In an Instagram world Is there a place for Pure Photography?
There's a saying that goes something like 'Money don't by taste' which is true. Living in Miami for 5 years I can speak to the truth that money does not buy taste and that good taste is available to anyone willing to put in the time.
Similar to photography, good taste is classic. Good photography today is good photography tomorrow. The less images are messed with in post the better the image will age. Just look at any work, including mine, around 2005 to 2011 when the hyper retouched look was popular. The look of a heavily manipulated image just don't age that well.
Compare Pure or Straight photography vs Pictorialism and you'll see what I mean. The Pure photography is honest and real which never goes out of style. Pictorialism on the other hand, while interesting, strongly shows it's age over time.
Take for instance these portraits I created in 2011 of musical act Afrobeta. There's very little here to say it's even a photograph and it's already showing signs of age.
Now compare to this shot of the Love Me Nots in which there was very little manipulation yet was made in 2007.
I could see how in the above example one could argue that the image is neither Pure nor Pictorialism. The photo of the Love Me Nots was staged in a studio, lit to look a certain way and captured with a digital camera all in the effort to sell more magazines. With the ability to endlessly manipulate an image, digital technology forever changed how we create photography but can such technology be used to create Pure Photography?
In my latest series of work I explore the idea that it is possible to create Pure or Straight photography in camera. Pure or Straight photography goes back to the early 1900's with the idea that photographers will capture photos with the characteristics unique to the photographic medium while embracing minimal darkroom manipulation techniques. How I translate Pure photography of the early 1900's to today is to capture everything to the best of my ability in-camera and use a minimal amount of post work as possible. This meant that although I will use some post processing with raw files I'm doing the majority of the work in camera. To keep things as simple and as 'pure' as possible I've only been shooting in monochrome and with one or two main lenses. In addition when it makes sense I've been processing the raw files in-camera as well.
My setup has been mainly with the Lumix GX8 and Mitakon Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95 which is a combo that stole my heart. The Speedmaster by ZY Optics is a very fast yet small standard lens for the Micro 4/3 system. It's a very small lens and yet gathers a ton of light with a maximum aperture of f/0.95. Made of metal and glass and without any electronic contacts, the Speedmaster feels vintage right out of the box. It's not too sharp wide open and it vignettes a bit but I don't see that as a bad thing at all. Rather, I see the range of sharpness and light falloff as the characteristics of the lens. Using the Speedmaster with the Lumix GX8 is a wonderful combo. I have the GX8 set to use my custom monochrome settings which I designed to enhance the grain when possible yet keep a nice amount of dynamic range too. There's something about the images that look so film-like yet modern with this combo of camera and lens that it just felt right the instant I tried it out.
Since October of last year I've been processing all raw files in camera. I find that although my JPEG settings often do the job sometimes I want to tweak them just a bit and that's where raw+jpeg with in-camera raw processing comes into play. If the image looks amazing either at the time of capture or after processing the raw in camera I'm done. Then it's just a matter of either using the built in wifi or the Apple SD card reader to my iOS device and the image is ready to share. I don't keep the raw files since what I have is exactly what I need and quite frankly everything goes onto Instagram with the expectations of a three day lifespan anyways. I wonder what Paul Strand or Edward Weston would have to say about that.
My approach of minimal capture and post in the pursuit of Pure photography has been a transformational experience. It's not perfect and that's part of the reason why I love it. Pure photography in a digital, social media world might not seem a fit but it is. In a world where even the most important works get overshadowed by a celeb selfie having created work that's honest and real is a breath of fresh air.