Saturday, January 26, 2019

"Non-photographic content"?

After years of familiarizing myself with the technical and compositional elements of photography I am capable of creating quality photographic images.  Abstract photography is my favorite genre. It allows me to create images that are personal interpretations rather than faithful reproductions of the object in front of my camera.

Blind Rage

But I want to go further. I want to make images that are less ‘interpretations’ and more ‘creations’ . I recently discovered a method for doing so using the camera as a ‘tool’ to provide starting material in the creative process.  Like the painter’s canvas or the sculptor’s block, the captured image is only the beginning. As with the canvas or the block, the final product bears little resemblance to its origin. Using this approach I have created a large series of colorful abstracts inspired by 20th and 21st century modern art traditions.

The response to these images has been positive. Yet viewers often ask “Is this really photography and are these really photographs?”  The greatest skeptics come from among my fellow photographers. Since the origin of each image is a photograph (sometimes more than one) I have always considered it ‘photography’. But, I admit that the final images may represent something other than photographs.

Until recently this distinction has been more of an academic than practical one.  But this week 500px, a premier photography hosting site which claims to be home to the best photography on the web, deleted the account of acclaimed light painting photographer Tim Gamble. His banishment came in response to complaints that he was posting ‘non-photographic content’. Despite the fact that Gamble creates 99% of his images in camera, 500px considered his work to be "graphic designs or illustrations".  Neither format is currently acceptable to the 500px photographic community.  In light of this development, the question of what is or isn’t photography becomes more than an academic exercise.

Now aware of Gamble’s banishment I worry about the classification of my new work (I have a 500px account).  I rely heavily on digital darkroom processes when creating images like the one at the top of this post. My work could thus represent an even better example of ‘non-photographic content’ than Gamble’s.

But after thinking about it more I am convinced that, like Gamble, I am creating art.  What you decide to call it or how you decide to define it is of little relevance.

Gamble and I are both artists.

PS: In response to a tsunami of criticism, 500px has restored Gamble’s account.  Phew!

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