Random Sights and Diversions

Photography Media Reviews Commentary


Is the Camera Obsolete?

Matthew Brandt, Grays Lake, ID 7, 2013. © Matthew Brandt, courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Matthew Brandt, Grays Lake, ID 7, 2013. © Matthew Brandt, courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Of course, the camera is not obsolete. But the role of the camera in photography, along with the nature of photography itself, is changing. I missed this article in the Times last January, The Next Big Picture: With Cameras Optional, New Directions in Photography (New York Times, January 23, 2014. Registration may be required.)

The Times article reviewed a new show (unfortunately, now closed) at the International Center of Photography in New York City, What is a Photograph?

Organized by ICP Curator Carol Squiers, What Is a Photograph? explores the intense creative experimentation in photography that has occurred since the 1970s. Conceptual art introduced photography into contemporary art making, using the medium in ways that challenged it artistically, intellectually, and technically and broadened the notion of what a photograph could be in art.

Mariah Robertson, 154 [detail], 2010. © Mariah Robertson, courtesy American Contemporary, New York.

Mariah Robertson, 154 [detail], 2010. © Mariah Robertson, courtesy American Contemporary, New York.

I missed the show, as well, but having just come across the Times review, I think it addresses a fundamental question in art photography today. It is a question that has been on my mind. To quote from the Times:

The shift of focus from fact to fiction, and all the gradations in between, is perhaps the largest issue in the current soul-searching underway in photography circles. Questions swirl: Can the “captured” image (taken on the street — think of the documentary work of Henri Cartier-Bresson) maintain equal footing with the “constructed” image (made in the studio or on the computer, often with ideological intention)? (*)

The line between traditional photography and digital image-making is becoming blurred (or, if you accept the premise of the images in the ICP show, more or less demolished.)

Travess Smalley, Capture Physical Presence #15, 2011. © Travess Smalley, courtesy Higher Pictures, New York.

Travess Smalley, Capture Physical Presence #15, 2011. © Travess Smalley, courtesy Higher Pictures, New York.(* There is an excellent essay about Travess Smalley’s work, Capture Physical Presence, here.)

(These images from the ICP show.)

My work, at least recently, is much closer to the traditional end of the spectrum than most of the constructed digital images in the ICP show. But I still wonder about the role of digital manipulation and what it says about the aims of photography. My images are extensively manipulated post-capture more and more.  I don’t hesitate to go well beyond raw conversion, tweaking exposure, or correcting color.  I am interested in bringing out textures, shadows, relationships between light and dark and color, that lead the viewer to see the scene in a new way, often seeing what is unseen with the naked eye. At present, I still feel bound to the original scene as a foundation, still approaching post-capture manipulation essentially as a matter of enhancement, even if extreme at times. But I wonder if it has to stay that way in order to be called “photography.”

The dichotomy between the captured image and the constructed image, mentioned above, is actually a very wide continuum with a lot of overlap. One way to look at this is to reason that if an image starts with capture by a camera, then it’s a photograph, and the end result of the creative process is still a photograph, no matter what or how much post-capture processing or engineering is carried out.  That’s my view. Not all photographers agree. But if the end result is not still a photograph, what is it? That is, a work of photographic art can be both captured and constructed. Again, that’s my view.

But how do we classify works such as those illustrated here and at the ICP show site? These are, in fact, more than mere digital constructions. For example, Travess Smalley’s works are assembled as collages, scanned, converted to jpegs, printed. There is a physical presence just as with a traditional photographic print. I have always believed that what the camera produces is just one of the raw ingredients of creating a photographic image. If the elements are produced by means other than with a camera, can it still be photography?

I think it is good for photography, for art, and for photographers that contemporary photography is an art form using “the medium in ways that challenge[d] it artistically, intellectually, and technically and broaden[ed] the notion of what a photograph could be in art.”

Red Dahlia II.  Copyright Joanne Mason 2012.

Red Dahlia II. Copyright Joanne Mason 2012.

Red Dahlia II. Shot in 2012. Extensively manipulated in Photoshop, along with Lightroom and Nik Viveza, involving a lot of color manipulation. This isn’t exactly as the eye would see a dahlia, and we can’t exactly say it’s just enhancement either. But the created image – which is designed to explore the sense of wild abandon of the flower – nevertheless embraces elements that may register on the viewer unconsciously and that contribute to the whole image.


Intelligent Life: The Photo Album

Intelligent Life have just put out a wonderful collection of images culled from their pages, Intelligent Life: The Photo Album. 

Intelligent Life The Photo Album

I have recommended Intelligent Life before. It’s a great magazine, published by the Economist. From Intelligent Life:

Intelligent Life [is] the award-winning magazine published by The Economist, covering life, culture, style and places. It publishes original features, memoirs, profiles and other articles by contributors including Economist staff, leading journalists from elsewhere, [and] well-known authors…

Featuring sparkling layout, great photography and writing, and a wonderfully intelligent outlook, Intelligent Life is available in hard copy by subscription, but the iPad edition, containing the complete magazine, is – thanks to sponsorship from Credit Suisse – free to download and free to subscribe.

Intelligent Life has published some terrific photography. Now they have collected 75 of the best images from the last 25 issues of the magazine for a special edition which, on the ipad, is totally brilliant. This edition includes 75 outstanding images – landscapes, portraits, cityscapes, style, and photojournalism. Each image is accompanied with informative descriptive captions. Wonderful photography – Absolutely not to be missed.

iTunes Link


Google Shuts Down Snapseed Desktop

Buried among the commotion surrounding Google’s decision to close down Google Reader is the fact that Google is also discontinuing Snapseed for the desktop (Windows and Macintosh). I reviewed Snapseed for the iPad earlier this week. At present, the iPad version of Snapseed is still being sold, and previous owners of Snapseed desktop can continue to use it, but Snapseed for desktop will not be sold any longer. I think this is a loss.

Snapseed was developed by Nik which Google bought last year. I hope that Google does not discontinue or significantly change any of the other Nik modules and plug-ins. Nik’s tools are first rate photo processing tools. If Google were eventually to shut it all down, I’d wonder why Google bought Nik in the first place.


Pix… For Woman Photographers

I am startled and appalled that a photography magazine publisher like PDN has come out with a new magazine for woman photographers, Pix. Is this outrageous? Or is it legitimate marketing?

I like photo magazines and consume them; but there’s hardly anything in Pix about photography. Pix includes articles featured on the front cover, such as “Photo Gear Designed for Women” (well… OK, but); “Shoot in Style: More than 50 Irresistible Accessories”; and “Smudge-Proof Makeup Tips for Long Days Behind the Camera.”  “Lens Flair” is about fashion accessories.

Do we really need this magazine? Are there not already enough style and fashion mags for women and girls when we want such? Do I really need to go to a photography magazine to get makeup and fitness tips? And, most worrisome of all, what does the marketing and content of this new mag say about photography and women?

I have not seen any magazines being marketed as “Photography for Men”? Does this imply that PDN thinks photography is inherently a man’s profession? That a new overly “girlified” magazine is necessary if women are to have a photo magazine? Apparently PDN thinks women photographers are a niche not being served by existing gender-neutral photo magazines. Or perhaps it’s just a crass attempt by PDN to cash in by defining a new market segment?

Take a look at Pix and see if you agree with me? Do we (women or men photographers) really need Pix? Even if we do, there’s precious little in the first issue of Pix that is actually about photography.

We women who want organizations and media dedicated to photography and women already have some good selections. If you’re on LinkedIn, check out the Women in Photography group. Or visit – and join – Women in Photography International – highly recommended!

Post a comment! I’d love to know your opinion about Pix!


Whither the Book?

Guest Contributor

This is a guest post by Jack Dzamba, from his blog, →Whither the Book.  Check out Jack’s provocative and thoughtful blog which includes many resources on new interactive media. Random Sights welcomes guest bloggers. Write one post or a series. Contact me through the blog if you are interested.

Whither the Book?

THE BOOK, both print and even current versions of the electronic reader, are already near artifacts. Book publishing is in the death throes of the last century, bound up in static, linear publications. At the same time, the technology of the new media has developed to such a degree of creativity and innovation that Alice Rawsthorn commented in the New York Times of November 28, 2010 that,

These devices offer thrilling possibilities for us to do much more than read words on a screen, and it is deeply disappointing that so few designers and publishers are embracing them.

At the same time, the Fine Art community, artists, museums, and developers have risen to the challenges and opportunities of new media. Tablets, smart phones, and the myriad of new apps enable artists and art lovers to experience art in the most comprehensive and dynamic ways. Just as the iPod changed the shape of the music industry, the Fine Art, and indeed the entire book publishing industry, is on the brink of a paradigm change. Can The Book adapt and survive?

More after the jump ...  Read More


New Focus Magazine

A new edition of Focus Magazine has just been published. The magazine itself and news about Focus‘s publication plans are both most welcome!

As Random Sights readers know, I’ve been highly complimentary of the content in Focus Magazine. While Focus Magazine has been primarily directed to the art photography and collecting market, the quality of the photography included is so consistently great, the magazine is a great resource for all interested in fine art photography.

Focus has finally announced their publication and subscription plans for the two new magazines. And it sounds like the two new magazines are nearly ready to go!

Focus Magazine itself will continue as an article-based magazine focused on fine art photography and collecting.

Focus Portfolios will publish portfolios of work by photographers around the world (especially emerging artists?). Focus Exposures will publish fine art nudes from photographers around the world.

All subscribers to Focus Magazine will automatically receive a free copy of each of the first issues of Focus Portfolios and Focus Exposures. Thereafter, both Focus Portfolios and Focus Exposures will be sold, alongside the original Focus Magazine, in both Zinio and the Apple Newsstand.

Focus Magazine is available through the →Zinio iPad app, as well as directly through →Focus’s own ipad app.

Photography Book Publishing

The current issue of Focus includes a good article surveying the current state of fine art photography book publishing and the pros and cons of “p-books” and “e-books.”

We are at somewhat of a crossroads and a new frontier in the photobook business, and it’s something that all serious photographers should be interested in. Focus‘s Jain Kelly writes:

The news … [is] both discouraging and encouraging … Such factors as cost and distribution [are] working against the art book in the form, of the p-book, but fine-art photography books , increasingly, are regarded as art objects that attract and hold devoted collectors around the world; hence, the photography p-book is unlikely to disappear. In regard to the fine-art photography e-book, one view is that the market is just getting started, and there are many unknown factors for publishers; another view is that the art e-book,  with its potential for unlimited distribution, will lead to a renaissance in the art book field.

In my view, the Focus article creates a distinction between the two classes of books, p-books and e-books, but the distinction is incomplete. In reality, a third format should be a category of its own, the print-on-demand book. The e-book technology is not only impacting the market but greatly influencing book production and bringing [printed] book production within the scope of what can be done readily by many more photographers.

This Focus Magazine issue also includes for the first time an extensive list of recently published photo books, along with short descriptions, and also a number of longer in-depth reviews.

Focus Magazine remains, in my opinion, highly recommended.

%d bloggers like this: