Art vs. Documentary Photography


Fajada Moon

There are frequent arguments about what constitutes art.  These arguments often appear to be too common in photography circles.  Many people believe that photographic images should not be manipulated at all.  The correct and proper image is the one straight out of the camera, “get it right in the camera”, is often heard.  Is that really art or is it documentation of whatever you are looking at?  To me it’s a documentary.  It may be done in an artistic manner or with artistic intent but its limited by camera technology.

Currently no camera is capable of capturing images as I envision them.  That is why I create my images, partially in the camera and partially through post processing.  When you spend a fair amount of time behind the lens you grow to appreciate what an unbelievably impressive thing the human eye is.  You simply can not duplicate it’s capabilities with a camera.   To capture an image you must learn to work with the limited capabilities of the camera.  To create and image you must go a step further and learn how to transform what you have captured into what you have envisioned.  Then you can take it another step further to express what you feel.

The two images in this post are the same.  While photographing the scene I wanted the focus to be on color and form.  I underexposed the image to drop the Butte into shadow and intensify the colors.  This was not the reality of the scene but rather how I envisioned it.  During post processing I intensified the vibrancy of the color and darkened the Butte a little more to further create the image I had envisioned.  While photographing, I had an image of the moon over the Butte come to mind.  I really wanted to see it and create that image.  The problem is, it was impossible because all of the color in the sky would be long gone before the moon reached the proper location.   To further complicate things the moon would have been so bright that it wouldn’t be possible to expose it and the landscape properly.  Because of digital technology and all the post processing tools that we have today it’s possible to create the images that we envision more than ever before.

In Fajada Moon  I was able to use the Fajada Butte image and add the moon from another image that I created to achieve the piece of art as I had envisioned it.  I was able to express what I wanted to and not be limited to documenting only what was there.  It is rare for me to make compilations such as this but I have no problems doing it if that is what is necessary to fulfill my vision.   This Butte probably has been photographed a million times so it’s well documented.  In theses images I had no intention of documenting the Butte but rather using it’s form as a symbol of the American West.  The color in the sky further added to the symbolism.  My addition of the moon added another motif common in western folklore.  For me it was the ultimate expression of what I felt about the location that night.  I’ll have to admit that listening to the coyotes howling might have played a small part in it as well.



Fajada Butte

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