Newsweek stirs things up by asking if photography is dead

Share the Blurb:
pin it button Newsweek stirs things up by asking if photography is dead

There’s nothing like a provocative magazine headline to get your hackles up. In a recent Newsweek article, Peter Plagens asks, “Is photography dead?” He questions the medium’s integrity and whether the artistic value of photographic realism has been compromised – or killed – by the fictionalization made possible by digitalization. Or, in other words, has the art of taking an unedited photograph been Photoshopped away?

Plagens cites a number of turning points in photography and makes some bold statements like, “…you can’t help but wonder if the entire medium hasn’t fractured itself beyond all recognition.” Read the whole piece here.

We’ve previously blogged about the blurred line between pros and amateurs, and what that’s doing to the world of photography. Do you think photography is in flux? Have we over-fictionalized photography? We’re up for a good conversation, so share your thoughts below.

Share the Blurb:
pin it button Newsweek stirs things up by asking if photography is dead


  1. Since the beginning of photography “reality”has been manipulated: from stilted portraits resulting from extremely long exposure times, to later manipulations in the darkroom by Strichen, Kasebar et al. Any depiction of an image, be it made with a camera, oils, charcoal, pencil, etc. is an interpretation of reality, and of reality at the given moment. If I take a picture of a sunrise, my image depicts the scene as it was at THE PARTICULAR MOMENT that I snapped the shutter. But my choices made before, during and after the image is recorded are also a “manipulation”: When I choose to snap the shot, where I stand, what my camera angle is, the exposures choose, even the time of day all factor in to what I want to say with the image I am making. I do mostly landscape photography. Does that mean that I should take pictures of a mountain, for example at noon rather than “manipulate my image ” by waiting for the “golden hour” of sunrise or sunset? In the same manner, if I spend hundreds of dollars to visit a special location and it rains every day, manipulation can improve what I saw and my interpretation of it. Painters and sketchers have been doing this from time immemorial. “The camera doesn’t lie” is in itself a lie — and photoshop allows photographers to depict what is seen through the eye as a classic painter but also gives one the ability to manipulate the photo as the impressionistic and modern artists have done with the paint medium. There is no shame or harm in this unless the purpose is to deceive rather than “art”.

    By fran
      December 14, 2007 – 10:37 pm   Permalink
  2. Did photography ever have any real “integrity” the way they claim?

    I ask myself “What would Ansel Adams do?” and I think he would have used photoshop.

    When somebody yells Photoshop in a forum I think “Your point being?”

    Why must I have to get the image in one take and let the camera make all the desisions?

    Why is that more honest art?

    Unless you are talking about newspapers I just don’t see why people get so upset.

      December 15, 2007 – 12:02 am   Permalink
  3. PhotoShop adds a lot to a picture. A vacant parking lot can be filled with cars. Desert filled with flowers. It is nice technique to have, but we no longer can tell if the picture of a scene is true or a touch-up. “Seeing is believing” no longer holds true for pictures sometimes. Can court uses pictures to verify the real fact?

    By Yvonne92646
      December 15, 2007 – 11:44 pm   Permalink

      December 16, 2007 – 8:20 am   Permalink
  5. I have not read the article yet but from the synopsis all I can say is here we go again. I think that some people are stuck in a time warp at the time where photography was thought of as simply documentary in the sense that the camera is some sort of recording device which records a scene at a moment of time.
    Photography is not documentary in the strict sense of the word. A photograph is vehicle for transmitting ideas, concepts, feelings and emotions. The elitist view that a photograph should not and cannot be “manipulated” is just that an elitist view which does not correspond to any reality. Any time a choice is made as to the type of film, developer, process, paper, etc…to use a certain amount of alteration is being done to the scene. What ends up in the photograph is not correspond to the scene but is in reality a reflection of what the photographer believes has seen or felt looking at the scene. Ansel Adams, talks about pre-visualization i.e seeing in the minds eye how the scene would look like in the final print. He spent countless hours calibrating film, dodging and burning, manipulating, film and print to get what he saw in his mind. What is the difference between this type of manipulation using chemicals and the chemical properties of certain media and manipulation done using a computer and software? The difference is the same as when the first SLR camera was invented: democratization of photography. I am certain that then elitists decried the demise of photography as some now decry the same thing. Rest assured that photography will continue to exist for a very, very long time. As everything else, it will continue to evolve as new media and technologies evolve and new ones make their appearance. This is the way our world works and it has for eternity and will continue to do so for eternity. Those who want to remain stuck in their time warp, or believe that things are fixed and immutable will certainly be left behind. Those elitists who believe in the mythology of “purity of the art” they can remain in their ivory towers and they can continue to bemoan the old days of when…as they watch the world pass them by.

    By goplayer
      December 16, 2007 – 9:16 am   Permalink
  6. Seems like fear of change is driving the article. Art is like language, it belongs to the people who use it and they (we) have the perogative to change it. Simple.

    By Anna
      December 16, 2007 – 7:36 pm   Permalink
  7. This story presumes a photograph only reflects a “realism” of a scene. His statement, “…(questions) the medium’s integrity and whether the artistic value of photographic realism has been compromised – or killed – by the fictionalization made possible by digitalization.” Anyone can take a photo showing “realism”; just take a snapshot of a homeless person on the street. There’s realism. That’s not photography.

    Photography is the extension of the vision the photographer had at the point in time they took the picture. Cameras do a fine job of taking pictures, but not always a good job of capturing the scene as we, the photographer, saw it. Whether Photoshop or some other digital program is used, or a darkroom and it’s specific techniques, the goal is to bring the photograph out of the picture, to endeavor to show the scene the photographer saw in the field. As Ansel Adams said, the goal is “to make it sing.” Good photographs evoke some emotion, some response, and that’s what the value of these programs have, the ability to purvey your sense of awe, your sensitivity, your inspiration to your viewer.

    This is another in those “Is the Newspaper Dead?”, “Is Reading Passe?”, “Will Television Ruin Theater?” type of articles. Computers and CNN did not ruin newspapers, they’re still around. Reading is stronger than ever, and Borders and Barnes & Noble and other merchants are more vibrant than ever. And many TV actors get their start in theater, and return after a stint in that medium.

    So, no, photography isn’t dead. Some peoples understanding of the medium may be dead, or at least stagnant, but the medium is as vibrant as ever, if not more so. Photographers work IN Photoshop, just as they worked IN a darkroom. Photoshop is not the photograph.

    The author needs to spend some time with the photographers at Newsweek and those they use. Maybe then he’ll understand.

      December 16, 2007 – 9:12 pm   Permalink
  8. Just what is photpgraphy?

    A dictionary definition is “The process or art of producing images of objects on sensitized surfaces by the chemical action of light. The word “photography” derives from the Greek and means, literally, “light writing.”

    With digital photography we are still doing just that apart from the fact that the film has been replaced by a sensor.

    Prior to digital there were those who would take ‘record shots’ (and still manipulate light, dark and contrast if necessary. People still made montages, manipulated colours and textures – so what’s different? The cameras are no different really – just don’t use fim so much. The BIG difference is the power of Photoshop, which isn’t, as many think, a means of making a crap photograph perfect. Photoshop doesn’t necessarily make photo manipulation easier either – partly because of cost and partly because of its’ near vertical learning curve. But in the right hands Photoshop is best described as an artists paintbrush, and I think we have grounds to argue (for those who poo pooed the idea that it wasn’t an art form)
    that photography is now closer to a true art form than it hs ever been.

    But in essence, who really cares; there is little I can do that could be called art using a paintbrush. But I can do a lot with a camera and a computer that gets close to it.

    By David latimer
      December 17, 2007 – 6:37 am   Permalink
  9. People said the same kinds of things about painting when photography came on the scene more than a century ago. Photography hasn’t killed painting; in fact, it moved it in new, vital directions. Neither will photoshop kill photography. Some mediums die, yes (when’s the last time you saw a new painting done in fresco or encaustic?). New technologies simply push art in new directions.

      December 17, 2007 – 1:50 pm   Permalink
  10. Yep, it’s dead. And, who would be a better judge than Newsweek? It has been at least ten years since I have seen this publication, but hey, I’m willing to bet they are the authority on the issue.

    What do we need photography for? We have TV!

    By the way, channel 19 has reruns of Magnum PI, which I HIGHLY recommend. Way better than photography.

      December 18, 2007 – 12:29 pm   Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

(required, not published)