Victor Zastolskiy / Alamy Stock Photo

Interesting opinions on photography

There are countless interesting quotes and opinions on photography from well known photographers and experts, some who are now being coined as image strategists, arising from the demands of a rapidly changing profession. These can be inspiring, informative and philosophical. In this blog I aimed to highlight a few opinions that might be a little surprising or challenge one’s preconceived ideas of photography or question them. Also some of them touch on ongoing questions like ‘is photography art?’, and question the future of photography etc.

“Don’t call me a photographer”

To start with I came across these snippets from interviews with fashion photographer Nick Knight, a champion at not following convention and with a ‘reputation for pushing boundaries technically and creatively at every opportunity’. He also comes from a perspective of having worked with film prior to digital. In an interview in the Independent curiously entitled Nick Knight – Pioneer On Why He Doesn’t Want To Be Called a Photographer, he talks about his relationship or more lack of one with the camera. “Photography attracts a lot of people who like objects, cameras. I’ve never liked cameras, I’ve never found them exciting, they’re lumps of plastic and metal that more or less get in my way, but do a job for me. I’m really not at all interested in what camera anybody uses.” I find this refreshing as with my editor’s hat on I don’t tend to think that behind that great picture there is a great camera.

In another interview he takes this further saying that “When [he] first picked up a camera, it was quite unusual for a household to have more than one camera. Now everyone has one. Essentially, an iPhone camera is as good as the Hasselblad I used to use. There’s a weird judgement that comes involved with imagery in that people think every image needs to be ‘high resolution’. One doesn’t apply that restriction to a painting. That criteria isn’t used for anything except for photography. But I don’t say I create photographs anymore, I prefer to say imagery. If the image works, then who cares how many pixels it has? There doesn’t seem any sense in having limitations on what kind of image capture sources we use. I’m increasingly using an iPhone – it gives me so much freedom”. And so he does, having shot a whole campaign for Diesel on his iPhone, which went viral.

futuristic man portrait with squares breaking away
© bookimages

The future of photography

Stephen Mayes is a distinguished and lively commentator on photography. In an article he wrote for Time magazine on the future of photography he starts by saying that “It’s time to stop talking about photography. It’s not that photography is dead as many have claimed, but it’s gone”. I found this interesting not least because I’m intrigued about what we might be calling photography in the future! His article weaves in the opinions of digital experts like Taylor Davidson whose catchy titled article Software is Eating the Camera  suggests that “the camera of the future is an app, a software rather than a device that compiles data from multiple sensors”.  And on ‘computational photography’ which we are led to believe will subsume photography, another digital commentator Kevin Connor is quoted in Mayes’ article that “The definition of computational photography is still evolving, but I like to think of it as a shift from using a camera as a picture-making device to using it as a data-collecting device”. Photography as we know it, is certainly being ‘disrupted’ through new technologies as observed by these commentators.

For more on computational photography this article by Marc Levoy, a Stanford Professor, makes an interesting read and in it he observes that “As the megapixel wars wind down, camera companies will begin competing more and more on whatever fancy (and useful) computational photography features they can fit into their devices. This revolution has just begun, and it will completely transform photography over the next generation. Except in photojournalism, there will be no such thing as a “straight photograph”.

The Taos Pueblo Stacks. Black and White image in the style of W.H.Jackson and Ansel Adams
© Gary Warnimont

As an antidote to the above I thought it would be apt to include this quote from  photographer Jerry Uelsman, famous for his skill in the darkroom, who states he is “sympathetic to the current digital revolution and excited by the visual options created by the computer. However, I feel my creative process remains intrinsically linked to the alchemy of the darkroom”. You can see Jerry Uelsman’s photography here.

Photographer Sally Mann has also contributed some unusual advice not least the following: “I like to make people a little uncomfortable. It encourages them to examine who they are and why they think the way they do.” I kind of liked this conceit as generally one always read about making your model relaxed and comfortable! But I can imagine how this could bring an interesting and emotional dynamic to the image. And also from Mann, “I’m so worried that I’m going to perfect [my] technique someday. I have to say its unfortunate how many of my pictures do depend upon some technical error”. Again I see this as a valuable insight to taking images especially for students and those starting out in photography and encouraging that experimental process that abounds in photography.

“Is Photography Art?”

I’m going to end on that old chestnut ‘Is Photography Art?’ and as you can imagine there is much opinion on this which would not be possible to cover here. For a lively discussion though on this very topic it’s worth reading these articles from the Guardian.  It provides arguments pro and contra on the most expensive photograph ever which sold for $6.5m of a canyon. Jonathan Jones, a commentator on art matters believes that this particular photograph by Peter Lik is a “hollow, cliched and tasteless black and white shot of an Arizona canyon” and “isn’t art – and proves that photography never will be.” What I found even more interesting though was his comment that Lik’s photography is “of course beautiful in a slick way, but beauty is cheap if you point a camera at a grand phenomenon of nature” and thereby massively reducing the artistic potential of this genre of photography.  However Sean O’Hagan counters this argument most effectively with his feisty rebuttal and so I’ll end with his quote “If anything is anachronistic, it’s the “photography is not art” debate. Warhol’s Polaroids and Ruscha’s deadpan photography books put it to bed years ago.”

Let us know if you have come across opinions about photography that have altered your perspective or influenced change in your work.