Of Digital and Dreaming
Nobody likes to feel duped and in a world of digital images, it is often hard to tell the reality from the fiction. When exhibiting my photography, I continually field questions like “are your images enhanced?” and “Are these digital or film?” I’ve been accused of faking images and even had people turn up their nose and leave my exhibit when they hear the ‘D’ word.
I began making commercial images over 20 years ago when film was the only option. To the public living outside of the photographer’s world, image manipulation appears to be a new game introduced with the advent of the computer and Photoshop. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Image manipulation is nothing new. The names and the processes have changed but, to a great extent, what happens with digital imagery today happened with film as well. To make an extreme case, just look at the work of Jerry Ueselmann.
In the days before digital was even a dream, the choice of film type and speed determined subtleties in color, contrast and grain. In camera, film was again subjected to manipulation with multiple exposures, contrast filters and color filters even defocus (soft focus) lenses. All of these manipulated how the image was recorded on the emulsion of the film.
During chemical processing, a simple change in chemical temperature or agitation rates increased or decreased film contrast. Film of one type was even processed in the chemicals of another type in a process known as cross processing to produce color casts and increased grain.
When it came to printing, litho masks, contrast filters, paper choice, and multiple exposures were commonplace. Burning and dodging, the art of selectively lightening and darkening areas of the print, were executed on nearly every print. In addition, with black and white prints (a total departure from reality; manipulation to the extreme!) prints were selenium toned to produce a steel blue tint or sepia toned to create a warm brown tone.
Image manipulation is not new; it has only changed to suit the medium. My goal is faithful representation of what I saw and felt at the time of exposure. After all, it’s art, not a crime scene photograph.
Next time you see an image that catches your eye ask yourself; “Do I like the image?” If the answer is yes, why does it matter how it was made? Enjoy art for what it is whether its painting, sculpture, photography or anything else.