As I've trifled through different photography critique sites over the years, and listened to discussions here and elsewhere, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that there is a strong drive towards "perfect" images. If someone posts an image that has the horizon smack in the center of the frame, or if the model's nose dares to cast a shadow, an image is automatically rejected. This absurdity was amply demonstrated in the tongue-in-cheek posting
on The Online Photographer blog. I've struggled with the implications of the article, and the underlying bigger question - when is perfection too much? - for quite a while now.
Chinese calligraphy has been traditionally taught in a manner reminiscent of this. An apprentice learns to copy his master's writing as perfectly as possible. Only then is he allowed to deviate, to create his own style. Perhaps this is how the modern photographer learns. Photographic maxims - such as rule-of-thirds or having the widest dynamic range possible - become what the master calligrapher was to the student.
But I'm somewhat concerned that the accessibility, ease-of-use and ubiquity of post-processing tools is draining the life from some photography. I'm sure everyone of us has cursed the unsightly electrical wires in the otherwise pristine landscape, only to shrug and take it out in post. A problem arises when such "flaws" are seen as something that should be gotten rid of categorically.
I'm not advocating turning into a neo-Luddite, or to start making "gritty" photographs which record the world instead of interpreting it. There's not enough beauty in the world, in my opinion. But I'm afraid many of us are equating perfection with beauty - which is not the case. If you look at the women widely considered most beautiful, you can easily see they are not perfect. Marilyn Monroe with her mole, Angelina Jolie with her oversized lips, Michelle Pfeiffer with her eyes which are too far apart.
Perfection, while pleasing, often amounts to boring. A photograph has to have something more than just flawless execution. What that something is, is another matter - soul, touch, talent? Perhaps achieving flawless execution is just the first step in being a great photographer, and that casting the shackles of perfection aside is when images become iconic.