I’m going to confess something here: I did not set out to be a photographer.
I studied painting for years and years. I dabbled in sculpture, pottery, illustration, and all the usual suspects. But never a photography class. I know, it’s strange. The thing is, I worked in the photographic industry since high school and my ego insisted that I didn’t need to learn anything else about my job. And, to be honest, I loved school, I didn’t want to bring things that felt like work into that.
I worked as a custom, fine art printer in an up scale photo lab as the film industry died. I processed a lot of medium format negatives and printed with massive enlargers. I was really good, and I loved it.
As the world of film printing shrunk to only the select few, I shifted to doing digital post production. I’d been using Photoshop for most of my life, so it wasn’t too hard. Finding clients was a pain, but I made it work.
One day a friend of mine begged me to cover a wedding with her. I did not want to do it. Photography was something I did for painting. I took photos to paint from. I did portraits for friends, sure, and I was competenet with a camera, but I never considered doing anything as intense as a wedding. She pleaded with me and I, of course, agreed.
I loved it. The chaos, the intensity, the creativity, all with the fun of telling people what to do!
The first one, I really just helped and did what I was told. The second, I paid close attention to everything. I wanted to learn everything I could. A few years later, I started booking my own weddings and subcontracting from bigger companies. Soon, it was my full time job.
As much fun as it was, my creative license at weddings was often quite limited. Having been an artist my entire life, I wanted to push the limit, see what I could do.
I absolutely loved it. There’s an intersection of my painting talents, my post production skills, and my growing photographic prowess. I learn new things and add them to the process every year.
Recently, someone tried to explain to me that digital photography wasn’t art. Film photography was art. Digital cameras, he asserted, were incapable of producing art because they were simply machines recording pixels. He argued that the process of importing files through programs was somehow cheating, muddying the purity of the artistic process. I’ve heard variations of this argument before, of course. The presumption that Photoshop has somehow destroyed photography as an artistic medium.
Can images be overly post processed? Of course. I’ve seen images Photoshopped within an inch of their lives. However, any tool can be misused.
You know what we used to do before we could retouch out blemishes in Photoshop? We painted on prints. Yes, really! In my darkroom, I had a painting station with a palate of colors and some of the tiniest brushes you’ve ever seen. You know how those muted colors and tones in pictures, or selective colors were achieved then? I painted on black and white prints. And it was fun!
I have cut out negatives and taped them together with pieces of other negatives. I’ve printed three negatives at once. And you know what? Printing a negative is in no way a “pure” process. Even if it’s printed by hand, and not through a machine; how it is exposed to paper, how it is run through chemicals – all of that changes the outcome.
None of these things are really new. It’s only the tools that have changed.
I became an art photographer in a somewhat backwards way. But, I think the journey gave me a unique approach and understanding to the process.
Art is art no matter how you get there.