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The Line Between Photo Illustrations and ‘Pure’ Photography



What’s the place of digitally manipulated photo illustrations in the world of photography? The age-old discussion was rekindled this week after renowned Australian landscape photographer Ken Duncan spoke out, saying the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) have been “hijacked by manipulators.”

Duncan posted his thoughts in a post on his Facebook page, and APPA awards chair Rocco Ancora soon responded in a statement given to PetaPixel.

The next day, Ancora again weighed in on the debate in a conversation that was livestreamed on Facebook with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP):

“We don’t try to put everyone in a box,” Ancora says. “APPA is about celebrating every genre for what it is, whether it’s perceived as being the pure photography genre, or whether it’s perceived as being the more creative […] where you start to pull in different elements and start to play around with brushes in Photoshop to create something that’s not really there.”

Duncan’s original comments were sparked by photographer Lisa Saad winning this year’s prestigious contest with a series of photo illustrations submitted to the Advertising category. Here’s one of the winning images:

Photo by Lisa Saad/APPA
Photo by Lisa Saad/APPA

“When [the judges] analyze each submission, it’s not about the amount of Photoshop that’s used. It’s beyond that,” Ancora says. “It’s about the image. It’s about the level of creativity. It’s about whether an image moves you or not, regardless of whether Photoshop was used — it’s irrelevant.”

Back in 2015, photographer Ken Duncan’s views on this subject led him to create his own Real Photo Awards, which is specifically geared toward “photo realism.”

“I believe it’s important to recognise the existance of two very different forms of photography and make a clear distinction between them,” Duncan writes. “I separate these two diverse photographic styles by referring to them as Photo Realism and Photo Illustration.”

“Both artistic forms are legitimate – both require creativity and skill – and I personally like some of the digital creations,” he continues. “However, each has a different place in the market – and in the hearts and minds of consumers.”

For top photo contests that don’t crown winners for realism and illustration as two separate categories, having a photo illustration win the top prize necessarily means that “photo realism” photographers are left out.

In the debate around traditional versus illustrative styles of photography, it’s fair to say there are vastly different approaches, mindsets, results and skill sets required in the two very different forms. Do you believe it’s fair to judge a largely illustrative photo/image next to a more “pure” expression of photography?