Who are we to say?

Who are we to say what is and is not photography?

There was once a thread in an online forum asking the question: “Has digital technology shaped the aesthetics of photography?”  Not surprisingly, given the grumpy demographics of that particular forum, the general consensus was “no”.  A few suggested, or even insisted, that aesthetics do not change.  Fortunately, a few people were more realistic and one individual was succinct enough to say: “How could it not?”

How could it not, indeed?  Or, for that matter, how could just the passage of time, with or without digital technology, have not changed the aesthetics of photography?  Tastes change.  Visual language evolves.  Even in the sainted black and white film era, photographs from the 19th Century do not look like those from the 20th.  Photos from the 1920s do not look like those from the 1960s.

There are many photographers who are stuck in their own vision/methodology (or their version of someone else’s vision/methodology), and some of the more militant even feel and will state out loud with little or no provocation that anything outside that method is not “real” photography.  Sorry.  I respectfully disagree.  If one is open and looks, one will discover artists making very creative work with all types of photographic media.  It is happening faster, and with more variety than ever before.

In 2018, the Texas Photographic Society sponsored a student exhibition.  The show was juried by Kenda North, Professor of Photography at the University of Texas, Arlington.  The works shown covered quite the spectrum of aesthetics, media, and genre; but were generally very compelling and interesting.  I was struck by Ms. North’s remarks.  I quote them here, as I could not have “said it better myself”:

“The work submitted to this competition proves that the definition of ‘photography’ has broadened considerably in contemporary use.  There is a tremendous diversity of technique and materials as well as stylistic applications.  My selections are intended to honor this diversity.  There are examples of straight photographic representation, both analogue and digital, as well as creative uses of montage, abstraction, staged images and technology.  …”

Any one of us is free to make whatever photographs we wish.  We are free to define our own photography however we wish.  But please, we must acknowledge that our way may not be the only way.