Photography is the art of creating images by the action
of light. Technology has always driven improvements in the photographic
process, from early Daguerreotypes, Tintypes, and Cyanotypes, to today’s
high-speed films and megapixel sensors.
In the past, most process improvements were chemical in nature, but
today’s major advances are provided by digital technology. And as the
these digital processes yield higher and higher quality the demand for
silver based photographic materials is dropping to the point where
manufactures can no longer profitably produce items like internegitive
film, or reversal photographic papers (Type “R” materials). Consequently,
it is no longer possible for photographers working with traditional
transparency film (slides) to print their images as they always have, and
are instead scanning their work so it can be out put through a number of
high quality printing processes, such as LightJet or Giclée prints.
As a point of reference, B&H Photo, one of the largest camera stores in
the world, has only a limited stock of outdated internegitive film that
expired two years ago. As these materials disappear, the photographer who
has spent an entire professional career shooting transparency film, has no
choice but to scan their slides if they wish to make prints.
Even photographers who shoot negative film may find that the superior
control and flexibility of digital processing makes the effort of scanning
their negatives worthwhile. Photographers who shoot their images digitally
(It should be noted that in 2003 the sale of digital cameras exceeded film
cameras for the first time, and the trend is accelerating) have no choice
but to work digitally in their printing processes. Optical enlargement on
chemically processed paper is just not possible, nor is it desirable.
The solution of choice for many is inkjet printing. It is a natural
transition for those photographers who have always chosen to do their own
printing as they now have even more control over the finished print than
they previously did. Programs like Photoshop, while difficult to master,
offer photographers tremendous control over their images, allowing them to
express their vision in ways that were never possible even with the most
highly skilled chemical darkroom work.
Rapid advances in depositing microscopic droplets of ink precisely
where the photographer’s image requires them allow the artist to produce
truly beautiful images on ink jet paper. Each print is considered an
original, in the same way that multiple optically enlarged photographic
prints are considered originals. Just as the chemically produced negative
is only a step in the completion of a finished image, so too is the
digital photographers electronic file just a point in the process to the
final output of original prints.
There are those who think that using a computer to adjust an image
defines it as "Digital Art." But this isn’t so. Photographers have always
used adjustments like burning and dodging and contrast control to optimize
their photographic images in the printing stage.
In photography’s 173 year history, the permanence of images has always
been an important consideration. Early color prints on chromogenic (Type
“C”) papers were noted for their tendency to quickly color shift and fade,
and manufactures worked to improve stability throughout the 1970’s.
Today’s inkjet prints also can be susceptible to attack by Ozone and
Ultraviolet light, but are rapidly being improved by their designers. Ink
and paper combinations exist today that have been subjected to accelerated
fading tests* and are rated to resist fading for more than 200 years.
Photography is now a medium with potentially longer lasting archival
qualities than ever before in it’s history.
In conclusion, photographic images are created by the action of light,
whether that light strikes a chip of silicon or a film of silver halide.
The process that produces the final print should be chosen for its beauty
and functionality, taking full advantage of the best materials that will
allow the artist to fully manifest their vision.
We recommend that photographs printed using the inkjet/giclée process
be accepted by shows as the natural evolution of image printing for
photographers. Further, we recommend that those printing with these new
materials disclose the specifics of their process in a statement that will
inform and educate the viewing public.
Response by Chris Maher to Columbus
on their request for help in defining Photography and Digital
Larry and I have grappled with this very issue since we began using
digital cameras many years ago. When shows began having digital
categories, I submitted my work as digital art, but feedback showed me
that the jurors were confused why my Black and White photos were mixed in
with computer generated graphics. I realized it didn't matter that I used
a digital camera to capture my image, that my work is still photography,
and should be juried with photography. Yes, artists can work with their
digital camera images on a computer to the point where one could question
what media they are, but variations of media have long been explored. For
example, if I use oils to hand color traditional black and white photos,
are they still photos, or are they mixed media? How far would one have to
go to make it no longer a photo? How about hand manipulated Polaroid
photographs, does the artistic surface work make them too painterly? At
some point an artist may decide that they are too far out of the norm, but
let the artist make that decision.
As someone who has spent more than 30 years working professionally in a
darkroom, I can say with authority that digitally processing an image
using a computer and a program like Photoshop gives a skilled artist
tremendous control and finesse over the image they have shot. But great
control doesn't equate to great art, so let your hand picked jury make
that decision when they see how those images fare in competition with all
the others submitted by photographers without regard to the kind of film
or camera they used.
A separate but related issue is the kind of media that photographers
are allows to use to produce their work. Ink jet prints (also called
giclées) are a natural output for digitally shot photographs. Research has
now provided us with archival materials, and the beauty of a well done ink
jet print can be breathtaking.
Our media has always been technologically driven, and today's
photography is moving at an amazing pace. But art is not about technology,
it is about the aesthetic sense and ones perception of the world. Let the
jurors judge the beauty and power of the images, and encourage artists to
use all the tools at their disposal to create the best work they possibly