While Strand (and Stieglitz) may have tried to undermine pictorialism, it's very much alive and well. Much of contemporary fine-art photography is based on the tenets of pictorialism.
As for early photographers, again, I have to disagree. Many of these folks had little interest in reality. Many were simply illustrating stories they knew either from literature or the Bible. The model may have, in reality, been a neighbor or a nanny or a friend, but in the image they lost their true identity and became who they were portraying. Consider the theatre or the movies. Is it the actual actor we are emotionally involved with, or is it the character?
I did no mean "altruistic" to be literal, but rather to emphasize your assertion (of which I strongly disagree) that photography, since its inception, has had a singular and unwavering mission to, as you put it, "represent the real world" through documentation of the human condition.
As for bringing up "process", given the previous sentence and your earlier statement that landscape photography is a cop out and landscapes are better left to painters, I could only assume that, in your view, photography is less about personal vision and more about mechanics (if you have a camera, you must shoot people). I seriously doubt that is what you really mean (you seem too intelligent to be so myoptic), but it does come across like that.
I don't totally disgree with you on everything, Russ, but do take a bit of offense at some of your assertions.
Chuck – And Jonathan,
Okay. I’ll confess. I’ve deliberately overstated the case, but you can’t really get a discussion going by surrendering to the first argument that comes along. Backing away from excesses, here are some statements that illustrate where I actually stand:
My favorite kind of photography is street photography, and street photography needs to be straight photography.
I think people, and the things they create, are infinitely more interesting than anything else out there.
I do think that landscape is better left to painters, but occasionally I do landscape.
I really, really dislike the kind of pictorialism that was done early in the century, and I agree that much of contemporary fine art photography is based on pictorialism, which is one reason to dislike much of contemporary fine art photography. But I do fine art photography and sell it through local galleries and on the web. I guess I’d have to admit that my fine art photography isn’t contemporary. I occasionally sell street photography, but mostly I sell pictures of dying towns and abandoned farms and mine structures. I’m into wabi sabi in a big way. Is street photography “fine art photography?” If you’re in doubt, walk into a couple of the fine art photography galleries in Santa Fe and look around. I’ll shamefacedly have to admit that my most recent sale is the “landscape” I’ve attached. It’s HDR from 9 exposures.
I absolutely do think that photography is at its best when it represents the real world. But it’s possible to represent the real world in many different ways. There have been some arguments in this thread about whether or not photography captures time. Yes it does. It always does. When Ansel Adams captured “Moonrise Hernandez” his photograph represented the real world. How many of you have seen the real world scene he captured in Moonrise Hernandez? You won't be able to because you can’t turn back time.
Now, let’s look at burning and dodging, Jonathan’s beef. Ansel did a whole lot of burning and dodging for his final print of “Moonrise,” and then he came back later and did a whole lot more burning and dodging for later prints, all somewhat different from the first print. When you snap a picture, the result rarely is what you actually saw. It frequently takes at least some post-processing to reproduce your vision. What Ansel did with his burning and dodging was to emphasize the things that were important to his vision and deemphasize things that were less important so that the important things stand out. I don’t see any problem with that. I do it all the time with layers and masks. But when Gene Smith, most of whose work I greatly admire, dubbed in the tools in the lower right corner of his picture of Albert Schweitzer on the cover of Let Truth be the Prejudice
, he went too far. That wasn’t reality. That was an attempt to make a political statement.
On the other hand, though I’m very much against manipulated prints that pretend to represent reality, I’m in favor of the kind of thing Alain’s doing. He doesn’t pretend it’s reality, and it’s something new and often very beautiful. I’d hope to see more of it and I’d hope to see it become an accepted artform.
Cropping sometimes is necessary – usually when something gets in the way and you have to remove it. A reasonable amount of cropping is legitimate when you can’t get close enough to the scene you want, or, say the scene needs to be square and you’re shooting at a 2 x 3 aspect ratio, but most habitual croppers carry cropping to the point where the print falls apart and becomes soft or pixilated. To me the most important reason not to crop is that, as HCB said, if the geometrically correct interplay of proportions isn’t there in what you see through the viewfinder at the moment you trip the shutter, it’s bloody unlikely you’ll be able to recover or create that interplay by cropping. I also think that once you’ve developed your eye, even though you move around for additional shots your first impression of the thing you’re shooting almost always is the right one.
Finally, let’s address the semantic problem that’s been causing all the outrage: If you pick up a brush, dip it in paint, and swipe it across a canvas, what you have is a “painting.” If you pick up a camera, point it at the wall and trip the shutter, what you have is a “photograph.” But I doubt any of us would call that canvas a “painting,” and I doubt any of us would call that file in the camera a “photograph.” (Though you might if you're really into "modern art.) It may be that I’ve pushed my own idea of what’s actually a “photograph” a bit too far in this thread, but I got some pretty interesting responses so I’m not going to apologize.
Best regards to all of you,