What does Photography mean when it pertains to camera and computer arts?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I am not quite sure of the context of this question, but I am guessing that this in an inquiry into how the computer and other technologies affect the "meaning" of photography.  While there are certainly many differences in photography today, my own opinion is that the meaning of photography has not changed nearly as much as people believe.

One hundred and fifty years ago, photography was a new technology. While most embraced the new art, there were probably people who were skeptical or suspicious of it at that time, concerned that images might be manipulated or that a photograph might not represent "truth" because people were posed or scenes were staged.  And in fact, this did happen, I'm sure.  The photographer has always been able to create his or her own reality through the selection of the subject, through various techniques used in developing photographs, and through the staging of what was to be photographed. These are what have made photography an art form, not merely a mechanical recording of what was before the photographer.

Today, with digital cameras and the wherewithal to manipulate digital images on the computer, we have a difference that seems to me to be one only of degree.  The photographer may still stage a scene, imposes his or her own vision of reality through the process of selecting what to photograph, and is able to manipulate what is photographed with software as opposed to manipulating in the darkroom.  This, too, is artistry, artistry accomplished more easily today, but nevertheless, still artistry through the manipulation of elements.

I do think that when we view photography as a form of reporting, rather than as an art, we run into more difficulties than we did prior to digital photography.  There was a bit of a scandal a few years ago when a popular news magazine was discovered to have manipulated an image of someone on its cover, and I am sure this happens more frequently than we know. Nevertheless, photography as reporting also relied on manipulations prior to our digital age, so again, this seems to be a question of degree.

Another perspective you might consider on photography as reporting is to compare it to the use of words to report events.  The process is quite similar.  Reporters make choices about what to say and what not to say.  An extensive interview is not usually reported word for word, but is presented as a series of selections of quotes from the subject, sometimes in context, but quite often not.

So, whether one considers photography as art or photography as reporting, the digital age is not what has allowed the photographer to construct an alternate reality.  This has always been the case. It is far easier to do today, but the ability to do so has always been with us.

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