I created an experiment to explore the question: can you hand a person with no photography experience an expensive camera and have them create images on par with those of a professional photographer shooting under the same circumstances?
After conducting a few experiments, actually after the first shoot, the answer became obvious to me – no. In fact, not only can an amateur not produce images on par with a professional photographer shooting in automatic mode, a photographer given the constraints of this experiment could not produce images on par with the images they normally create. The results of this experiment are not what I want to focus on, however.
What I found most fascinating about this experiment was how the subjects, the amateur photographers with no photography experience, handled the camera. Surprisingly, these individuals never experimented with the camera. They never took it off of automatic mode. Why?
A partial explanation may be that as technology progresses the inner workings of machines become more hidden and secret; people lose touch with how machines actually work because they no longer need to program them, change their parts, etc. Since we no longer know how the machines work, machines become more and more infallible.
When people think of photography, they often think of pictures in a magazine. While they are aware those images are “photoshopped,” they are never presented with the beginning image. Since they do not know the limits of the technology, they may assume any image flaws can be fixed in Photoshop.
To me the problems we face today and why we face them are encapsulated in this experiment. We have switched from a mindset in which we could fix anything and everything by tinkering with the problems, working together, etc. to the modern mindset of we can come up with better machines to fix the problem or the machines we have will fix the problem. We no longer have agency; we no longer have to face our problems.
So is digital photography cheating? Yes, digital photography, and technology in general, is cheating – we are cheating ourselves of our full potential.
– Payam Emrani
To see the images referenced by Emrani in this essay and participate in the survey, visit http://fameinacan.com/Duke/survey.xhtml.
Why is it that a realistic painting of a beautiful tree with the light falling on it just the right way can be viewed as an artistic masterpiece, but a spectacular photo of the same tree is less likely to be viewed as art? I suspect that there are a few reasons; first, the prevalence of digital cameras makes it hard for people to appreciate the skill involved with taking great photos. Another reason is that we often view technology as a systematic, deterministic tool with little room for human intervention and creativity. Finally, there is the question of effort – if it only takes a few seconds to push a button, always with the option of cropping or tweaking the color composition later – is the process too easy to be considered “art?”
– Dan Ariely