Musings

Photoshop and Photography: Beautiful Mistakes and Directness of Vision

I think everyone has an opinion on Photoshop.

From the media giving attention to women’s hyper-real faces in fashion magazines, to the suspicious master of the die-hard photographic physical and chemical processes or the keen business man who will always back the most powerful efficiency-beast in the ring over the artistically torn up runt.

But today we talk about Photoshop and photography and how with ever increasing option of processes there is the possibility that we may become saturated and then lazy, our work becoming stale.

What I want to talk about is almost bigger than Photoshop really. It is the, probably, timeless struggle between the beautiful mistake and the precise vision.

So what do I think?

For years I sweepingly associated Photoshop work with phony unrealistic affects, women with flat-smooth faces, an unclassy stamp over a piece of work showing that the photographer did not have the skill to capture something in his camera. Everything a re-hash and calculated.

There is something lovely about capturing something that can’t easily be retouched in hindsight. Having the focus to know the picture you want there and then, and the pride when you eventually achieve it. Stripping away all digital aid and talking about film, there is a wonderful element of chance and making-do.

The challenge of little choice.

Working and experimenting with the physical boundaries of film processing must sharpen your thoughts for there is no chance to review your image on a screen fixed to the back of the camera. No chance to take 500+ photographs without limits of personal finance. And with film you have to work a lot harder to brighten an underexposed image (push processing) or turn a colour image black and white (http://www.flickr.com/groups/c41inbw/). One has to make do and in that making do become more aware and cleverer.

Another thing that comes from working through boundaries are the mistakes. It is harder, I think, to make a mistake with a top of the range digital camera. So many techniques have been thrown into popular use as a result of this experimentation and pushing of boundaries.

Cross-processing, which became popular in the 1960s, was widely practiced and, now reproduced digitally for Photoshop’s list of “actions”, has been suggested to have been a ‘beautiful mistake’.

Lomography photography is an entire art movement that encourages spontaneity and “happy accidents”. The Diana camera, a dirt-cheap plastic-fantastic contraption shunned by the mainstream in the 1960s for letting in too much light, has been reborn into the lo-fi photography world. Me and half of my friends now have a Diana F+ reproduction. The website details the philosophy behind using a Diana Camera:

‘To hold, point, and shoot a Diana camera implies a conscious decision to relinquish control. To concentrate your creative powers on capturing the moment and telling a story—rather than fiddling with a bunch of knobs and levers. A blurry-soft and dreamy-toned Diana image is more an interpretation of reality than a correct representation of it. In a way, it’s somehow more accurate to compare the Diana to an oily vintage typewriter than to a megapixel machine of today. With each click of the shutter, a moment is captured in a unique and fairly unpredictable way—and a small narrative begins to reveal itself.’ – Diana Camera Website

Rather interesting how the camera is compared to an oily typewriter and the digital camera described rather disparagingly as a ‘megapixel machine of today’. As though the control that has come with the digital age is a rather heartless process.

But I wonder for how long after they are discovered can these “processes”, that we apply to photography, be called a mistake? And if they are no longer mistakes they join the list of known processes that we consciously choose between? And if we experiment with limitations will we always go beyond the limit and perhaps create, say, the digital camera or a program called Photoshop? How much is too much progress?

You can’t choose to make a mistake. When we don’t except the limitations and create new things to do we create more choices. A choice suggests control. Control should be used with responsibilty.

On choices: I use my Diana F+ because I like the way other people’s images look who have used the camera. I have a vision of what my images will look like once developed based on my knowledge of the Diana F+. There is a reason I would pick up my Diana camera as opposed to my digital camera to create some pictures. Just as an artist chooses certain brushes to create certain lines, the photographer may use a Diana F+ to capture details of a Chinese factory so as to comment on its mass production at the Great Wall Plastics Factory, or an underwater camera to capture fish or Photoshop to place a girl sitting in the stars, for how would she get up there with you and your camera otherwise? Using different mediums with intelligence and being aware and respectful of the context and conversation you are continuing by using this medium.

Using an analogue camera, shooting without editing afterwards, eschewing Photoshop, are all choices sorted from a large range of options. Skill is not only confined to the use of a digital camera. To have a clear vision and to achieve that vision by the most direct way possible could require skills in all sorts of spheres. Skills in Photoshop, skills in future new program that we will no doubt delight to take offence with.

Directness of vision is also beautiful, it creates masterpieces and Photoshop along with all the other processes can help to attain the idea in one’s head.

As I said before, finding the balance between embracing mistakes and choosing between existing options to reach a specific end applies to many things, in the photographic world and out of it, and not just to the implications of using Photoshop. And balanced the two ideas will never be, but people looking for that balance will create an essential struggle. An artist endeavouring to create his vision by any means available. Not all the options will fit, indeed imagine he goes to weird and wonderful lengths in his efforts, some of these weird and wonderful lengths may be a mistake because they do not achieve the precise vision in the artist’s mind. This mistake may never have been made before and therefore a new idea is born. It is a product of the process of actively seeking to create an exact image. Dali says this:

Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them. — Salvador Dali

Preserving the mistakes and approaching them with a different attitude so that they become acceptably introduced into society.

I will use what is available. If it is the right tool I will use Photoshop intelligently to bring out the things in my head.

And I will also share my mistakes.

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Off guard
Off Guard – I wanted to achieve the ballerina in a set pose yet I accidently caught her landing from the balance. My mistake. See it in the Flickr Group Beautiful Mistakes.

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