The lost art of photography

You could argue that in days past the pursuit of photography was about documenting what we see, capturing a moment as it happened to look back on later. You could argue there was a time when if you were to look at a photograph, you could trust that more or less that was an accurate representation of the scene at the time it was captured.

More and more it seems these days when I look at photographs I find myself wondering what it was actually like and how much of that photograph is reality and how much is artwork. I don’t like it that this question comes to mind more often than not but it seems that’s the way it is. But is it a technology thing or is it just the nature of photography for art?

If you look back to the film days, especially to those photographers who would have their own darkroom and use it to develop their own photos.. even then there was a certain degree of manipulation of the images available. Different chemicals could change contrast levels, longer times exposed to those chemicals would have certain effects.

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of those times. I did a bit of shooting on film back in the day but never really spent much time in the darkroom myself. I understand though that how you treated the processing of the film in the darkroom had an effect on how the images turned out.

So can we really say back then what we saw was the truth? Certainly more so than with the digital manipulation available today but completely… no. It was much less likely to be significantly changed than what you find these days.

We have so many more techniques and abilities we can use these days to create images that just weren’t possible previously so is it cheating if we use those?

Back in the film days it wasn’t possible to take a series of images with different focus points and blend them into one like we do with focus stacking. It wasn’t possible to take photos at different exposures and create HDR images or stack multiple photos on top of each other and blend them together for creative effect.

It wasn’t possible to do those things then, but it is now. Does that mean “photographs” using such techniques have shifted from a photograph to a piece of digital art? Is that a bad thing?

Is it fair to say that these days that photography itself is something of a lost art that’s been replaced by digital manipulation or artificial intelligence? Is true photography as the capture of what a scene actually looked like something from the past?

Maybe people in fifty years time will look back and talk about the primitive digital photography we have now and call what we do now with digital manipulation a lost art? I don’t know.

Maybe it’s never really been about faking things but more about overcoming the limitations of camera technology and using digital manipulation to bring out the full dynamic range we expect that the cameras just aren’t capable of capturing in a single exposure?

I’d been keen to hear what you think? Is photography a lost art or is digital manipulation really just about making the most of hardware shortcomings?

I was speaking to someone just the other day regarding my camera who said that they have a camera like that but it’s just too awkward to carry around when my phone takes great photos anyway.

We live at the moment in an age where thanks to a culture of instant gratification, monetization and convenience that anyone can have what they think is a great camera in their pocket and due to the over saturation of photos from such devices on social media and the like people see this as the normal and have to some extent lost some appreciation of the effort that camera photography takes.

I personally tend to think that photography these days with the digital manipulation capabilities for most of us is about making artwork that people can look at and say “Wow”. It’s about telling a story in a single image or capturing an emotion and expressing that to others. How much or little digital manipulation goes into that is irrelevant because in the end it’s art.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a great day.

Self taught software developer and photographer.

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