It’s almost hard to ignore in today’s photography discussions. The ‘purist’ versus the ‘artist’ argument. What is a real photograph? What is a fake photograph? What is a photograph? When are filters and plugins appropriate? When are they not? When have you used too many?
Here’s the thing: never! None of that matters. At all. The only people it matters to are the people it matters to. Think about that sentence - The only people it matters to are the people it matters to. Basically, it’s not up to anyone but you to tell you what you like.
Sure, there are cases, especially in editorial or documentary and news photography, when your job is strictly to document the world the way that it is, and any embellishments or alterations are simply immoral and disrespectful, but if you are picking up a camera as a tool for art, I am a firm believer that you are free to do whatever you want and however you want.
You are the artist.
The thing about art is that it is never complete, and it always evolves. This means that, well, perhaps you did use a bit too much filter on your images in the past, but, well, no one can judge that but you, and no one can choose when you decide that. It’s part of the artistic process - so be it. Embrace it. Allow it to happen, because if it doesn’t, it means that it’s something that you’re holding in, and as an artist, the last thing you want is to hold back, especially when it’s other people’s opinions that you should. If you do, you will not be fulfilled through your art, and if that’s the case, then, well, what’s the point? In other words, if you hold back, how do you expect to move forward?
When I first started dabbling in digital photography, I applied a ‘lomo’ preset on EVERY image I ever made. Every single one. Literally…all of them. And this was before Instagram and iPhone apps and all the tools that have made these filters commonplace. I had a photographer friend of mine tell me perhaps I ought try not to use that lomo filter even just once. But I liked that filter. So I resisted. And that went on for at least another half year. And then I discovered HDR photography (insert sigh here…). And admittedly, more often than not, I went waaaaaaay overboard with it. But still, I loved it!! I went nuts with it. It went from every image having a lomo filter applied to every image being an HDR image. Heck, sometimes I even applied the lomo filter on the HDR image.
And this went on for about a year.
Now, I don’t remember the last time made an HDR image, however, I have learned to enfuse several exposures in certain situations, especially when working with real estate and architectural photography, without pushing it to the surreal out of control limits. And same with the lomo filter, I haven’t used that bugger in quite some time in my professional working photography, but, well, I use a version of it all the time in Instagram! Basically, I think I’ve managed to get better at picking and choosing my situations for various purposes.
And I think all of these things are a necessary part of the process that leads to whether you evolve or get stuck. So any of those voices that insist that you’re doing too much of this, or too much of that, or not enough of this and that, have either already evolved past those very same things, or, more likely, have yet to even begin the process of letting go and moving forward in their own processes.
Either way, I’ve admittedly got a long way to go, but instead of dreading the ‘phases’ that I have to go through, I’ve grown to become eager and excited about them. Because that means I'm one step closer to the world I see when I look at it the way I choose to see it.
And, for me, it doesn’t get anymore real than that.