The debate rages on: should appropriated Google Street View photographs be considered art? There are quite a few artists and photographers out there who think it should be. Photographer Michael Wolf was awarded Honorable Mention for his curated screenshots at the World Press Photo 2011. Photographer Aaron Hobson takes screenshots and turns them into gorgeous panoramic photos. Jon Rafman’s screenshots were picked for an exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery.
Now there’s a headline that’s sure to cause some heated debate (click here for another one). It’s the question asked by the latest episode of PBS’ show Idea Channel:
With its ability to make boring cellphone photos look “vintage” and “artsy”, Instagram has exploded worldwide. Derided by its detractors as a tool for making bad photos worse, we take an alternate view and argue that Instagram is the greatest thing to ever happen to photography. Its simple filters and social networking features are training cellphone photographers everywhere to think creatively about their photos. Plus, the app is turning its worldwide user base into an army of photojournalists capturing striking images of the people and events around them. As the old photography adage goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
Afghan photographer Massoud Hossaini won the Putlizer Prize yesterday for his Breaking News photo showing a 12-year-old girl screaming after a suicide bombing in Kabul. His images of the mosque attack were so powerful that the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all published them on their front pages on December 7, 2011. However, each one ran a different image captured at the scene, and only the New York Times ran the Pulitzer Prize-winning shot that showed the full extent of the carnage. Shortly afterward, The Washington Post interviewed the photo editors at each paper to discuss why they chose the images (and the crops) they did.
PDN has published an interview with art collector Jonathan Sobel, who’s suing photographer William Eggleston for creating and selling new prints of iconic photos that were once sold as “limited edition” prints. The new prints that recently fetched $5.9 million at auction were digital prints that were larger than the original ones.
The dispute boils down to this question: If an artist produces and sells a limited edition of a photographic work, and then re-issues the same image in a different size, or in a different print format or medium, does the re-issue qualify as a separate edition? Or do the new prints breach New York law that defines “limited edition,” and therefore defraud the buyers of those original limited edition versions of the work?
The answer could have a significant effect on the photographic print market. A number of photographers issue limited editions of their works, then later issue new editions of the same works, reprinted at different sizes or in different mediums. The reason is obvious: When an edition sells out, and scarcity drives up the price, artists want to cash in on pent up demand.
Sobel, who has spent 10 years studying and collecting Eggleston’s work, claims that eight of his prints that were previously worth $850,000 have been devalued by the recent sale.
Every photographer probably has at least one story of a photo opportunity they missed simply because they decided not to press the shutter. Photographs Not Taken is a new book by photographer Will Steacy that offers 62 stories told by photographers around the world about moments that never became photographs. Sean O’Hagan of The Guardian writes that the decision is often an ethical one:
Consider the story related by Sylvia Plachy who, on a street in midtown Manhattan just after the twin towers of the World Trade Centre had collapsed on 9/11, encountered a dust-covered man “who had walked though hell”. He was, says Plachy, “the icon” of the human tragedy. Many people took his photograph. She did not. “I would have had to step in front of him, interrupt his frantic pace,” she writes. “I felt ashamed. I hesitated. I questioned. It didn’t seem right. In an instant he was gone. I didn’t do it.”
Plachy spent the following fortnight roaming the streets of downtown New York looking for another picture as powerful as the one she had not taken. “His image haunts me to this day,” she writes, adding ruefully, “Diane Arbus would have done it.”
This story, it seems to me, gets to the heart of the matter. Many photographers share Arbus’s view that you take the picture whatever the cost – to yourself as well as the subject. I have always been uncomfortable with that notion. It says that nothing is too intimate, too private. It insists, too, on the primacy of the photograph over the experience.
If you have your own stories of times when you couldn’t bring yourself to press the shutter, please share it with us in the comments!
CNN published an opinion piece yesterday by photojournalist Nick Stern, who has some pretty harsh things to say about the spread of Instagram-style “fake images” in the news:
The app photographer hasn’t spent years learning his or her trade, imagining the scene, waiting for the light to fall just right, swapping lenses and switching angles. They haven’t spent hours in the dark room, leaning over trays of noxious chemicals until the early hours of the morning.
Nor did they have to spend a huge chunk of their income on the latest digital equipment ($5,999 of my hard-earned cash just went on ordering a new Nikon D4) to ensure they stay on top of their game.
The app photographer merely has to click a software button and 10 seconds later is rewarded with a masterpiece.
Stern also states that “Any news photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that the best camera is one that lets you take the photo unencumbered by the technicalities of the process.”
Photography author Ben Long has a thought-provoking article over at CreativePro in which he argues that “all photos are manipulated” and that “there is no such thing as absolute truth in photography”:
All images are Photoshopped. Or Lightroomed, or iPhoto’d, or dodged, burned, re-touched, cross-processed, developed with more or less agitation in the tank, at warmer or cooler temperatures, and so on and so forth. This has been true since the beginning of photography.
Understanding the representational nature of photography will help you take better pictures because you’ll better understand how to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s important to understand that all images are manipulated. Still photos are the dominant communication medium used for everything from entertainment to artistic expression, journalism to sales. Becoming a more informed, understanding viewer will make it easier to understand when and whether there’s any “truth” in the images put before you.
The Washington Post raised some eyebrows last Friday after running an uber-saturated front page photo with the caption stating that it was “a composite created by taking several photos and combining them with computer software to transcend the visual limitations of standard photography.” After emailing the photo editor, Poynter learned that the image was simply an HDR photograph. While it’s a pretty common technique these days, some believe that it has no place in photojournalism,
Sean Elliot, president of the National Press Photographers Association, said, “HDR is not appropriate for documentary photojournalism.” The organization’s code of ethics say photographers should respect the integrity of the digital moment, “and in that light an HDR photo is no different from any other digital manipulation.”
“By using HDR,” he told me by email, “The Washington Post has combined different moments, and thereby created an image that does not exist. The aircraft visible in the final product was not there for all the other moments combined into the final, and that alone simply raises too many questions about the factual validity of the actual published image.” [#]
What complicates matters is that many new cameras (e.g. Nikon D4, Apple iPhone 4S) offer HDR features that create single images from multiple exposures in the camera. The Washington Post published a response to the controversy yesterday. Do you think HDR is an appropriate technique for photojournalists to use?
Here’s a fascinating video in which Italian photographer Ruben Salvadori demonstrates how dishonest many conflict photographs are. Salvadori spent a significant amount of time in East Jerusalem, studying the role photojournalists play in what the world sees. By turning his camera on the photographers themselves, he shows how photojournalists often influence the events they’re supposed to document objectively, and how photographers are often pushed to seek and create drama even in situations that lack it.
You might start looking at conflict photos in the news a lot differently after watching this.