Purity & Avedon

At what point in the editing process does a photography become unreal and impure?
This is a question that often crosses my mind – my retouches aren’t subtle.

Upon pondering the issue, a more fundamental debate arises: What is the definition of “real” anyways? Where do we draw the line of purity?

Here’s my take: photography is a method of recreating a vision. Much like our memories, it is never “perfect.” In fact, concepts such as perfect, real, or pure cannot exist, simply because the moment a shutter is released, light – the essence – is altered by variables both dependent & independent of a photographer’s will: the aperture, focal length, exposure, film, sensor, automatic adjustments made by the camera, etc. By the time an image is recorded, it is no longer “real.”

Hence photographs are but merely products of a photographer’s intent of expression. There is no point in pursuing purity. Editing should be done as much as deemed necessary in order to communicate the ideas of the artist. No more, no less.

Interestingly, Chase Jarvis writes in “Purists Beware“:

I just recently overheard a self-described “purist” photographer ranting on about how we’re all cheaters and that the photographic masters before us lacked our current luxury–even desire–to “customize” (read: manipulate/photoshop) images. It was “…all about the the composition, a beautiful subject, and a properly exposed picture”.
I call horse-pucky.
[Below]: Avedon’s instructions to his printer.

Composition, yes. Beautiful subject, questionable. Proper exposure, hopefully. Post-editing, most definitely.

* * *

On another note regarding Richard Avedon, I’ve come across his work with Dovima in “Dovima with Elephants” via Iconic Photos, as well as a colored rendition by Magduszka.

Dovima with Elephants - Richard Avedon, 1955 (Evening Gown by YSL for Christian Dior)

Dovima with Elephants - Richard Avedon, 1955 (Coloured Rendition by Magduszka, 2010)

My initial impression was of awe at the reproductive ability of colours. It resembled the centerpiece of a wax museum.

Though I soon realized that whatever beauty in colour Magduszka’s rendition gains, it looses by drawing attention away from the main subject Dovima. Avedon’s original retains the thunderous momentum of the elephants, yet Dovima, in her sharp evening gown, stands motionless, effortless, her existence as powerful as the beasts behind.

This critical balance, I feel, is lost by Magduszka.

Dovima with Elephants (White) - Richard Avedon, 1955

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