To Mr. Taylor J… Re. The Photography Lie

Mr Taylor J. your post has stimulated my love of photographic debate and as such I had to reply via my own blog – otherwise my comment would have been rather long, and though I am still new I think that may be considered rude. If I have misconstrued this manner of etiquette please forgive me!

Before I begin, I would like to say that I do not directly disagree with your post. This is not necessarily a counter argument… more of an off-shoot! I completely agree with your reasoning; and well-written it was too! There are just some indirect, but relatable, thoughts that it inspired me to have that I wanted to write about. Basically I am a photography whore and I love discussing its ins-and-outs!

So! That said I hope you forgive me long enough to read my reply…

I love your title. How ironic it seems… Photography as the Lie. After all, Photographs are, for the most part, regarded as the ultimate truth. We trust a photograph to tell us if something occurred or not. Photographs don’t lie… This myth is somewhat relatable to the fact that, since its beginnings, Photography has endured the severest of debate regarding its status in the world of art: how can a window of truth, a mirror of reality, be art? Where is the art in a simple reflection?

“Photography has the unappealing reputation of being the most realistic, therefore facile, of the mimetic arts.” Susan Sontag, On Photography.

Thus, Photography was not regarded as art. This is what Sontag meant by ‘unappealing’; this is why she makes realism sound like an insult, in a way it was; because realism was inartistic. Sontag implies as much when she says that realism is facile. Facile = simplistic, easily achieved and superficial. Not artistic in the slightest. (Ironically, due to the fact that much of painting’s history has involved the painstakingly long strive to be as realistic as possible!)

So – Photography simply was not artistic enough. Many regarded it to be a lower art form – if a form at all.

Man Ray, Rayograph, 1922.

Hence, you got such as Man ray’s Rayographs in the 1920s – he tried to deviate from traditional photography as much as possible. Well, he was a Surrealist after all. He was hardly going to go all Alfred Steiglitz, and start waiting five hours to take the perfect photograph of a winter-strewn Fifth Avenue…

Alfre Steiglitz, ‘Winter – Fifth Avenue’, 1893.

In actuality Photography was more-than-likely just an artistic medium for Man ray, not even an art form in its own right necessarily. I get the sense that he would absolutely love digital art/photography!

Anyway! To get to my point…

Even in Sontag’s time, prior to digital photography, she saw the nature of what the medium could one day become:

“Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution… It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience itself into a way of seeing… Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” On Photography.

How her statement has now multiplied… if that was true then… in the 1970s…  what is true now? Mental pollution of the highest calibre. Images are everywhere. It would certainly seem to endorse your theory Mr. Taylor J. – surely digital art should be now put aside into its own category?

However – to me this whole discussion speaks of something else. Perhaps something more important…

As is your point, Photography can now be highly manipulated on a computer. That much so, we are discussing having to separate the medium into multiple categories. Photography is, as you say, the Lie. Even though we are surrounded by the photographic, digital image, it is no longer relied upon to be realistic… it is no longer the truth. Ironically then, now that we have reached a level of artistic innovation wherein which the photograph can be completely manipulated, we are now debating whether this means it can remain under the category Photography!

I love this thought completely; for the most part because it means that Photography itself has transcended into the art world fully! We have accepted it as being artistic, rather than facile!

How amazing is that?!

Therefore, an amazing discussion such as this serves to further validate Photography’s solidified status as Art!

Part of me then thinks that it would be a shame to separate all Digital Photography from its parent category – given it is has  helped Photography to fully take on a new lease of life. Could it not, at the least,  still come under the same umbrella? As there are many forms of ‘Art’, all elbowing each other out of the way to be ‘true Art’, can our two categories not share a little bit of the glory?

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