Sunday, August 7, 2011

Snide Remarks and Digital Photography

This weekend I attended an art festival as a vendor. All in all, this was a good experience. There was one moment that made me want to rant. While a couple was in my booth, perusing my photographs, we came upon the question of how I achieved a certain look to a photograph. I mentioned the word Photoshop and saw the man's eyes change. Now that I had mentioned that I use a photo processing program, my work became meaningless and not worth the time he had just spent looking through my hundreds of images. His wife was still rather taken by quite a few of my pieces and when she pointed out a framed version of "Vines" he responded with the snide remark of "all Photoshop".

Since the beginning of my career as a photographer, I have fought the battle of film versus digital. I have had eyes rolled at me, had stories relayed about how someone's father who shot film took such better photographs than mine, have had people point out what they perceive to be digital flaws in my work, and other such interactions. I have fought with my own opinion of digital versus film and I have come out on the other side, not wanting to belittle what I do, what I create. I am a digital photographer and an artist who uses Photoshop mostly to process my photographs. The majority of my images have not been "Photoshoped". But let's take a minute to put that concept to rest.

I hear people dismiss work because it has been altered, but altering photographs has been happening since the inception of the camera. Film was not a perfect record of what happened in history. It was just as likely to be modified and altered as digital images today. Early art photographers actually shunned artists who made clear concise images, because they wanted to be more like the painters of their time. Also, art photographs are not news images, where you are being bamboozled by someone trying to change what really happened.

Another point on this matter I must bring to the fore front. I hear all too often people saying how they do not understand Photoshop and they couldn't use it if they tried. If this program is so difficult to use, then why is it looked down upon when someone can wield it well? Is it not an art form in its own right? Every time the art world expands, the people, and the critics, want to put down the new medium because it is not as good as the old. Maybe it is not. This does not mean that it is not any good. It is different. It is a different medium just like the difference between the romantic and the impressionist painters. Photographers have always had the problem of being lumped into one category but now the masses lump film and digital photographers together, making digital the red headed step child of the former.

So now we move on to my work. I use Photoshop as a processing program. I take all of my photographs in RAW format which is similar to a digital negative. There is not much you can do with a RAW image until you process it. Film photographers use baths of chemicals to process and tweak their photographs. I use Photoshop. Most of my images are not altered to any great extent. I alter some to great extents because I believe that being able to create what I see in my head, what I envision, is an art form. I love photograph like "Tinted Rose" where I removed distractions from the background then turned the whole thing sepia just as much as I like "Haunting" of which I did no additional processing.

I love what I do, but I was always a much bigger fan of Ginsberg than Kerouac. Now to explain, Kerouac did not believe in editing. He thought that one should never alter a poem after the words had hit the paper and if they did so, it was dishonest to the art. I am a firm believer in the power of editing. I have been working on the same book for twenty years and there has been a lot of editing. The same theory applies to my photography. The captured image may be well photographed, but if I think it is missing that punch, I use Photoshop to capture the image that was only in my mind.

Best wishes,
Sarah McTernen

ETA: I find it funny that I only used photographs from the Botany collection. This was not done on purpose. :)


  1. it's all art, if they want documentary photographs then they can buy a National Geographic. You make beautiful art.

  2. "Every time the art world expands, the people, and the critics, want to put down the new medium because it is not as good as the old."

    exactly! what you do with both your camera and photoshop is art and incredibly stirring art at times to boot!