I have an aversion to photo manipulators, as I have to plagiarism, pirated books and lifted tunes.
For one, second hand ‘creativity’, like false claims, rankles my originator’s spirit. I seek out second-hand only on footpath bookstalls. Successfully haggling for dog-eared volumes and yellow unsold little-read titles tickles me. Besides the obvious pleasures of reading, these acquisitions give me somewhat of the altruistic satisfaction of bringing a vagrant home and watching him devour a hearty meal. Sheltering old hands is a pet joy.
Slowing past auctioneers’ windows and restoration workshops, aware I can’t afford the beauties, I admire them nonetheless. An items’ antiquity belies any critiquing the chronology of its ownership.
Creative work, on the other hand, demands a strictly credible parentage.
If not original, it will not pass muster with me.
Several recent encounters left me chagrined at this plethora of borrowed geniuses.
A profile picture on Facebook made me freeze then rapidly blink. The tonal difference in the image’s fore- versus background left little doubt about its copy-paste birth. To his credit, the account owner readily admitted that he has ‘borrowed’ a high-altitude backdrop for a snapshot of himself with his vehicle – “a copyright free web download”, he announced, “for the purpose of this image”.
It is this sense of aesthetics that I found problematic.
Till a couple decades ago in India, photography studios would have garishly painted landscapes in front of which generations of coy newlyweds (or long suffering ones), secret lovers, school going best friends and the largest number of relatives possible to fit into the hapless cameraman’s widest-angled frame gave pose to have their communion documented. This commercial milieu of photography has its well-acknowledged time and place.
It was commonplace to see Dutch tulip gardens, of the chirpiest unnatural hues, beside the Taj Mahal on these screens, an azure sky dip over stark red bamboo bridges of the painter’s wildest imagination.
The danger of similar unbridled enthusiasm in today’s digital era is the random and uncontrollable reach of intellectual property rights violation, creative theft and an alarming lacuna of unique ideas. It is easy, in terms of time and effort, to construct inspired artwork. But a comfortable and casual approval of such visions would be denying the frenzied passion-riddled blood-and-sweat nature inherent in the creative process…and devaluing the innovator’s stamp.
I might find my neighbour’s toilet bowl attractive and a perfect match to the décor of my house – would that be sufficient reason to yank it off its present plumbing?
The second photographer, an established professional with several exhibitions to his credit, released a slew of his recent captures, again on Facebook. The extreme saturation and colour processing left my eyes sore. I appreciated the perspectives. His point of view was commendably new, which is why his need to forcibly embellish them left me puzzled. I could swear the morning sky wasn’t as murky and the stones that dark, mainly because I had been present on that terrain myself that very day.
If both these photographers had not been brilliantly gifted, I might have ignored their tendencies as an amateur’s zeal. But their talent made it impossible for me to forgive this breach.
“An artist shows to the world what he sees” a friend remarked in an entirely different context. For a visual art like photography, I think this entails the authenticity of portrayal. Perhaps I’m a finicky purist in my criticism but in today’s technology driven day, when distortion is conveniently achieved, I sadly find the delightful aspects of old school photography are being more and more neglected in favour of machine-induced gimmick. This art is too staged for me to consider worth emulating or lauding.
Call it graphic art, I would have no problem accepting it as that. Nor appreciating it from that viewpoint.
But to call it photography seriously challenges my usually flexible borderland of honesty.