My previous post, ‘Impressionism Photography’, presents a photograph of an iris taken 10 times on a tripod and blended together. There was no cut and paste, and there was no change in position of any of the pixels in any of these photographs. It was just 10 images layered on top of each other in Photoshop, in the exact order they were photographed, blended in a certain manner, and lightened up a bit with a curve at the end.
‘Under the Bridge’ was treated almost identically. It was made of 11 photographs that I carefully chose among over 40 that I took in the same position on a tripod, within 11 minutes. They were layered and blended in the exact same manner that I blended the iris photograph, except that here, in some of the photos, I removed an unwanted subject by masking a small section of each of these photographs. Then, with a single additional action and a gradient mask I gave light to the darker ceiling. For a better composition I also cropped the top of the image.
For the sake of this post, I’ll skip the discussion of whether or not this is art. I do, however, ask the question: Is it photography?
It may look like I am stretching the limits, and maybe I am. For the dark brown iris photograph, with moving grass in the background, the blended image may seem more natural despite the impressionism look it creates, particularly with a close up look at the details. In Under the Bridge, however, using almost the same technique, we get something different. Here, new subjects are clearly added, yet, the technique used IS the same, except that the images that are layered and added in each blended image appear to be on a different scale. More importantly, in Under the Bridge, each photograph has a distinct and stronger impact on the photograph’s meaning, than each of the iris’ photographs.
In a close up look (1:1 ratio) one can see how the same blending procedure creates different results. Here, in some parts of the image, particularly on the sand, the “impressionism” look is still there, albeit much less obvious. On other parts of the photograph it may appear as though wide brush strokes have been used, none of them, however, was a Photoshop action. These brush strokes are the result of a highly conventional photography procedure – a slow shutter speed.
Is this photography?
Note that I do not ask if this is A photograph, because I’ve already told you this is a blend of 11 individual photographs. Hence the more precise question: Is this photography?
If you suggest that my dark brown iris is photography, then it would be difficult to argue that Under the Bridge is not. The technique used to make them is very similar except for the one major difference I told you about, which is masking one person in each of some of the photographs (layers). Images were added by blending, not by complicated masking techniques or by moving or cutting and pasting any of the characters. Using a remote controller, I was even able to include myself twice in the final image, and also my shadow on the sand in the foreground.
Even in the enlightened times of the dark room, many photographers layered negatives one on top of the other to get composite images. One of the better known surrealism photographers, Jerry Uelsmann, used several enlargers simultaneously to create his photographic art, which is practically the invention of layers before Photoshop. Hence,
I will certainly not categorize ‘Under the Bridge’ as “Digital Art”, because the digital work used is no more than just an alternative tool.
This is the time to look at the flexible boundaries between “Photography-Based Art” and “Photographic-Art”. As this work is based on a very simple procedure, I would stick with the term “Photographic Art”, just as I would use this term for Uelsmann’s work. The fact that someone is clever with his or her technique does not make his or her work belong to a different field altogether. There exists no better demonstration of this claim in a “straightforward” photography than the work made by Ansel Adams.
Uelsmann had a memorable exhibition of 38 photographs in the Edward Steichen Photography Center in MoMa, in 1967. He was quoted in the MoMa’s press release: “It is my conviction that the darkroom is capable of being, in the truest sense, a visual research lab; a place for discovery, observation and meditation.” He suggested that “today’s photographers should not be afraid of ‘post-visualization’ and should be willing to change the image at any point in the entire photographic process.”
Forty nine years later, 2016, at the age of 82, in an interview to Digital ProPhoto, Jerry Uelsmann said: “I try and keep fresh. If I were younger, I would be working digitally, as the technology has so improved in terms of print quality and archival-ness, but I’m totally committed to the darkroom, and I still love the magic of watching a print appear in the developer.”
It is interesting that of all of Uelsmann’s fantastic surrealist work, the one photograph I remembered best is his ‘Small Woods Where I Met Myself’.
How different from, yet, in other ways, how similar it is to my ‘Under the Bridge’. As a naturalist I would only sigh and say to myself: Look how urban have you become!