The discussion among photographic artists is as old as photography itself. But technological advancements in digital imaging have added energy to the argument and myth in photography and its place in the art world. Specifically, is it an art or a craft? Is its aim to create or merely record? Is there such a thing as a purist in this changing environment?
Historic attempts to answer this question will not necessarily provide satisfactory answers either. In the early part of the 20th century, Ansel Adams, often considered a stalwart purist, and proclaimed one of the chief proponents of “straight photography.” The clarity of the lens is emphasized, and the final print gives no appearance of being manipulated in the camera or darkroom. He is also a key architect of the “zone system method of darkroom development,” which was used specifically to manipulate the tonality of an image, thereby allowing him to create rather than merely record his images. He was a visionary who achieved much success in photographic advancement at this time.
It has been only a few years since anyone using a digital camera was considered a non-purist. Nowadays, use of the term is more likely applied to anyone using one of the many software programs available, both in the camera and in the “digital darkroom.” How many times have I heard photographers say they considered computers to be a necessary evil in the use of digital photography because it takes away from the time allotted to actual shooting? This seems to be based on the nostalgic misconception that film photographers spent little or no time in the darkroom in the “good ole days.”
Like many digital photographers I use Lightroom and Photoshop as primary editing programs, but in addition, I use many other programs and plug-ins to try to get whatever effect I am trying to achieve, and to increase my efficiency in editing in order to improve my art. All of the programs I use are unique and have a special place in the photography that I do. They help me make photographs as opposed to merely taking a photo. I do not rely on them to replace basic photographic techniques like composition, lighting and correct exposure, however, so in this regard, I am also a proponent of “straight photography.”