Is technology making you blind?

A recent post in a group on Flickr linked to a video on Youtube. This purports to show a preview of a new feature on Photoshop CS5 enabling you to remove unwanted parts of your image at the click of a button. Have a look and see what you think. I did and it prompted me to think about what such powerful technology risks doing to the individual photographer. This was my post and I thought I might as well add it to my blog.

Dorothea Lange said that “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” When I first read this quote, I really liked it. It seemed to encapsulate what I was beginning to understand about why I like to photograph.

What slightly saddens me about an over reliance on the ‘correction’ and ‘rescue’ of images through such sophisticated tools, is that it eats away at the soul of the photographer. These tools do not really help you to see the world or give you any insight into how you perceive how things are. I don’t really care as a matter of principle that there are images out there that may have been created more by photoshop than by the photographer. Manipulation of images has taken place since time immemorial and that isn’t the issue for me here. To some viewers, if an image looks great, it may be irrelevant to their enjoyment how it was made. Other viewers have grown to be distrustful and doubt the value of the photographer. For commercial photographers and those who make their living by photography, this distrust could harm their livelihood and perhaps in the future commercial photographers will be more about post processing than about the initial capture. Again, it’s not this that bothers me as such. I absolutely understand that commercial images have to work and if technology can help that happen, I’m not advocating a luddite approach and I think it should be embraced. Manipulate away.

What does bother me, however, is that the focus of so many photographers, publications and software manufacturers is on the final image. The end is the only goal. Who cares what path you take to reach it.

What this means is that you may just miss out on the opportunity to develop yourself and use photography as a means of revealing something about you and how you see the world. Rather than seeing the final image as a destination, surely there is benefit to be had by acknowledging that maybe the path itself is the goal? Perhaps what really matters is the process of taking the photograph? The harder you look externally, the deeper you look internally.

So, as a piece of technology, this looks fantastic. I may even use it one day myself if I upgrade. The danger to be aware of, however, is that it takes over and in the process you lose something special about photography. Don’t get me wrong – it is still an incredibly creative endeavour to use software like that to create an image. But it’s not the same as photography and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it is. If we end up doing away with the photographer in ourselves, we end up losing an incredibly simple yet effective way of learning about ourselves. Maybe the world won’t notice or be any the poorer for it – there will still be great images to look at. But we risk turning out a light that, if directed properly, can illuminate ourselves.


~ by paulsidle on March 27, 2010.

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