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Photo Technical

Digital photography so easy a monkey can do it? Not always – A68

Welcome aboard photo enthusiasts.  I mentioned in the July issue of The Triton of wanting to give voice to those who take time writing responses to my articles, and posted one sent to me by Robert Shullich that provided additional practical information on the technical aspects of the increasing capacity of memory cards. This time around let me give voice to Jan Boles. 

He took a different tack. This is what he wrote below was in response to my article in the May issue, where I point out the 2nd problem of quantity vs. quality that larger and larger memory cards facilitate:

5-17-11

Hi Jim, I received a link to your column via the [Photo History] group on Yahoo.

Thanks for outlining the latest in the never-ending world of digital matters. I’m like you in feeling the constant pressure of keeping up with the technical end of things.

However, I feel that I must comment on your statement (appended below). I’m afraid that “technical and creative perfection” is not the correct term if we are talking about the prevailing attitude among today’s photographers and videographers. Substitute “adequacy” for “perfection” and you might have it.

I’m from a generation of still photographers (I’ve been at it since 1963) whose attitude has been the ideal of “get it in the box,” in other words, use all the needed skills and effort to produce an exposed film [positive or negative] that could be sent to a commercial processor. The resulting product was intended to be the finished product: no retouching or darkroom gymnastics needed. This was the ideal, but in practice it was obtainable.

Contrast this with today’s commonplace attitudes: “We’ll Photoshop that, so no sweat,” or, “Post-production can clean it up OK.”

Early on in the digital age the expression “GIGO” appeared: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Neither Photoshop nor Post Production can overcome GIGO. In my humble opinion, if you have a sloppy attitude toward craftsmanship (Garbage) “you are bound to get” garbage.

Thanks for a good column.

Jan Boles, Archivist
The Robert E. Smylie Archives
The College of Idaho
2112 Cleveland Blvd.
Caldwell, ID  83605

Those who take photography seriously, even as a hobby, will take Jan’s message in a in a positive way and be inspired. I am pleased to be able to leave the technical aspects of photography at times to talk about aesthetics and inspiration.  The question is whether his comments in last paragraph, suggesting the digital age for photography carries the GIGO banner, is justifiable.

Digital age photography is becoming ever more automated that even a monkey can do it. This monkey ability was just written about in a July 4th article in a British newspaper The Telegraph, along with self-portrait photos.  Apparently this macaque monkey, which are not known to be the most clever breed, hijacked a camera from pro-photographer David Slater and started snapping.  The monkey did a nice job (but could have done better by not using a wide angle lens).

Somewhere further in this article I read that the monkey could still not master focusing. He’’ be happy to learn this will not be a problem much longer thanks to Lytro’s new camera technology (June 22nd technology article, NY Times) being introduced later this year. This technology includes optics with many lenses of varying focus points. Our macaque monkey can shoot now and focus later.

You may have heard of “creative destruction,” a termed coined and written about by Austrian philosopher Joseph Schumpeter. Like the rise of the Phoenix or the resurrection of Christ, new things come from the ashes of things before.  In photography digital rises from the ashes of film.  To this I would like to explore a term I’ve coined called “creative reduction,” to discuss whether, as technology-automation-robotics continues to do more for us-to make more decisions for us, we (on a grander scale) will lose more of our creative insight, our artistic inclinations.  I always ask people if they see art on the Starship Enterprise?

In a book on nutrition called “Chef’s MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine,” John La Puma, M.D. writes on page 7 in discussing food production in the early twentieth century compared to today,  “Wow,  We’ve become much better at producing larger and larger quantities of food, but bite for bite its nutritional value is smaller and smaller.” The same can be put forth about photography, we have larger and larger quantities of photographs, but is the quality photo by photo getting lesser and lesser.

I think the good news is if you are truly inspired about photography, and just don’t want to play a photographer with rudimentary knowledge of the field and meaningless certificates, there will always be room for the exceptional to excel, and on this positive feeling I take permission to come ashore.