Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/12/02

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Subject: [Leica] Art Wolfe's book
From: Alexey Merz <>
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998 11:02:51 +0000

>My point is, someone can completely manufacture an image in the 
>darkroom and it's OK. But run it through Photoshop, and it's a crime.
>I know Art Wolfe. I have talked to him about digital manipulation. 
>And I agree with him. If you are producing art, how you produce it 
>is up to you. It's art. And art is in the eye of the beholder.
>If you are producing reportage or documentary photographs, *altering*
>the photographic content is forbidden. Enhancing the colors, creating
>better separation, and the like, is OK. But be careful.

As Kenneth Brower pointed out in the _Atlantic Monthly_, _Migrations_
was not called _Pretty Patterns_. It had a natural history text about
real animals and their real migrations. And it also had photos which 
were composites, in which, for example, the same individual zebra
appeared twice (from different exposures), or the same exposure of 
a group of elephants was cloned and appeared multiple times in a 
picture of a single 'herd'. The book did not mention that these images
were fabricated.

Wolfe is an immensely talented and productive photographer. I vividly
remember reading a profile of him in _American Photographer_ while I
was in high school. The profile was accompanied by his splendid images
of insects on plants, drenched in dew. The text described his excursions
to a favorite 'dew field' near his home, and his angst when that site
was developed. It quoted him railing against photographers who went out
with a spray bottle and added 'dew' rather than finding it.

Now I wonder: was he protesting too much? 

Is it worse to bring a spray bottle into the field than it is
to 'breed' elephants in a photoshop layer?

I really believe that photographers are responsible to their subjects,
and I realize that this involves making difficult decisions. Should 
the food photographer baste that turkey in 10W40? I don't really care,
because the turkey is dead. But Wolfe's images - because of their
subject matter (Nature!), because of the photographer's previous public
statements, and because of his insistence on very detailed and 
'realistic' rendering, deserve to be held to a stricter standard than
a turkey slathered in motor oil. 

At least, that's how this 'beholder's eye' sees things.
Alexey Merz | URL: | email: