posted 2010.11.13 - modified 2018.01.10

Pure, real photography?

Pure  photography? Does the camera decide what is real?

This web is labelled with “pure photography”. But is it true? Does the concept mean anything at all?

In what seems a very long time ago, when I started out as what I thought was a “pure photographer”, I refused to remove or add anything to a picture. If any object, however small – a piece of chewing gum on the asphalt, a misplaced joint – appeared in my viewfinder, I did not trig the shutter. It was better to come back in a year or two – hoping that the gum or the joint had disappeared (this did not apply to my commercial work, this was another world). My personal photography was really Straight.

I even rejected black&white photography. The world came in color, and so should photography.

Of course, this was way before digital photography and even Photoshop appeared. I did my things, as far as possible, in the darkroom. Burning and dodging and filtering. Still I never resigned to any retouching brush. There was no doubt in my mind, my photography was REAL, it reflected reality.

Then I was tempted. I published the manipulated right-most picture below to this web:
(click each picture to see the details)

Lagos, Algarve @ 2010.07.02 13:12 Lagos, Algarve @ 2010.07.02 13:12
What my camera saw (this is the RAW file).
Olympus E-P1, 9-18mm at 9mm, 1/350sec, f9.5
What I saw.
Modified in Lightroom
What I experienced.
All human activity removed in Photoshop
(with a little polarization added)

If I had been a photo-journalist (I am not!), I would have been arrested and condemned to a firing squad (that’s OK).

Wikipedia refers to straight photography as photography “that attempts to depict a scene as realistically and objectively as permitted by the medium, renouncing the use of manipulation”. At the same time they implies “a specific aesthetic typified by higher contrast, sharper focus, aversion to cropping, and emphasis on the underlying abstract geometric structure of subjects”.

This only describes the controversy between pictorialist and straight photography in the early 20th century (photography needed human intervention to become art vs. face reality,do not work around it).

So am I still a straight photographer? Or – more important – do I need  to be? Does it matter? Should I worry?

I want your opinion. Does the camera decide what is real?

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