An exercise in self-gratification



This question was asked in the Banbury Camera Club news-letter in September 2001.

“What is a photograph?”
“Standing in a wet field, with your 5"x4" plate camera and the cloth over your head, are you taking a photograph? Most would say yes!
Whirring your motor driven fully automated 35mm fashion statement at a passing racing car, are you taking a photograph? Most would say yes!
Pressing the button on your 3-megapixel digital camera, are you taking a photograph? Some, probably most, would say yes!
Placing a flower on your flat bed scanner, scanning it.... are you taking a photograph? What would you say?
Is photography a method of capturing images or just the process of capturing images? Where will we stop, and should we ever do so?”

With my stated bigotry, I found it impossible to avoid responding to this question and thought, when I started to write my reply, that I knew exactly what my opinion was. Only to discover that the conclusions I expected to come to when I started writing this piece, no longer applied by the time I had followed the logic of what I was saying.

Standing in a wet field, with ones 5"x 4" camera and the cloth over ones head to focus the image, is no different to using a fully automatic 35mm, or digital, camera. The difference lies in the involvement. With the 5"x 4" process one is involving oneself more in the taking process, there is more of an emotional attachment with what one is seeing, basically because there are no extraneous influences distracting one from what one is doing. I still believe that "photography", capturing an image onto film, is inherently different from what I choose to describe as "pixelography", which is capturing an image in digital format. However, the two processes are mechanically similar, in that they are both capturing images by the transmission of light onto a medium, which can retain it in some form. They both aim at producing a printed image that we call a photograph.

Scanning a flower into a computer with a flat bed scanner. The initial reaction is to say "No, of course that is not photography" but when one thinks about it, where exactly is the difference. There is no camera involved, but it is still capturing light, basically in the same way that a digital camera does. So, if we, "photograph", or, "pixelgraph" that flower, using a digital camera and then transmit the result into a computer. Or, if we, "photograph", it onto film and then scan the resulting negative into the computer. What are we doing that is different? other than cutting out a phase in the process. Ever since the invention of enlargers, people have been placing objects onto photographic paper, turning on the enlarger light and then producing a print from the resulting image. Where is the difference between that and scanning the objects instead? All of these processes are still aimed at producing a printed image, whether we choose to call it a "photograph", or a "pixelgraph". Ever since the invention of photography, people have been changing the appearance of photographic prints by "painting" them with coloured dyes. Whatever I may think about that, it is still accepted as a photograph.
I guess that there is no hard and fast answer to the question of what constitutes a photograph, but I will settle for, "a mechanical means of capturing light and transferring it into a viewable form."
Photography is simply a method of capturing images. “Pixelography” is another one. Whatever the method, they will all come under the broad heading of "photography" because their aim is to produce something that we all recognize as a photograph.
No-one can say where we will stop in the evolvement of methods of capturing images, certainly, whilst there is money to be made in making the process simpler and easier, or in enhancing the end result, this evolvement will continue.

What do other people think?

Bruce Carter. September 2001

Your comments would be appreciated


Bruce Carter, FZPS