Every once in a while, someone tries to pull me into the photography v. reality debate. Some folks are very passionate about this. I am not. So I rarely play along.
I’m reminded of a quote I learned from my original photo mentor – Jack Russell. It was a quote from Arnold Newman – Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.
Newman was arguably the first great environmental portraitists. What’s remarkable about his statement is that his work appeared in everything from “Scientific American” to “Life,” “Look,” “Esquire” and “Vanity Fair.”
Many photojournalists will tell you that they do capture reality. I understand that to mean they don’t alter their photographs. But is it reality? I don’t know. Showing a waterfall frozen in time, or blurred like cotton candy doesn’t match any reality I know. But if it’s important for anyone to think that’s reality, I’m okay with it.
For me, all that matters now, all that has ever mattered, all that will ever matter going forward is the picture. What someone thinks of it, how they interpret it, whether or not they think it’s real, fake, art or science – none of that is in my control. I can’t control what anyone else thinks, nor do I want to or would I try. My images are simply representative of what I personally happen to think of a given moment in time.
If the picture is good. If it moves me, produces an emotional response, makes me wish I were there or makes me want to know more, then I don’t care whether it’s real or not. If a picture causes me to have memories of other events or want to remember those I’m living right now, then I don’t care if it’s real or not.
When people engage in the Canon v. Nikon, digital v. film, Photoshop v. no Photoshop, Windows v. Mac wars, I don’t feel like they’re contributing much to the world or to photography. I think the “is photography real or not” discussion falls under pretty much the same category. Instead of debating whether or not photography is real, why not do something that DOES matter? Why not make a good picture?