Photography and Me


In a long career devoted to photography I have been lucky to witness two seismic changes in the nature of the medium -  revolution might not be too strong a word - and I have tried to ride the crests of both. One, of course, was the change that digitalization of the image brought to the medium, a change which hastened the erosion of the one of the bedrocks of film photography: that the image you saw was a slice of the real world. Now the artist’s imagination becomes a more obvious part of the creation, and I welcome it regardless of its implications to the integrity of the medium.

The second revolution, which is just now emerging in 2019, is the increasing role of artificial intelligence. These days thanks to computational photography,AI makes many of the decisions hithertofore left up to the artist, both in the camera and in post-production.  The only real part of picture-making left to the artist is when to activate the shutter, in other words, deciding when to freeze time and place, maybe the most critical moment in the act of taking a picture. Increasingly, even that moment becomes irrelevant. Instead of a single moment of pressing the shutter button the decision becomes splintered into a number of decisions when a photograph is composed and many of those are made by algorithms of machine perception or Artificial Intelligence. Composing is the key word in this AI era; we no longer take a picture; we compose it both in the act of taking a picture and in post-production, the act of making an image.

Some regard this as the death of photography as it was known; I see it as a challenge to the photographer as he or she enters the land of imagination previously owned by painters.

Imagination has always been a key ingredient in great photography but previously it was submerged, and often invisible, except to a few artists and theoreticians, thanks to photography's tenacious grip on the illusion of reality. But you only have to look at two of the heroes my youth, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. Robert Frank’s The Americans was a great work of the imagination; it was a vision of America that only a few observers of the scene had previously glimpsed. Diane Arbus’ cast of characters clearly existed in the real world but she had the imagination to lift them to the status of myth and their ‘reality’ became somewhat beside the point.

Personally, I find these to be exciting challenges. For me digital photography opened up the world of color, and allowed me to more freely exercise my imagination.  On a practical level it made it easier for me to continue my art despite the increasing infirmities of old age. Exciting struggles; a new medium that hopefully won’t obliterate the old; what’s not to like?