The introduction of a new image capturing device has again initiated discussion on what photography is? The thoughts below are in response to a story broadcast on NPR on March 1, 2012 reporting on the new image capturing device “Lytro” that creates digital photographic images that can be selectively focused after they have been captured. In the story the question was raised about how this would change the process of photography.
Conflict always creates interest, so positioning a new invention as the potential end to photography as we know it gets some attention, and inspired me to review some of what I know and enjoy about being a photographer this morning over a cup of coffee.
Just as the creation of paintings have evolved over time, so has the way we create a two dimensional representation of our world that we refer to as a photograph. The Impressionists are no less painters for their choice of method than the Fauves or Cubists or Realists. Leonardo and Picasso chose two very different ways to depict a woman in a portrait, but they are still artists and primarily painters as they create the illusion of a person by pushing pigments into a particular configuration on a two dimensional surface. Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keefe
chose different subjects, methods and materials, but they are still painters.
Choice has always been the primary variable in how an artist communicates a vision to the world, and it was the same for an Australian Aborgine who sought to describe the Dreamtime in pigments as the people who drew the bison on the caves at Lascaux. It is just the same for photographers and the way they choose their tools and communicate their view of reality. The image they create are photographs whether they use a large format film camera and create a dramatic portrait in light as Karsh has, or in multiple linked images as those of Chuck Close. The arrangement of a view of people in a photograph has ranged from the multiple layers created in printing in the 1850’s by Oscar Reijlander, to the “decisive moment” of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa from the 1930’s to 1960’s. A layering or collage of images has been used by photographers from the beginning, and the complex darkroom technique of Jerry Uelsmann has in recent decades been made possible for anyone by the popular use of Photoshop software in a digital darkroom. Post-processing of images is a term that is now used for dodging and burning and the effects that were once darkroom related, to the manipulations and enhancement of images by computer. Unique effects of film processing and darkroom technique that required alternate film development chemicals to create “cross-processing” is now accomplished by effects within the layers of an image by adjusting digital sliders for hue and saturation and tonality.
The creation of photographs is primarily a way for individuals to extend our vision of reality by manipulations of time and space. The introduction of the “Lytro” continues the ability of creators of photographs to choose another way to view the world; a new tool for expressing what they have seen that is worth documenting.