“You can do anything in photography if you can get away with it.” wrote Paul Strand, a photographer who in 1915, painted out a figure that cluttered the composition of “City Hall Park.” That quote appears somewhere in the middle of Dushko Petrovich’s essay on the history of digital photography, and I love it. It speaks to the philosophy that the quality of the image should dictate its form, which even in the context of image manipulation, is its own kind of artistic purity. Petrovich illustrates this by following the quote up with a few choice examples;
One of Ansel Adams’s most iconic images, “Moonrise,” snapped in the late afternoon in 1941, was given its moody contrast via aggressive darkroom chemistry six years after the fact. Even the iconic black borders on Richard Avedon’s trademark full-frame prints—included as a sign the picture hadn’t been altered—were faked with paint if cutting the negative helped the composition.
Petrovich’s article was prompted by “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop”, an exhibition curated by Mia Fineman and currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it makes me think I need to make another trip to the museum. I took a look at the show two weeks ago, but it’s located in a high traffic hallway out front of their photography gallery which makes it difficult to spend time with. Petrovich has me convinced a little extra effort will be worth it.