The eternal debate....

November 4, 2011

Photography…is it documentation, or is it art? Now that the enhancement or manipulation of images is in the hands of the photographer,in these days of digital photography, rather than the faceless “colour laboratory” that used to process film, the question arises with unfailing regularity.

I think that the two are equally valid types of photography…much like realism and impressionism (or any other branch of abstract) in art. One type of photography seeks only to document, to present the reality of the moment that was captured on camera. The other seeks to enhance the impact of the image, by manipulating the image itself. Both are valid in their own spheres.

Here is the image of the silhouette of the Black Bulbul, that I took at Dhanaulti, Uttarakhand, on 291011:

blk blbl 291011 dhnlti

And my good friend Sethu, who is an excellent photographer and possesses great post-processing skills as well, decided to make something more creative out of it, and here is the image he sent me:

L sethu's artwork of blck blbl 021111

One can clearly see that the image that has the lovely sky background is far more appealing than the simpler image, for which the value is its veracity. So, rather than classify them as “real” and “fake”, a classification which implies a value judgement, I’d call them “real” and “art” photographs.

It’s up to the photographer, I feel, to decide what each image should be. I personally like to document what I have seen and experienced, and use my images to illustrate my narrative, or show things through my eyes; and I also save a lot of time by not post-processing. I like clicking images so much that if I started enhancing them, I would never post much….I click to share, and am not bothered too much about a perfect or an artisitic photograph.

But others differ; they would, even in a realistic photograph, enhance the image a bit to make an excellent image out of one that is good to begin with. And, in the case of many of the images that one gets in internet forwards, the images are manipulated to get the maximum artistic impact out of them, so the extent of post-processing could be quite high.

So…I feel that there need not be any comparison of the two types of images; I’m happy to look at wonderful images that I know have been post-processed, and equally happy to see a delightful image of two kittens playing, taken by someone’s first camera. It’s only when I am asked to compare the two (or, as happened today) asked if I can “match” these images, that I feel the need to state my viewpoint….vive le difference, is what I say.

However, if a set of parameters includes even an implicit requirement for “unprocessed” images, then a good photographer would mention the fact that the images are processed, if it has been done. This will avoid all difficulties and difficulties….such as the photographer’s work being disqualified, and the reputation besmirched.