If you can't see it, it doesn't count.
Ctein, talking about photographic technique

1 - Introduction
As a digital photographer, if you haven’t been asked this question you eventually will: “Do you manipulate your photographs?”  Sometimes it comes under another aspect: “Do you change the colors?”  And occasionally it goes straight to the heart of the matter: “Is this real?”

There is a certain percentage of the public who believes that fine art photographs must represent reality.  There are people who do not know that there are differences between what they see and what the camera captures.  Finally, there are individuals who do not understand that a photograph is a two dimensional representation of reality and not reality itself because reality is far more complex and perceived by us through five senses and not just one. 

Some people are willing to change their minds when these things are explained to them.  Others have their minds made up and do not want to be bothered by the facts.  Those are the ones that I am referring to in this essay.  

The people in this last category not only believe that photographs must represent reality, they also believe that to achieve this photographs must be unaltered. They believe that a photograph must be printed exactly the way it comes out of the camera. While this may be true for certain types of technical photographs, when it comes to art and to my work I believe the exact opposite to be true, namely that photographs must be altered in one way or another in order to have a chance to represent the reality that I perceive.

My premise for this essay is that a fine art photograph, created by an artist with the goal of expressing himself or herself, is a representation of this artist’s view of reality, a representation of this artist’s vision, and not a representation of the world as others may see it.  This can be a blessing or a crime, depending on your opinion regarding this matter. 

Eventually, this is a matter of opinion.  Personally, my opinion is that a photograph cannot capture reality as we experience it physically and I can back it up with facts (I do so in my other essays on this subject including Of Cameras and Art and The Eye and the Camera).  However, I found that debating this point with people who do not agree with me isn’t necessarily the smartest decision.  So, I propose here a different approach, one that works great for me.

2 - A little bit of history
For a long time I didn’t know what to say when confronted by people asking me if my work was real, if I manipulated the colors, or if I changed something to the scenes I photographed.   In fact, as a fledging artist unsure of where I stood, I felt threatened by these questions and was more concerned with defending myself than with anything else.  

At that time I believed that explaining my artistic approach would help.  So I answered by saying that this --the color changes, the manipulations, the modifications I made to the image-- were representative of my style and that my goal was to show how I saw the world. 

I also explained that I preferred to call what I do “enhancements” rather than “manipulations,” because the later was a derogative statement while the former was positive and complimentary.

Unfortunately, my efforts were to no avail. These fine differences in terminology were lost on these people. Furthermore, their minds were made up and they did not want to be bothered by the facts.  My facts may have been accurate, thought out and sophisticated, they were facts nevertheless. While they may have had a chance to be heard in an academic setting, they were completely useless in a real world situation.

I also thought that doing all this would help in regards to selling my work.  I believed that I could change people’s mind and that once this was achieved they would buy my photographs. What I discovered was how many people have their minds made up and don’t want to be bothered by the facts.  I also discovered that people who do not believe what you say, or who do not like what you do, will not buy your work.  After all, I am selling art.  And to buy art, someone has to like your work and often like both your work and yourself.  When people don’t like one or the other, or worse don’t like either, trying to make a sale is not just futile, it is delusional.

What I discovered overall was that my explanations had little effect on these people.  While some believed me, most were unconvinced.   What I did not know then, was that the majority of those asking these questions were primarily interested in starting an argument.  They knew that what I showed in my work was my vision.  They asked if it was real not because they wondered about what my answer would be, but because they did not like my vision of reality.  Certainly, a few – a minority—really did not understand how my work was created.  But those were satisfied with my answer that this was my style, my vision of the world.  Those that I am talking about here are the others, those that wouldn’t’ accept that answer as valid.

I finally saw the light and decided on a different course of action.  I decided that . . . . . . . Part 2 is continued in the full essay, available in eBook format, at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html


Essay and photographs Copyright © Alain Briot 2006
All rights reserved worldwide