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Magazines of course, about the only real media for photography communities, looked to manufacturers selling that film for revenue. So they enthusiastically promoted such films to the public. Additionally cover images with intense color grabs consumer's attention thus sells magazines off store racks. And commercial pros knew that the same intense imagery is what marketers wanted in their product ads. Debates on the ethical issues of using high saturation film versus traditional Kodachrome raged for a time on Usenet, a precursor to the Internet, and among photographers without a public voice.

Serious large format professionals tended to use black and white films because high-end prints had long been well accepted as fine art. So they merrily floated along without concern. Large color prints on the other hand were limited to expensive, hard to produce, Cibachrome or dye transfer. Sure, some sold large expensive non-Cibachrome prints, but color print media faded rapidly, thus the serious art community tended dismiss it. Eventually Evercolor prints offered color print longevity and then Cymbolic Sciences and Durst Lambda laser printing technologies finally gave color photographers a full digital print process that began to intrude on sales of all the black and white large format fine art photographers. During those same days, computers were finally bringing digital processes into the hands of pro users with scanning, Kodak Photo CDs, and early Photoshop. By time early color digital cameras were offered to the public, advanced users had already figured out many of the digital issues as color management was a constant commercial topic and concern. Saturated films were by the end of the century established as dominant, setting the stage for a like attitude entering into the digital camera era. Yet another technical wonder shattering the image world was putting color inkjet printers into everyone's hands. And finally the really big revolution was explosion of the World Wide Web that at first was only a textural medium with small graphics.

Present Era of the Digital Camera

The advent of digital cameras in this Twenty-first century decade in just a few years supplanted what had been decades of entrenched 35mm camera system enthusiasts. And that is certainly an incredible revolution. Today there are far far more digital cameras, especially the less expensive compact digital cameras in everybody's hands than cameras ever were in any shape or form in former times. And for the first time the masses have been thrust into the marriage of personal computer and imagery. Barely preceeding the cameras was the rise of color ink jet printers into everyone's hands. That enormous market provided incentive to quickly develop ink sets with more permanence and color fidelity than commercial CMYK offset printers ever thought was possible. And today there are many more serious photographers toting around DSLR's atop big tripods aiming at outdoor landscapes than there were any time in the past. For years, outside of a few icon locations, it was unusual to see other photographers in many areas with a tripod. Today it is many of those former 35mm photographers who only had stock clients in mind, that with latest DSLRs are able to produce much larger and technically superior prints. Lighting the match to all this technical and cultural change, the Internet bandwidth increased immensely and suddenly the world is awash with images, images, images.

Present Image Manipulation Debate

So for the last several years, many new photographers are asking the same questions we old timers already batted about 15 years ago. As someone that has been active in these issues on web boards using my real name, one can search and read that I've been offering consistent advice a long time. I am one that has always stated any amount of manipulation in photography is perfectly fine and ethical. However when someone presents such work to the public they ought to at least in some small way let their public audience know what and how such work was created. In other words that photographers be honest and up front about their work. So that their public audience at least minimally understands what they are looking at without wondering or needing to pry such information out with questions.

And that suggestion has generally not gone over well in photography communities. Instead the status quo remains one of not explaining anything to the public or even peers and anything goes. Why is that? Well the general answer is there is little incentive beyond peer pressure for individual photographers to bother. Many subconsiously want others to believe what they produced was something they actually captured with their cameras. It comes out in many ways especially when others stroke them about how lucky they were to witness the natural event.


For those that have a business selling images, being honest might result in missing some sales. Imagine a photograph of a magnificent sunset with clouds over the ocean hanging on an art fair booth with a sheet below explaining some of the manipulations created. "Oh it was a so so sunset with some modest sky color. Back on my computer, I selected just the sky then played with the hue and saturation controls, while painting in a bit of nifty red and purple color here and there."

Some in the audience would care less and might buy the print regardless. But one would also expect that many would care. And photographers obviously realize that whether they admit so or not. Another factor that bears on attitudes today is there are many new photographers toting DSLRs trying to build up bodies of work and receive recognition to move their way up in respect among their peers on Internet communities. Thus there is obviously a considerable amount of low key competition for stroking. That of course fuels the manipulation of images since it is a short cut to what in the past usually took a lot of time. The fact is today, someone poking on their keyboard in Manhattan that has never stepped out more into nature than Central Park with strong Photoshop skills at a graphics arts level, can create images Frankenstein style that can appear fully realistic. Especially so on the web where images are so small there is not enough detail to make such obvious.

Other photographers say everybody else uses saturated film and manipulates on the computer so why not? Why ought we bother to tell the public what we are doing when they already ought to understand that is the situation? Of course there will always be a modest number of photographers that genuinely are interested in producing faithful photographic images with reasonable fidelity to what they experienced. Proof of that is the debate always has advocates like yours truly, though in a minority, quick to make public comment. And the public certainly asks those questions. Thus the "everybody does it" excuse is just a simplistic excuse used to convenient advantage given the public momentum of that attitude.

Examples of Up Front Public
Photographic Presentation

One very common situation is the photographer that captured a landscape and the only manipulation was that they used a saturated film. Ought they stick a message onto an image title or description in their booth saying, "I use saturated Velvia film"? Of course not. What they could do at a minimum was to have a modest artist statement posted on a booth wall relating a usual short bio and including some basic brief information about their gear, film, and post processing philosophy. And of course artist statements have always been common for all types of exhibiting artists. Some acquaintances of mine that ply the art fair circuit complain about people without actual interest in buying prints, that peruse their booths and try to pry out information about how real the light was or if there was some kind of digital manipulation. And that tends to make some photographers even less willing to be open to the point of flat out denial. Sort of a inside joke of the trade. Of course part of the problem of receiving such questions person to person is even though many photographers somewhat understand the technical issues of what they do, that is not at the level they can consistently explain such to others. Especially when those asking questions have little understanding of those issues.

Well my suggestion is why not simply state such at least vaguely on an artist statement, that images were post processed for an aesthetic print in their mind's eye or they sometimes use such and such a film or filter, or yes yes I adjust saturation and contrast blah blah blah? Thus visitors might read the statement without bothering further. And if someone asks for more detail they might offer an honest up front answer or have a few further prepared statements on printed up cover-sheets, they could hand to them to read explaining technical details. Thus if they took some time beforehand to prepare such answers at their leisure, they ought to be able to put them into an organized form that can be communicated. And end up feeling better about being honest in the process. Also if they have a web site, simply noting their equipment, film choices, basic post processing attitudes, and photographic style shows they are at least making some effort to be up front. Thus what I am suggesting in no way is about putting up signs explaining all these technical issues on each image a photographer is exhibiting. On the other hand doing nothing, saying nothing, and worse denying, will only continue to widen the gap in public trust of what we landscape and nature photographers are producing. These are simply much too technically turbulent times for those of us with an honest nature to act passively.

Style & Philosophy page 1

   David Senesac

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