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“It is the final image…that counts”

Saturday 26 December 2009

If you are serious about photography and you don’t read Photo Techniques magazine, you should. It’s not the only magazine you should be reading, but it is an excellent summary of what’s happening in a community of serious photographers who strive to improve their technique and vision on both the capture and processing sides. Here is a quote from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue (p13):

It is the final image standing alone that counts.
How we go there is simply a wonderful story.
— Tom Millea, Photographic Artist

This quote sums up everything I believe in photography far better than any of the thousands of pages of photographic information in books, journals and periodicals and on websites that I have read in my three decades of photography. Many photographers have said it before and I constantly repeat it in my workshops – it’s the photograph that counts, not how you made it, not the conditions you had to endure or the miles you had to hike; not the equipment or the process you used. All of that is technical, chemical and digital – not artistic.

As a simple example, I remember being frustrated in England at the excellent camera club I belonged to in Chelmsford. I always felt that titles were and should always be superfluous to the image and should never – ever – be needed to explain the photograph. Yet, there were photographs whose judgement was clearly skewed because they were made cute by or only made sense with the title. That’s ludicrous.

If the photograph can’t stand on its own then it’s value should not be increased with  the nature of its title or, in the case of Tom Millea’s reference, its process. Far too many photographers place far too high a value on the equipment or process used to make an image. It doesn’t matter if the image was shot with Canon or Nikon or Olympus, 4×5, 35mm or 4:3s, negative, slides or digital; gelatin silver, platinum or archival pigment – as long as the image conveys fully the intent of the photographer and as long as it is archival, all the rest shouldn’t matter.

Howard Bond made a similar statement in a recent issue of the same magazine. He was recounting his incredulity at how his older editions of prints sell at much higher prices than his newer editions. The older editions were more poorly made, yet they were more valuable because they were older, that’s all.

It is well-known that the art world goes through this trend and that trend often linked more to personalities than to substance. This is a serious flaw and it is why many people do not really take the art-types and the art world too seriously. It seems that once a name is made, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the image is, they will sell like hotcakes at least for a while. The same is true with processes. Platinum prints would instantly command a higher price just because they are platinum no matter what was on the front of them.

The art world is fickle. If “they” are rubbed the right way they will respond. If galleries can make money then that is the path they will take irrespective of artistic value. To serious photographers (and other artists) who have always recognized this, we will still create images that convey our intent as artists in the best way we know how and will need to be content in that.

Go to Part Two – “…a wonderful story.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday 27 December 2009 3:58pm

    Thank you for your kind words about my article in Photo Technique magazine. I believe it is time we begin again to get our priorities right about what we, as artists, actually do. When these words are understood by people like yourself, I am encouraged that the art of Photography has not died in the halls of academia or in the storage bins of mainstream galleries.
    Tom Millea

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  1. “…a wonderful story.” « luxBorealis – Nature and Outdoor Photography by Terry A. McDonald

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