Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Your Beautiful Pictures Are Stupid: Against Trendy Digital Photography

IN THE BAG"I hope the ghost of Walker Evans punches me in the face," wrote producer Eric Spiegelman last night. He likes to take pictures with his iPhone and then quickly tweak them, as the people do today, with the filters and the apps. He has his own process: "I adjust some levels in Photogene, crop the image, run it through one of a handful of CameraBag or Lo-Mob filters, then use TiltShiftGen not to make a tilt-shift image but because a little bit of blur goes a long way, and because TiltShiftGen has a killer vignetting tool. But this is a farce. It's like saying I'm a cook because I mix and match TV dinners."

This epidemic of easy-to-manipulate "arty" images infesting our blogs and our Facebook pages is way out of control. And it's not just photography. Take a look at the Vimeo HD channel.

Every trick in the book is showing up in pretty much every photograph and video these days. Super-limited depth of field! Film emulation! Diffraction! Long exposures, tilt-shifting, faux Polaroid, high contrast, faux lomography! When was the last time you saw a video without a beautiful, sweeping time-lapse segment?

And you know what it all means? It means every picture and every video looks the same.

That's not to say they don't all look spectacular, and the videos, in particular, definitely show "craft"! Like that's actual work, for the most part.

There are times when processing and effects are coupled with talent and narrative and skill, sure! Like this video.

This is made doubly complicated because it's actually a movie about photography and a photographer. One thing he says is that he shoots like this because he wants to show things the way he sees them in his head. But artificial contrast and saturation aren't the way we see things in our head. The eye-eyes! There are two of them, and cameras only have one "eye," and they operate differently!-and the brain are not at all like the camera. And yet this is a pretty incredible film, but only because it's about something.

But we have learned to "think" in images this way. These are romantic and really somewhat infantile image techniques. They're childish and nostalgic. They're about sunny days and buzzing bees and reading books on a porch, and about road trips and romanticizing urban grime and being oh so gently alienated.

And really, it's gross.

The good news, or at least the retrograde news, is that there are Flickr groups like Cross Processing–FILM ONLY, of all-analog photography. And the always-active I Shoot Film and Film is not Dead!!.

Online at web resolution, though, can you tell the difference between film effects and digital effects? Sometimes, yes, you can! That's because the actual analog film effects aren't as "interesting" as the quicky digital ones. They aren't as thrilling to the eye. They're not as cheaply emotionally evocative. They're just pictures.

125 Comments / Post A Comment

jolie (#16)


carpetblogger (#306)

I have been thinking this in my head for months –every time someone puts one of those hipstamatic photos on FB. THANK YOU FOR PUTTING YOUR WORDS IN MY BRAIN.

deepomega (#1,720)


BigJim1 (#250,509)

@carpetblogger: It is not AWL putting words in your brain. It is the Reptoids, from us out here in space. All your ever'things belong us. (Sorry. We not speak-a so English very good well better.)

h (#7,135)

Is it any different than the original proliferation of cameras? Cheap art is cheap art, just because everyone has access to graphite pens and latex paints doesn't mean that everyone is suddenly David Hockney, there's always (bad) taste and crappy art.

Art Yucko (#1,321)


Art Yucko (#1,321)

*the downside to this is, film has gotten prohibitively expensive to obtain and to process. There's only one lab that I know of in my area that still processes film of any sort. All the others went out of business.

If you're a pro, clients have become accustomed to quick and easy turnaround from the digital solution… they're also not interested in being rebilled for it. So many of us are stuck with this digital technology. (I sold my 35mm F-SLR's several years ago, because it became implausible to use them, professionally.)

It's pretty much the province of niche and art, now.

deepomega (#1,720)

I'd also add that any moron can spot the identically-hipstamatic'd-auto-treatment from 10 miles away.

poisonville (#776)

Are "actual analog film effects" in fact "just pictures"? I'm not so sure.

Zack (#2,609)

not at all. Different lenses produce different effects. This isn't post-production manipulation and it isn't "just [a] picture". It's a unique effect that the film actually sees.

poisonville (#776)

Agreed. Whether it's during the shot (filter/lens) or after, in the darkroom, seems like manipulation to me. Framing is manipulation. Depth of field. I'm not sure what "just pictures" are.

Bettytron (#575)

I'd venture that "just pictures" are whatever medium is familiar because you've grown up with it. I think there's something to be said against digital effects designed to emulate over-saturated 70s film versus digital effects designed to create something that looks totally new- that artificial nostalgia definitely grates. But decrying digital photography seems a little reactionary.

DMcK (#5,027)

I read "actual analog film effects" to mean the (thrilling!) possibility of the image being affected in unexpected ways by random, accidental events that occur when all the photographer's tools and techniques are employed without the benefit of an algorithm to tell them all how to behave. As an analogy, animators refer to the little tics and blips of natural motion as "the noise of life", an ineffable quality which even the most sophisticated CGI will lack. Same goes for drawing, painting, etc.

@poisonville: Photography is only like real life inasmuch as you are a cyclops, rooted in one spot, for 1/1000 of a second.

Full disclosure : I stole that from somewhere, but I forget where.

Kevin Patterson (#5,933)

Any picture that I take barely qualifies to be called a picture. I can guarantee a complete lack of artistry or affect.

mrschem (#1,757)

People are reactionary because one style is hard work and the other is pushing a button. That said, I found digital editing to be the hardest thing I have ever done but I am an old and this makes my heart ache for 1983 and homemade cassette tapes playing in the lab, blah, blah blah. I have room in my heart for both fill-um and digital.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

This reminds me a lot of the debates in music when use of ProTools became widespread, but I don't really know enough about photography to say if that's accurate or not.

iantenna (#5,160)

and just like in the pro tools debate the only thing that really matters is what you do with the technology. king tubby was a genius because his innovations pushed the boundaries of what could be done with the available equipment. whereas there is nothing brilliant about hitting the "king tubby effect" button in pro tools, or whatever. using digital photo technology to simulate the past is bullshit, for sure, but it seems that same technology could be used to push the boundaries of photography, no?

also, as a staunch populist, i think anything that makes it easier for anyone to make "art" are always a good thing. but then, i collect old snapshots and polaroids at antique shops and thrift stores, so my concept of art is questionable to say the least.

Zack (#2,609)

you're absolutely right on this. With the barrage of all of these effects it's tough to keep it measured and only use the ones that actually enhance and compliment your story in a way that the viewer is going to appreciate (I'm referring to movies rather than photos). Where it gets hard is the overanxious producers or collaborators who see these everywhere and ask why we aren't using a vignette here or a mask filter there … when they don't really know what they're talking about.

poisonville (#776)

I remember we went through this 15 to 20 years ago with sound, when cheap digital audio effects and mixing became available to every Jane and Joe with a Mac. At first there were complaints of this sort, but how has it worked out over time, after a generation of a digital sound studio in every laptop?

brianvan (#149)

Poorly! I hate what passes for "music" nowadays.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

So you've gotten over those fears of turning into your parents, have you?

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Just give me a well-placed star wipe, and I'm happy.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

George Lucas will see you in his office now.

BadUncle (#153)

But for the love of God, do not bring back cross processing.

garge (#736)

I never imagined that I would see the day when "cross-processing" would be considered good news, but I will join the gospel choir, if I can keep my art-related cynicism under my robes!

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Somewhere, I have an entire 3-ring binder of E6 film that I shot in the early 90's, all cross-processed. That was how we was doin'. Thanks David LaChappelle!

garge (#736)

For every gimmick, turn, turn, turn, there is an epoch, turn, turn, turn .. and that was it!

BadUncle (#153)

When I'm doing a stock photo search and reach the cross-processed table-top shots, I know I've breached the freshness barrier, and am in the Land That Photography Forgot.

garge (#736)

@Uncle, I am dying over here.

Flashing back to a circa 1996 argument with my then-girlfriend about darkroom vs. computer manupulation of images. In hindsight, we were both wrong, but she was more wrong, of course.

barnhouse (#1,326)

The raw sensory information ("two eyes") is a point of departure, any painter will tell you. But if you try to strip even a photograph down to that, you won't be able to. All the vicissitudes of that moment are going to be in there one way or another expressed through the machinery, the processes, the chances of recording. The certainty of some impress of personality, unreality, technique that marks that moment, I thought of that when the sweet English kid says not just "the way I see it" but "the way I feel it".

SeanP (#4,058)

This happens with all things digital – when word processing became a possibility, so did use of too many different fonts. Nowadays all music is auto-tuned. Etc, etc. The good news is that after a while people figure out what constitutes too much of a good thing, and tone it down.

brianvan (#149)


jolie (#16)


Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

How are digital effects different from tweaking lenses or playing with images in a dark room? Sure it is easier now, and some are bad and some are good. This has always been the case. The process does not matter, only the image. Technology moves forward and will continue to democratize the creative process which overall is a good thing. Most of the effects are used in people's personal photos and videos that they surely enjoy on their own terms amongst their friends and family.

By the way, my father grew up on those cliffs in the surfer movie. I know them well.

deepomega (#1,720)

I'd say the real lesson is "shitty digital effects suck." I'm a professional photoshop jockey and image manipulator, and any designer worth his salt will be able to see that my comps don't have the identical flaws of any Hipstamatic-er.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

God yes. You see people running back to the Filters menu over and over again and you just want to slam their fingers in a door.

For the most part, anything you can't accomplish with curves, masks, and a few of the healing tools is getting into Celestial Soul Portrait territory.

Teuthida (#7,187)

I agree with this entire thread.

Slava (#216)

You had me until the very last paragraph.
Film fetishism to me is exactly the same bag of nostalgic "technique" photography that you're critiquing here.
But yeah, HDR is my most disliked initialism, and that Scottish fellow in the video sent my eyes rolling 4 dayz.

LondonLee (#922)

It's nostalgia to a certain degree but you need a very expensive digital camera to get the same depth and color richness you get from a basic film camera.

garge (#736)

@Lee, but this gap is narrowing every year to an almost fantastical degree.

LondonLee (#922)

I was having lunch last week with a photographer (who will shoot film if you ask, I do sometimes) and when the waiter found out what he did for a living whipped out his iPhone and proceeded to show us his photographs and demonstrate all the amazing image effects he can do with some app on it. Filters do not a good photo make.

esquared (#888)

amen, brother, amen

joeks (#5,805)

Yes. This.

Photographs? Pssh, photogravure or go home.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Where's the "Get off my lawn!" tag?

deepomega (#1,720)

I think there's a bit too much of the "new technology isn't as cool as the OLD WAYS" here – but I am a Young and a professional Photoshopeteer, so I clearly have a horse in this race. But to my problem the problem isn't "digital post-processing", it's "one-step cheapo digital post-processing that doesn't have any skill or artistry to it."

barnhouse (#1,326)

YES. Over time the techniques become not-startling, not-novel, but the skill never goes away.

Hah, glad I refreshed, I had basically the same thing written (with a reference to tube amps thrown in).

saythatscool (#101)

If you know a better way to sext my peen pics to some girl I just met in a bar, let me know Sicha. An don't even say mail, because the Feds WILL prosecute you for that shit. I know.

It's fun to take so much of this argument and apply it to politics, vis-à-vis cost of entry.

Slava (#216)

'Fun' is not a word I would use

Good point! I have to be careful with my trendy digital vocabulary. Potentially insightful? Absolutely not worth the effort?

deepomega (#1,720)



Baroness (#273)

I'm seriously over tilt-shift, faked or not. And why does every tilt-shift video have twee acoustic music?

Tilt-shift is never going away, and most of the time you never know it's being used. Some is art photography, some is product photography, and most of it is shot with view cameras with digital backs that cost more than your car.

Josh Michtom (#6,069)

Will we, at some point, imbue some nostalgia or artistry into the warps and pixelations of cheap cell phone photos? How many years will that take? (Confession: Sometimes, I actually really like them.)

deepomega (#1,720)

Yes. Based on how long it took for Polaroids to come back around, I'm guessing 15 to 25 years.

Slava (#216)

Thomas Ruff has been doing something like that for a while: http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/18/work_1617.htm

6h057 (#1,914)

Every see what Warhol did late in his career? Dude was lazy as fuck. All these short-cuts to good looking photos aren't hurting art or aesthetics anymore than the artists who're pushing the medium. Is there a glut of gimmicks these days? Of course! It doesn't mean you have to take them into any kind of consideration. Flickr is a wasteland of garbage photos. But everyone has a Flickr account. So it's not Flickr's fault (or any enhancing program). Nor is it the thousands of photographers who waste our time on their poorly cropped/overly-edit pieces of boiled ham. If there's anything that should be invested in more heavily is venue. I don't care about the thousands of programs which take more time to learn than use, but I do look for the one-source provider that can grant me access to decent work. Tumblr was like that in the beginning, simple layout and easy to access content. But a lot of it's devolving into MySpace cancer and soon everyone's gonna have a autoplay music widget on their page so bully to that.

Right tone, wrong argument, dude.

paultron (#6,776)

Actually, Warhol would be laughing his ass off. He knew this would happen. Is there a lot of crap images flying around? Sure there are. But what's with the melodrama? Give easy access to "every trick in the book" and what do you expect out of everyone? At heart, this is a weak argument on taste, and late to the digital image vs. analog party by at least 10 years.
Maybe it's time for some neo-transcendentalism?

6h057 (#1,914)

I would like to vote this comment up on rendit.

erikonymous (#3,231)

Remember in Exit Through the Gift Shop, when Banksy says, referring to the sudden, perhaps unwarranted rise to minor celebrity of Mr. Brainwash something along the lines of "I used to tell everyone, 'Just make art.' I don't say that so much anymore"?
Also, remember on The Simpsons when Kent Brockman's all, "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Democracy just doesn't work, people"?
So, yeah, everything is like something else to me, which I guess is the point of this post, but such are the hazards of democratic freedom.
Also, hi guys.

6h057 (#1,914)


I'm old enough to remember when desktop publishing software became broadly accessible and every church bulletin insert had at least 20 fonts. We got over that, and we'll get over this. My only objection, as a photo editor, is the unavoidable proliferation of these altered images and image-making devices. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE and the sheer ubiquity irritates the hell out of me.

I'm obviously entering the cranky years, because I'm also driven to apoplexy by every spectator at any given rock show pointing some sort of video- or photography device at the musicians. Is it not cool to just watch a show and listen to the music in the present anymore? AND YOU DAMN KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

We have not gotten over that. I only wish.

Baboleen (#1,430)

I recently looked at a photographer's body of work (for sale.) Included in their description was "handmade silver gelatine photograhic print." I wonder how much of the cost was based on content vs process?

Rollo (#3,202)

Amazing! Superb! Unbearably lovely! You're touched with genius!

Rollo (#3,202)

My mistake, I thought this was a Flickr comments section.

garge (#736)

Is that really what it is like over there? Maybe I will add variety to my dawn and dusk internet hours, which are normally dedicated to Ask MeFi.

@Rollo: I'm sure you've seen this funny Flickr prank.

Rollo (#3,202)

Ha! I hadn't seen that. Thanks.

brianvan (#149)

Rollo, that was perfect. Made my day even more.

Ben Kaplan (#7,772)

That's completely depressing.

Dennis Covington (#7,760)

Blah blah blah. Once upon a time people actually published zines instead of whipping out a blog entry.

Some folks just can't stand to see other people having some fun.

Flashman (#418)

I've been getting a little carried away with the tilt-shift 'art filter' on my Olympus too, but sometimes it makes sense:

caw_caw (#5,641)

As much as I loathe the Hipstamatic crap, I'm not sure it's a digital v. film problem as much as a "This picture has been severed from any and all meaning it may have held" because so many pictures on the internet aren't about anything, they aren't part of a larger narrative and they aren't actually serving the purpose of the medium, which is to document either the real or the metaphorical as a way of relating the real.

Cobalt (#7,571)

We now have what I call the "democratization of photography" in that everyone and their grandmother can have a cheap digital camera without having to spend money on film, processing, and prints, and without really having to learn how to use it.

To make up for lack of skill or artistic eye, the side effect is whatever graphics programs or apps someone can use on their photos. These manipulations easily cover technical flaws, and/or make your boring, artless pictures appear interesting. It's more difficult for an untrained photographer to take some good shots than to "Holgafy", "Dianafy", "Tilt-shiftify", and "fish-eye" some passable ones. I figure for most people excessive processing effects are just for fun for a short while, but with the Internet these experiments are almost impossible to avoid.

DMcK (#5,027)

YES. The idea that everyone can and should make art just because the tools are more readily available is hogwash, *harumph*.

HiredGoons (#603)

I would be concerned if I went to facebook looking for legitimate art photos.

I for one am thankful its being contained there.

fabulousrobots (#4,880)

I absolutely agree–this post was really great.

I think many of these photographs–not all, as I have one photog friend in particular who gets great iphone shots–are just not good composition and they're using the effects to make "cool" and "interesting" photos. It doesn't matter what effects you use, that snapshot of your friend drinking in a bar or a show 30 rows back is not going to be a good photograph.

I shoot film on all kinds of cameras and while my photos don't have as much wonky color and sunspots, I think they have a depth to them that cell phone cameras can't capture.

What is up with the obsession with dreamy vintage shots though (mostly on film and nicer digital SLRS)? It's a flickr and blog epidemic!

cherrispryte (#444)

Is it bad that I don't see the value in 95% of photography?

This is part art ignorance, part wanting to experience things, not wanting to experience taking photographs of things.

Kyle Chayka (#7,634)

I once wrote a piece on how semiotics explains the fetishism for the iphone polaroid apps (http://hyperallergic.com/7175/iphone-polaroids/) and I think it basically explains the rest of these trends. The connotation of having the effect itself, vignetting, tilt-shift, etc, becomes cool, and then it's a self-perpetuating copying cycle until the original value or meaning of the effect becomes devalued both in meaning and aesthetic significance.

Jason Schroeder (#7,751)

I went to school for photography and video. If there is one thing that is consistent in the art world, it is the postmodern ire of other artists telling people what is and isn't a valuable medium.

How about talking about the actual content and leave the smug depreciation of subjective art-making behind. It's old.

joeks (#5,805)

Oh, just to clarify though: I absolutely would let the lady in the photo take de-saturated, faux-scratchy pictures of my junk.

Mindpowered (#948)

Flickr – the home of Kenny G. photography.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I've been thinking about this a bit, and the samey photo manipulation filters for the iPhone are really just the latest salvo in Apple's ongoing war against all variety in visual design.

This object against a blank background — why isn't there a feathered reflection underneath it? There's something wrong with your display text — the subtle gray gradient you surely must have put in is too subtle to see. Are those… serifs?! And these buttons don't seem to have any glassy shine to them at all!

I know I shouldn't blame Apple so much as all the wild-eyed design nerds racing to slobber all over Steve Jobs' e-peen, but it bothers me all the same.

Rob Tough (#7,771)

I agree that homogenized visuals aren't desirable, but lets not get hung up on medium and process.You are making general statements, and then supporting them with specific examples that support your generalizations.One could easily do the same in reverse, and find specific examples that refute your generalizations.

If you want to generalize to an end, how about encouraging people to find their own voice,perspective, and look, regardless of the medium.

I have seen just as high a percentage of examples of homogeneity and sameness in hand processed film and in-camera 16mm animation as i have in digital SLR filmmaking or iphone photography.

Some things that used to be special aren't anymore because we have cheap, easy technology to do it with, but it also used to be special to be able to light a fire….

Jeff Blaine (#7,773)

paultron: "Is there a lot of crap images flying around? Sure there are. But what's with the melodrama? Give easy access to "every trick in the book" and what do you expect out of everyone? At heart, this is a weak argument on taste, and late to the digital image vs. analog party by at least 10 years."

If there is one thing that is consistent in the art world, it is the postmodern ire of other artists telling people what is and isn't a valuable medium.

Jason Schroeder: "How about talking about the actual content and leave the smug depreciation of subjective art-making behind. It's old."

Well said on both counts. This post blows.

lol facebook connect

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

(I giggled at 'depreciation,' I have to admit.)

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

And then promptly added my own screwup. Link should have been this.

Glassy Eyes (#7,777)

Photoshop actions and iPhone apps does not a photographer make.
With that said, I don't see anything wrong with digital editing. It's not like there is a magic app or action that all of a sudden makes these dime a dozen, trend following "artists" (and I use that term loosely) any good. It's still a copy of a copy of a copy.
It doesn't make anyone with any actual talent any less talented. It just allows the unimaginative to keep themselves busy following each other in circles. I don't think it harms anyone really.

It is like every other form of art these days…it's ALL gone the way of the Billboard top 100 (I mean just how many times can Katy Perry and the cast of Glee be listed?? Is this what people call music these days? Ugh! I sound like my boyfriend's crotchety old granny…but I digress…)
My point being this: Those who create art will still create and those who appreciate good art will still appreciate good art…just as those who can't or don't care to know the difference…well…won't.

I for one will raise my camera and shout "Let the hipsters have their Lomo/Polaroid/HDR apps."
Doesn't mean I have to buy your P.O.S. prints on Etsy…

ale di gangi (#7,780)

Oh God Almighty, when will we see this horrid purism end?
It has always been the same, generation after generation, innovation after innovation, in all fields: the *new* is scary and is refused – oh yes, it's beautiful stuff but its crap.

It's new, it might possibly, one day, leading to new things – or maybe not. Why not try? Omologation will fade, good pieces will stay, it's a natural process.

Not interested? Not like it? Then turn your attention to something else instead of whining like this.

I do film, I do Polaroid (dad didn't want me to when I was a kid because it was *new* and horribly crappy!), I do digital, I do iPhone. Yes. All of them. Weird, uh?
Do I have any talent? Dunno.
But talent is what makes it, any which way you do it.

Stop complaining and look for talent.

Daniel K. Berman (#7,784)

This article sets up "digital effects" as a strawman. The effects and how they're obtained mean nothing. What matters is that good artists will use them wisely and poor artists won't. We can all spot a hipstamatic shot from a mile away. Anyone who thinks their shot is "better" because of the effects and not because of the subject, lighting, composition etc…isn't really an artist anyway. It's a level playing field – I have a guitar and garage band but I'm a crap musician- my laptop can't change that and it won't help me write a good song anymore than "tilt-shift" effects help my photography.

Gef the Talking Mongoose:

I like your point.

The quote is from David Hockney, painter and proponent of cubism because he believes it captures time, multiple advantages, etc. and therefore actual human experience better than photography.

The original quote, I think, is:

"Photography is alright, if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed cyclops, for a split second."

Daniel Fisher (#7,791)

As with all art, it's subjective.

There is some amazing "iPhoneography" out there and apps such as Hipstmatic can produce gorgeous images.

Processing is a matter of taste, however a boring photo is still a boring photo whether it's shot on a D3x or a camera phone.

June Cross (#7,792)

What can photojournalism learn from trendy digital photography? What can trendy digital photography learn from photojournalism?

Michelle Morgan (#7,793)

Well written article, but lemmie tell you something, kid: obscurity is not superiority. That something is common or popular does not always mean that it's crap.

Digital rocks and so do the toys, even if they are played out. Film is expensive, developing is messy, and mechanical cameras are fussy. I shoot antique range finders, myself.

Here's the deal: a great tool in the hands of an artist is a great tool. The same tool in the hands of the unwashed masses *is still a great tool*.

Cheers. Great article!

daveparker (#7,795)

I have yet to see an HDR photo that I really like. Yea, I get the process, but they pretty much look like crap, or maybe it's just me…

Anders Dahl (#7,797)

With easy tools comes many results. Sure, there is a lot of bad photos, but many good photographers use the new tools well. It's just harder to find the good stuff.

Like everything that have gone digital before photography, it will peak with cheap tools and the people who were not "really" into it will stop using the tools as much and the serious folks will last.

BTW. I don't mind the Hipstamatic app (I have it) but Picture Show is a much better app with more effects.

In short, applying cool effects to bad photos only interest people for so long before they move on. Content is still king.

I like it I definitely shoot digital for monitary and convenience reasons but can not stand over edited pictures. A little saturation some contrast adjusting(to get your levels just right especially if you shoot concerts) and a good eye is all anyone really needs.

Also your phone not a digital camera that should be taken seriously yeah it's great for candid moments but don't edit them and post them online like it's the greatest thing to ever grace the photog world.

Rob Sheridan (#7,798)

You can sum up this article, and many of the snotty, defensive comments from "pro" photographers, with a simple "Get off my lawn, you damned kids!" Any new technology brings new trends with it. To somehow turn that into a tired statement about how it isn't "real" photography if it's digital is ridiculous. A good photo is a good photo, who cares how you arrive at it? And you know what makes it a "good" photo? If the photographer likes it. If it achieved what they wanted it to achieve. If it surprised someone, or elicited an emotion in someone. And if kids and Grandmas can take photos with their PHONES that they really like and want to share with the world, how is that a bad thing? There's so much bitterness amongst many old guard "pro" photogs that their little exclusive club has been invaded by millions of kids with cheap digital cameras and stolen copies of Photoshop. I think this is a great thing. There's more art, more creativity out there than there's ever been, and high school kids don't need thousands of dollars of equipment to participate. Instead of complaining that it's too easy now, why don't you embrace every tool available to you and see it as a challenge to take better photos?

MG (#7,857)

Rob Sheridan and several of the posts after nailed it.

I work in technology and see this kind of thing happen all the time. A certain portion of people find some "rare" set of tools and hinge their value off them. Suddenly technology changes and provides those "rare" tools to the masses. The people that freak out about it are the ones who had no other value to add to their craft. This always amazes me when it happens to art though. True artists wield their tools in a way that the majority cannot. Mosts artists are constantly innovating and finding new tools. What then is the problem of the masses having the same tool as you?

A few things I would like to point out on this article:

"It's like saying I'm a cook because I mix and match TV dinners." I don't think the people you are attacking ARE calling themselves pro photographers. They are just having fun. I have seen several true artists use the same iPhone apps that amateurs are using. There is still an obvious difference in the end result. Access to specific tools does not make an artist.

"It means every picture and every video looks the same." So? This should make it easier for you to stand out as an artist then.

"The good news, or at least the retrograde news, is that there are Flickr groups like Cross Processing-FILM ONLY, of all-analog photography. And the always-active I Shoot Film and Film is not Dead!!." This kind of solidifies what I am seeing here. Film is just a tool that is less common. This is "good news"… why? The tool does not make the art! Film has plenty of advantages and disadvantages. If a film camera came with every iPhone you would probably be pissed about film too. Stop latching to scarce tools to define your art.

Michael Bird (#7,800)

I find it preposterous that a media as young as photography already has fundamentalist dogma. Really, get over yourselves. It was a half-hour ago painters were telling you what you do is science and not art. Your media is changing, growing, and surviving. I wonder if the first tetrapods had a school of old fish swimming next to the shore, whining, "You kids and your legs and walking. What next?" Back when I was in art school, it seems it was always the most insecure students who insisted they could define what was and wasn't art. I see you've not changed a whit.

quo55 (#7,803)

I wholeheartedly agree with the last two posters. People really need to get over themselves. I am a professional photographer and I use my iPhone all the time to take photos. Hipstamatic and Plastic Bullet are FUN. I'm not publishing these photos, but it's great to have a fun point and shoot that I always always have on me. It keeps me taking photos even with I don't have my professional camera on me. Why deny this to the public? Photography isn't an exclusive club, and if you are good at it, you can get good shots from a disposable camera. It's a pretty unattractive quality to be so threatened and lash out at the changing landscape. Sorry, things change. The world is going digital, and yes, there are good and bad things about this. I also hope that film doesn't go away, because it's an amazing tool and technique. But look around…newspapers and magazines are dying out. The landscape is changing and you can either adapt and accept it, or be left behind. Work on your Photoshop skills. Retouching is an amazing art form in itself. And don't worry, Grandma isn't going to take your job with a Hipstamatic photo. She just wants something cool to put on Facebook.

cgliberio (#7,817)

the matter is not the use of applied effects per se, but people thinking that just because they are applying an effect, they are actually 'making great shots'. In programmed digital effects all the aesthetical choices were already made by the programmer, the only thing left to the user is to choose from pre-stablished options – that's not at all equal to artistical liberty. Applied filters in apps such as iphone create indeed a padronization. But that doesn't mean that there can't be any king of originality in digital editing, or that an edited photograph doesn't qualify as photography or even that digital is worse than film. This kind thinking tends to ignore that all photography is discourse, even if it is a visual discourse.

lawyergay (#220)

I took photography in college from the inimitable Lois Conner, a truly remorseless critic and brilliant artist. She kicked the shit out of us in the darkroom and then tore our photographs to shreds during critiques, and to this day I still love her and her work. This in the early 1990s, pretty much before digital cameras.

But I'm no luddite. There's a difference between shitty, "artsy" photographs and truly beautiful photographs that are art. That difference, as always, lies in the aesthetics (and in the case of photography, the technical skills) of the person who creates them. That hasn't changed. And won't. Ever.

Photoworks SF (#7,849)

Hipstamatic..cool or lame??
6 07 2010

Talk about conflicted. I'm browsing through facebook the other day and see some photos from an old friend (aquaintence), and I see all these trippy looking shots. But wait, this dude doesn't have a creative bone in his body, so what gives? I doubt my old friend has taken a darkroom class. Could it be that my long lost pal from Orange County has been turned on to the holga culture? Nope. He's found hipstamatic and he has become, well…."hip." Is this a good thing, or do you somehow need to earn the right to this level of creativity? Is it sacrilege to use a digital facsimile to imitate a 1960′s look? I do it to some extent in my shop when we apply a sloppy border mask via photoshop.

When I first saw hipstamatic or "losermatic" as I heard someone say, I thought, man this is genius. I know we all wish we would have thought it up ourselves, but it pains us because it's one more cool thing gone mainstream. I guess this reminds me of how I felt when I heard Nick Drake playing in a VW commercial. I wanted to puke because my beloved tortured folk singer was now stuck between sports and weather on the 6 o'clock news. So, if my 16 year old niece buys the Blackkeys black and white app and makes her phone shots into something fantastic, does that invalidate every print every made in a darkroom?

I'm the guy who coined the phrase, "my camera is not a phone, and my phone is not a camera." Yet, is there some good that can come from Hipstamatic? Does it matter how we get exposed to coolness? Who needs art school, buy an app. Lot's of questions from me today, so the verdict is….cool or lame?? I'm sayin' lame, but I wish I would have thought it up first!

Carlos Bravo (#7,855)

Some of you really sound like pompous windbags. If the image is good, it is good.

Jay Morthland (#7,870)

I agree with Carlos. It's about the image. What a bunch of Puritans.

Daisy May Rapp (#7,921)

What a bunch of uptight and close minded individuals! Give me a break! Art is art is art is art, regardless of tool or technique or vision. Get over yourselves!

Lucash21158 (#248,187)

@Daisy May Rapp Thank you! Well said.

Derry Wootton (#7,940)

If Eric Spiegelman really does long for the ghost of Walker Evans to clout him then his esteem issues clearly run deeper than the fact that he owns an iPhone.

There's no need for camera snobbery. Pictures are pictures. If you like them, fine. If you don't, fine. No-one called Lee Miller (or Man Ray) a hipster douche for rediscovering solarisation. Digital or film (and I prefer film) it really doesn't matter. Just take photos, maaaaaaaaan.

Chatineux, Jean (#7,988)

yep for purist sharp, bokeh and 5K$ photogs these images must look and feel like throbbing sores. For the enterprising (young) photog wanting to achieve/explore different things within imaging smartphone photography is the way to go.
might not be art for some, but they are a heck more interesting to look at as a bunch of sharp ducks against a blurred background and other similarly boring images one can see on 99% of the internet photo and image forums.
It's new…. it will probably pass quickly for most users, the artistic ones will continue to provide us with nice imagery. As for art …. well I think it is…. but lets try to define art prior to shouting asbout that this isn't it …. art I mean.

I like it and hope it thrives. I use it and I hope I will develop further. As we speak I'm trying to print them, some work really well, other not so. I tend to stick to squares 10 to 15 cm Some images allow 15 cmm others max out at 10, but when and if framed nicely they look good …..

I´m 40. I used to use real old Lomo cameras, russian lenses and film until 15 years ago. I used to develop painfully all nights long in the darkroom.
And after that time everybody started to make bland boring feelingless semi-sharp shit crappy soapbox photos, with shitty mainstream cameras. Photography was DEAD – boring lousy reality ruled.
And NOW FINALLY people started to make alive-looking pictures again! Ok, they are faux (without the pointless pain in darkroom), but they look OK again, after so many years.

And I hope people stop counting pixels, shit-sharpness and crap like that – and make blurry, twisted emotional pictures again.

Amen, I have said my point.

TimChuma (#9,158)

Click bait! A little dab'll do ya! Click bait! You'll look so debonair! Click bait! The girls will persue ya! Simply dab a little on your hair!

Meh. None of my photos are too pretty, do you want to see the one of the roast chicken at the punk gig or the canteloupe?

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