Discussion with local photographer about role of reality in photography

From: Hettinger, Edwin C [mailto:HettingerN@cofc.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 12:19 PM
To: John Moore
Subject: RE: I ever show you this?

Out of all the photos you sent this was the one that worried me the most (see attached)

From: John Moore [mailto:jmoore@4seinc.com]
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 2:24 PM
To: Hettinger, Edwin C
Subject: RE: I ever show you this?

That particular one was the one most people liked the best.

It was an image with a huge contrast. It turned out looking like my eyes saw it…..dark forest, with the last rays of sun raking through the woods. You could see fine the details in the shadows (almost all shadow), and you could see fine the details in the sunlit portions. It is a real scene………..cooked, yes, to make it come out right, because even camera sensors can’t handle extreme contrast like our eyes can.

From: Hettinger, Edwin C [mailto:HettingerN@cofc.edu]
Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2015 7:40 PM
To: 'John Moore'
Subject: RE: I ever show you this?

Okay, so “cooking” might be in the interests of reality, rather than unreality. 

I was taking cooking to be taking a reality and making it more of a reality.

So do you think the most legitimate aim of nature photography is to get a photography that looks most like what the viewer saw? 

From: John Moore [mailto:jmoore@4seinc.com]
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2015 2:57 PM
To: Hettinger, Edwin C
Subject: RE: I ever show you this?


Cooking has to be done to almost any photograph in order for it to accurately depict reality. No camera or film or computer screen is perfect and every camera, film and computer screen is different. However depicting reality accurately is not always what the goal is.

If you consider nature photography an art form, which I do, then the most legitimate aim of a nature photographer would be to express their vision…… what they saw through their eyes (and different pairs of eyes and different brains see things differently) and ultimately to try and communicate to the viewer what the photographer experienced in that moment. If that means grossly deviating from ‘reality’, then so be it (Ansel Adam’s black and white photographs deviated from reality a good bit)………….however in color photography, as opposed to Adam’s black and white, deviating grossly from reality (cooking too much or sometimes actually too little) throws most people’s brain for a loop. Black and white gets away with it easily because the subtraction of color is a huge deviation right off the bat that throws the form automatically into an abstract art form). Blah, blah, blah.

There are a lot of nature photographers who work in color out there that overcook their images (I don’t….and I don’t think anyone would say I do). You see them all the time, and your brain just tells you it’s not right. BUT, watch out, it could have really happened that way……………..do you like it, then embrace it, if you don’t, dismiss it.

As you know, no subject is black and white! Ha!

From: Hettinger, Edwin C [mailto:HettingerN@cofc.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 2:07 PM
To: John Moore
Subject: RE: I ever show you this?


Very helpful. And thoughtful. Worth a long discussion.

When you see some nature photography that is over-cooked, send it my way. 

Your point about nature photography being art is valid/important, but if that means that a photo artist can manipulate his/her image to express whatever vision she or he has, then that makes me wonder how photography is supposed to be different from painting.  

I wonder if all the ideas below are consistent: “Embrace one’s vision,” “don’t deviate too much from reality,” “if you like it embrace it” (no matter how cooked?). 

Does this help? If photography is supposed to be representational, then it should stay close to (as close as possible to?) the reality. If it is to be abstract, then let it go wherever. 

Seems like a tension between staying close to reality and embracing the artist’s “vision.” Can the artists vision put stuff there that is not? Like an image of a tiger or moon, that was not there? Might have been her “vision.”

Sometime it might be useful to work through some of these ideas in front of photos that illustrate the points…..

Maybe when I teach Aesthetics next fall you can come in and talk about this stuff….


From: John

To: Ned

I should have thought more about what I was saying. That was off the top of my head, and I’m sure, as you found out, there are many holes in it.

You are right…………there is very much a tension between staying close to reality and having an aesthetic ‘vision’. I guess what is the right ‘aesthetic’ now comes into question.

I think there is a lot of ‘popular literature’ on this subject. It would be interesting to see if any actual research has been done examining the role of reality in photographs.