The Genie is Out of the Bottle

There is a lively discussion going on at the TexasPhotoForum debating the validity of "photoshopped" images represented in the International Print Competition held annually by the Professional Photographers of America.

One point of view is that the notion of "pure photography"—photographs unmanipulated by imaging software—is being superceded by heavily manipulated imagery (I cringe at the word "manipulated"; it has a negative connotation undeserving of the world of creative results achieved by talented individuals).

I am PPA member and have an image represented in the PPA International Print Competition. I have another point of view.

I do a lot of "straight out of the camera" photography, and have been doing it for more years than I care to admit. I also have a background in painting. Much of my painting-applied-to-photography has been utilized commercially in the area of interpreted portraits—photographs made to appear as oils or watercolors. I eventually wanted to utilize this skill and associated tools (Painter, Photoshop) in conjunction with my personal photographic work. I like to shoot scenics that have already-present abstract quilites in them.
Here's an example:

Click on image to view full size.

When I reviewed the series of photographs that the above image came from, I was immediately struck with how much it inherently had an almost abstract expressionist painting quality. It became the canvas upon which I applied my painterly strokes.
Here is the result:

Click on image to view full size.

I am in the process of pursuing what has become a lifelong goal: To blur the distinction between photography and painting. Why would I do that? Well, both photography and painting are creative mediums that I am adept at. Technology has leveled the playing field. These two formerly exclusive mediums now co-exist effortlessly on the computer monitor. I can now literally dip my paintbrush into a photograph!

The genie is out of the bottle—there is no going back with respect to tools like Photoshop and Painter as applied to photography. That's not to say that there isn't room for pure photography. I still love shooting what I see in an effort to freeze a moment and its unique emotional charge.

Photographs of this intent are difficult to add to with any of the myriad of technical gee-gaws we now have at our disposal. I have banged my head against many such images in an attempt to "improve" them with little or no success: the image stands on its own—further interpretation detracts from the original moment.

I think that the headlong rush of technology and its impact on photography is straining the PPA's International Print Competition to its current limit. Photography is in the throes of a major sea change. There will always be—and must be—a place for pure photography, but as I said: the genie is out of the bottle.

Photography will continue experience upheaval as photographers become acquianted with the new tools that are emerging. Let's not fail to recognize that ever since the first photographic image was developed there have been subjective decisions applied by the photographer.

I'm guessing that the PPA higher-ups will be adjusting the categories and criteria for the Print Competition in the near future. As many who visited the PPA Print Competition recently in San Antonio have noted, it is becoming top-heavy with manipulation. No—make that top-heavy with creative expression.

I would love to see an expanded categorization that allows each approach to shine on its own. I will always believe that there is room for creative expression within any medium.