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Is Photography Dying, Again?

Alfred Stieglitz had said in 1893 “There are many schools of painting. Why should there not be many schools of photographic art? There is hardly a right and wrong in these matters, but there is truth, and that should form the basis of all works of art”.

When photography as art was in its infancy in the late 1920s, there was much discussion and handwringing concerning just what constituted art as presented through photography. There was the pictorial crowd, who used endless darkroom and in-camera manipulations to create something more akin to the art of painting, and the purists, who thought everything should be ultra sharp with massive depth-of-field.

Through the 1930s, a battle raged between the pictorialists and the purists, a group of photographers who felt that the camera should be milked of every last bit of sharpness, and the contain the widest possible range of tones (remember, color was new and not considered artistic). These purists included Ansel Adams, Edward and Brett Weston, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange. However all agreed on one thing. That it is the photographer who makes all the decisions regarding the mechanics of the process to best interpret their vision. It’s the photographer, not the machinery that creates the photograph.

The battle for what school of photography was truly art went on and on, and arguably continues to this day.

My point to all this is that there is an awful lot of concern about how artificial intelligence will impact photography. Do AI generated pictures meet Stieglitz’s bar of truth as the basis of art? Not to me. It’s difficult to escape the AI powered features creeping into editing software and camera operations. Everyday there is a new scandal about a contest cheater or a “faked” photograph doing harm. However, what I am trying to keep in mind is that I still have the power of Natural Intelligence and I can choose how to best interpret my vision. I prefer to make all of the creative decisions, and by knowing the limits of my equipment I can continue to make the photographs that I want to make.

I’m sure Stieglitz, Weston and Adams would have questioned the artistic merit or even necessity of the Pope in a puffy white coat (as do I), but they would concede its right to exist. There’s room for everybody, and you can choose your own path. The devaluation of photography begun by creator culture can stop with you.

Now forget what everyone else is doing and go make some art Dave…

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