Do you remember a world where men distinguished themselves by aspiring to be gentle men, where one’s word was more potent than a contract, where a woman was a lady and had special privilege, well I almost do.
But, what I do most definitely remember is when a photograph was admissible as evidence in a courtroom as factual, where retouching mostly constituted a removal of a scratch or dust, or some slight modifications. I realize there has always been some desire to moderate the picture. As a painter adds and subtracts reality at his will, but that very quality of dealing with the real world and using film to its full advantage was one of the great thrills of being a photographer.
Recently I understand that there has been discussion as to if I retouch my photographs. There is a photograph that I shot in the Dominican Republic, with a woman standing on the edge of a Sea Plane wing. Let me assure anyone that doubts its validity, she was there standing on the very tip of that wing, and the very notion of adding her (posthumously) to the actual picture would be against “the lie agreed upon” which is a photograph.
You see photography as I know it is not illustration, painting, printing, compositing, collage, or anything else, although it has rapidly become this. Photography is a joyful affirmation of the world as it is given to us at the given moment.
I used to like the fact that Vanity Fair magazine would time and date the photograph, as if it was a specific moment never to be recaptured again. Now it feels like a sham. What part of the picture are they talking about? As the picture represents a composite of many moments and places.
I understand that I am a dying dinosaur and in my fashion I also understand that I have manipulated pictures from the first days of making them. I was always aware of the strengths and limitations of film and it’s response to light, and would use the characteristics of film to my own advantage, but also often to its disadvantage.
I knew because of reciprocity law failure that light when translated onto film would diminish far more quickly than your eyes perceived it. And using only porticoes (windows, doorways, etc.) as light sources, I realized I could make part of the image go black even though your eyes would see detail. For example, in the picture below, the doorway although appearing to be black, was full of detail. I knew I could remove the detail when I shot the picture because of the quality of the film.
But this was working within the confines of the film and knowing the medium I was working in. So I guess I have retouched as well, but here is the difference, I have always done it within the camera at the time the picture was made. I don’t think that this is a composite or a retouched picture. But, it definitely represents perceiving the world with a slightly different perspective. But to add to the confusion, in composing the picture I reject a great deal of reality. I change my orientation and I see things differently, but these things still all feel like the artistic endeavor to me, working with perception before the shutter is released. This is the world I operate in. I enjoy it. I realize everything has changed, but remember a change is not necessarily an improvement.
Unlike a world that is full of tattoos, vulgarity, confrontation, and mean spirit, the world I am leaving you is a world where there is a slight wink to other art forms but the medium remains unique. It is a world where certain men wear suits, not because it is the fashion, but because it represents graciousness, a kindness, and a forbearance, which is only proper if there is a lady in waiting. It is a make believe world I am trying very hard to make real once again.