I believe that it all depends on the purpose of the image.
If you are talking about art as in an expression of the individual’s form of vision, then that’s one thing, but you can’t fairly or intelligently cross over into the realm of commerce with that theory.
Professionals make images that someone else wants to buy. Whether those are printed or processed by another person doesn’t currently matter a whole lot in the general scheme of things: the deal is for a convincing and professionally sound product that fills the brief that gave it birth. The rest is immaterial. A war shooter has to reveal the pain and the fear and the events. An advertising photographer has to show the product or, as in the case of Pirelli, the myth surrounding the brand to best advantage or he doesn’t get paid and does, probably, have to claim on his insurance if he effs up. Reshoots don’t come for free. A paparazzo has the need to show celebrity as vulnerable or stupìd; a newspaper shooter is still saddled with a political agenda as much as was HC-B and also were his peers. Balaclavas owe their renaissance to the press photographers of ‘Fleet Street’.
Now, today, it’s debatable whether the commercial world currently allows any photographer to claim that his work is a true reflection of himself: there’s that character known as the art director who shares space with other part-players such as stylists and hair… almost forgot the client in that list; whose handwriting is the strongest? Is the photographer’s now the weakest?
In the past, countless people such as myself just got the job and then took off for the outside world with their model and maybe a coolie or two (you know what I meant, love…) and whatever came home with them, whether it was or was not the bacon, it was all their’s and the model’s. And everybody knew it. That was the time when personal style existed and you could look at Vogue or Playboy and reliably guess the snapper’s name without reading the credits. You look at those glossies today, or at top model agency sites, and they are all indistinguishably plastic, clones one of the other. It’s almost as if the name of the game is not to have a unique identity, but to share a common one: the era of the single ‘look’.
But, if you want to speak about, and if you identify art with the oeuvre of the single individual, then I believe you have the right to expect that whatever bears that person’s signature represents his own, personal, production: the fruit of his own sweat. Anything short of that, and I personally believe you are dealing with commerce and not art. And don’t forget that the Old Masters were commercial artists, probably every godddam one of ‘em.
As for the importance of the negative, print or ultimate file in representing the work of the artist (I exclude processing of transparency material because the objective there is for perfect standardization of process, which a good lab can usually do better than an individual), well there is no difference there from the situation with a paper print: the artefact is the image, the child of the mind of the producer. Introduce another personality into the process and you have the interesting situation of the cuckold: is baby a bastard or not? (In this instance you must overlook the discomfort to the innocents.) You could say that in the world of the collector, provenance is the genetic paternity test. And when you think of the money sometimes concerned, possibly even more important a distinction.
Thing is, honesty is really a very basic concept. There is no difficulty or ambiguity about it: something is or is not all your own work. Andy W. was honest: he himself called it The Factory. As with everything, the buyer should be left in no doubts about how or from where his purchase originates. And as ever, caveat emptor.
Your conclusion and ultimate belief regarding your position as artist depends on your interests in the matter, whether fiscal or simply based on your own ability to complete the various functions of artist, photographic or otherwise; level of ability colours much!