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.

Photography and Truth - Part I

I have never understood why photography is essentially the only artistic medium in which people seem to expect literal, factual interpretations of a subject. It is not at all unusual for someone, after looking at and seemingly enjoying a photographic print, to turn around and question if there has been 'manipulation' of the image because of the intensity of color or contrast, the perspective of a particular lens, or the use of shutter speeds that provide an unexpected appearance. Unfortunately, many of these comments are made in a derogatory fashion; there is seemingly no artistic vision or expertise involved if there were ‘adjustments’ that were made……it is as if to say “well, once you are allowed to make adjustments I could have done that as well”, and therefore the perceived ‘value’ (and I am not talking about monetary value here) is lessened.

I simply don’t get it! I have never heard anyone complain to a painter that their work wasn’t good because they painted the sky bluer than it was on that particular day. No one tells a writer that something couldn't have looked as they described it. Sure, people may not like the painter's or writer's style, but that is quite different from not liking an artists’s work because it does not portray reality.

As an aside, the whole situation reminds me of a famous story regarding Picasso, which goes something like this (who even knows if it is true at this point). A tall patron asked Picasso why he portrayed people the way he did, despite the fact that ‘they don’t really have angles like that’. Picasso reportedly asked him if he had a photograph of his wife with him and asked to see it. The person did and showed it to Picasso. Picasso then took his thumb and forefinger and, in an animated fashion, used them to measure the size of the woman’s head in the photograph. He then held his now separated fingers up to the light and said to the tall patron, “How odd, your marrying a woman with such a small head.” Point well made.

The issues and concerns regarding manipulation have certainly ‘gotten worse’ in the digital era, where anyone can cut out their bosses head and place it on a monkey’s body. Clearly, however, ‘manipulation’ occurred long before the digital age by making choices as simple as deciding what focal length lens to use or even what type of film to load into the camera. For more complex manipulation using film, one need look no further than the type of magnificent work Jerry Uelsmann does today using ‘only’ film and the darkroom.

What it seems to essentially boil down to, at least in my mind, is that most people expect photography, even if presented purely as art, to accurately reflect reality. This expectation is simply not present in essentially any other artistic medium.

To Be Continued.........