“With the improvement in camera technology, you only need a good eye to be able to take an outstanding photograph. But this has made life difficult for the professionals, who have to be able to demonstrate that they are in a different league to the rest of us.”
Richard Ingram Independent on Saturday 14/7/2007
“With the improvement in writing implements (biros as opposed to styli), you only need a glib turn of phrase to be able to write a load of old tosh. But this has made life difficult for the professionals, who have to be able to demonstrate that they are in a different league to the rest of us.”
David Ward Oceans of Instants 14/7/2007
It still amazes me that otherwise seemingly intelligent people continue to completely misunderstand and misrepresent the process of making good photographs as opposed to happy snaps. I know that I've covered this before on "Oceans..." but it's not going to stop me writing about it again!
Let's look at what Ingram wrote one clause at a time...
“With the improvement in camera technology, ..."
Well, I can't argue that cameras have come a long way since you had to mix your own emulsion, apply it to a sheet of glass, expose without the help of a meter (really not that hard when the sensitivity of the emulsion was so low) and enter your dark tent to process the plate. All within the space of a few minutes, before the latent image degraded irretrievably. But the camera is just a tool, like a stylus or a biro or a quill. The camera doesn't make the image, the photographer does. Improvements in technology on their own only make it easier to make well exposed, badly composed images – as opposed to badly exposed and badly composed images. It's the composition that really matters, and that's the bit that technology can't help you with.
"...you only need a good eye to be able to take an outstanding photograph."
My problem here is with the word "only" – take "only" out and I might agree with this second clause. Ingram is using it here in the sense of "merely". It's like saying, "You only have to be a genius to understand quantum theory." Only implies that making an outstanding photograph is a simple thing, a breeze, just like falling off a log...
Count to ten... the hardest part of making a photograph is seeing the photograph. The completed photographic image, unlike other visual arts, gives no hint of the struggle or effort inherent in its making; it bears no makers marks such as brush strokes or the scoring of a stone chisel. It stands so utterly as a substitute for human vision that it is easy to believe that it has been created without any effort at all. Easy, but not true!
"But this has made life difficult for the professionals, who have to be able to demonstrate that they are in a different league to the rest of us.”
This so completely misrepresents reality that it is either breathtakingly naive or audaciously disingenuous ( I suspect the latter). The only thing that professional photographers have to do to demonstrate that they are in a "different league" is to convince hard-bitten commissioners of photography that they're worth spending money on. These people don't give up their money easily. The photographers have to deliver the goods! And the goods in this case are amazing images often made in exceptionally challenging conditions, technically or physically or both, such as a sports field or a theatre of war. How, I wonder , would Mr Ingram get on in Iraq with his technically improved camera? And let's not forget the amazing images made by non-professionals who also rely on a "good eye". Good photographers are good photographers, whether they're paid for it or not. "Professional" is an artificial distinction seized upon by Ingram merely so that he can bitch.
One final thought, if technology was really that important in making photographs why isn't the world awash with new Ansel Adams' or Robert Capas ?
Workshop at Linhof & Studio
Paula and I will be running another LF workshop in Leigh on Sea in spring 2008. Details will be posted on the Linhof website in due course or if you just can't wait contact Paula on +44(0)1702 716116 for further details and to reserve a place.