true, and no one until now has had the guts to come right out and say it. I mean how many Photoshop ‘how to’ books, tutorials, and podcasts are really necessary?

However, upon thinking about these issues further, I am not so sure that I still agree with my initial gut response. I would like to wait until tomorrow to finish this post and talk about my current thoughts regarding this issue. In the meantime, I am hoping that anyone that might be interested will click over to the pdf file that Tom Gibbons at CameraArts has so graciously provided and give it a read…..perhaps take the opportunity to think about it overnight. I would be interested in hearing what others think about the editorial.

The article can be accessed by clicking here and then clicking on the title of the article (“The Master Print: The Photoshop Medicine Show) that is listed under ‘Web Exclusives’.

By the way, while you are over at the CameraArts website, it might be interesting for you poke around and see what else they have to offer. Take a look at the magazine and consider subscribing. As I mentioned, I have only received one issue so far, but look at what that one issue has led me to do……….TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW