Here follows a conversation about straight photography that appeared in 2002 on the PhotoHist internet list.
These comments are Copyrighted by the respective writers.

Triple Scotch, straight up, easy on the glass. (Gene Smith [quoted by Jim Hughes])
The world is full of sloppy bohemians and their work betrays them. (Edw Weston)
Si tu fais des images, ne parle pas, n'écris pas, ne t'analyse pas, ne réponds à aucune question. (Robert Doisneau)
[if you take photos, don't speak, don't write, don't analyze yourself, and don't answer any questions.]

From: Robert Hirsch <>
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 10:43:06 -0400

Hi David:

I saw the homepage for Fixing Shadows says:

"We are concerned with photographs of historic interest and with
contemporary straight photography in general."

In light of the quotes by Eugene Smith and Robert Doisneau, I would be interested in learning how you define straight photography. Also, how would you define the opposite of straight photography, which I will leave it to you to label?



From: "J. David Sapir" <>
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 13:33:17 +0000


I think I will duck and weave. I started with "unmanipulated" photography - which to me meant what happened twixt the lens and the finished print - However when I posted Carol Hudson's dead bird still lifes - dead birds arranged in various ways, someone connected with a photojournalist list started making a rumpus - unmanipulated to him and others had to do with what was in front of the lens. Also, of course, there are all those stories about Gene Smith fixing things up - manipulating like mad - the saw inserted in the lower right corner of the LIFE cover of Schweitzer - and the way he tampered the mourner's eye in the Spanish village - to make it look as though she was not looking at the camera. ETC and so forth. So here was the number one Photojournalist doing tricks. And then there is the famous thumb in Lange's Migrant Mother. And of course the Gardner/O'Sullivan Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter. Etc. and so forth.

So I changed to "straight photography" which as far as I was concerned boiled down to the world of photography bookended by Weston and Weegee --- That is, the kind of photography I like. No splotchers for me. I kept that stance until I became a big fan of Gertrude Kasebier and here I have Nell Dorr on the site (because a student's mother was the best friend of Dorr's daughter and Dorr was a family friend). Thus the site (Fixing Shadows) is devoted to straight (twixt Weegee and Weston) photography except when it is not. And I'll leave definitions to James Murray. (When it comes to photography I do not want to be "caught in a web of words.")


From: Robert Hirsch <>
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 15:35:56 -0400

Robert Hirsch


Thanks for explaining that "Fixing Shadows is devoted to straight (twixt Weegee and Weston) photography except when it is not." I don't have a problem with that as I believe there are many forms of photographic reality that can be both pre- and post-visualized. I was curious as I have been thinking about the different ways "truth" can be portrayed for an article about what I currently call the handmade photographic reality.


From: Peter Hamilton <>
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 15:47:13 +0100  

Dear All I wondered if the reference to 'straight photography' on this excellent website was a trap expressly designed for the unwary. As far as my knowledge of all three photographers whose quotes are used is concerned, straight did not mean unmanipulated, whatever we take that word to signify in photography.

Doisneau, whose work I know best amongst these three, made many pictures that were mises-en-scènes, the famous Baiser de l'Hôtel de ville (1950) among them. He also made a significant number of collages and montages, and other forms of 'manipulations' such as double exposures and even played around with Speed Graphics modified so as to create such images as the 'wavy Eiffel Tower'. A significant number of his books contain one or other form of 'manipulated' image, or photograph that has been 'played with' in some way. Indeed, to say that Doisneau was 'playing' with photography is almost the best way of defining his work, as I argued in his biography. et Doisneau would also have known precisely what I think we understand by 'straight photography', and it is perhaps more of a feeling, an approach, than a hard and fast discipline or even moral certitude about making a particular type of photograph. He always said that it is not a good idea to think of photographs as dry and unemotional records. Manipulated images can transmit a certain feeling or truth - one has only to think of John Heartfield. And despite its fabricated nature, even the Baiser offers some insight about life in Paris c. 1950, whether made with models or not. At the same time, I am certain that he felt strongly that some images that were witnesses to a historical or socially important moment could only be made by a photographer who made sure he/she was in the right place at the right time. I think that he valued most the pictures he had made while operating 'sur le vif', those moments when he had captured an image that encapsulated the person, place or event that he was interested in. To be a gifted manipulator does not preclude, it seems to me, a desire to make images that perfectly express, via the imperfections of photography, some lesser or greater truth about what has been photographed. This could be done with humour, as easily as it might be done with serious intent.

Perhaps, as Robert Hirsch suggests, "straight" photography may not have an opposite at all. It is part of a form of curiosity about the world and how it appears via the process of photography, that can appear in a wide range of forms.



Peter Hamilton
6 Bardwell Road
Oxford OX2 6SW
T: 01865 310875
F: 01865 556358

From: Robert Hirsch <>
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 11:53:09 -0400

Robert Hirsch

I agree with Peter Hamilton's statement that:

"To be a gifted manipulator does not preclude, it seems to me, a desire to make images that perfectly express, via the imperfections of photography, some lesser or greater truth about what has been photographed. This could be done with humour, as easily as it might be done with serious intent."

It makes me think about the way we categorize how photographers operate and the accompanying cultural associations these labels bring. I would like to find new terminology that more accurately reflects the values of photographers who subjectively interact with their subject, whether it is before and/or after the moment of exposure. One that confers legitimacy on this way of making pictures and is not burdened by the negative connotations that manipulated or altered can infer. Any thoughts or suggestions?

From: "J. David Sapir" <>
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 23:17:44 -0700

First of all I hope everyone on this list knows about Peter's marvelous book about Doisneau... Robert Doisneau, A photographer's life. (Abbeville Press). Long, loving, interesting and Heavy (though not quite as heavy as the Frizot book)

I do not think I was setting a trap. I was merely looking for a word. This is a topic worth reflecting on at some length .. with respect to specific images and not as some kind of theoretical jabber.

Let the list reflect on three photographs:

The Baiser de l'Hotel de ville that Peter mentions. The Home of a Rebel Sharp Shooter of Gardner/O'Sullivan

and finally

Ruth Orkin's An American in Italy ... The American girl being leered at by Italian male bystanders.

Each one of these is a put on, but each one carries a truth.

The Gardner/O'Sullivan photo was "arranged" as the Civil War buffs have shown (the corpse appeared in another photo and the rifle was Union and not Confederate). The photo is probably the most powerful photo from the Civil War. It is certainly the best known today. But consider. Gardner and O'Sullivan lived through to horror of the war ... could not their construction at Gettysburg (I think that is the place) sum up their experience in a single (constructed) shot in ways that as is "straight" photos could not? [people talk about the austerity of O'Sullivan Western photos. Could not his experiences in the Civil War have something to do with that quality not found in Jackson, Hillers or the others?]

I know enough of Paris and its world to affirm the truth of the Baiser shot. Public displays of affection are a matter of record, not Anglo imagination. The Baiser photo, which was sort of constructed (actors, not spontaneous), again summarizes the state of affairs in ways that many à la sauvette photos do not. That photo was a LIFE assignment for the Speaking of Pictures series. Peter DID NOT give the exact reference to the exact issue and I went wild trying to find it!! but I eventually did. That shot became THE shot for the set (though orginally it was just one of the lot).

The story behind the Orkin shot can be found on her web site (put up by her children, I believe). Ruth and friend are in Florence (or was it Rome?) Ruth, through experience, had an idea ... Italian Men and their thing about American women. Anyway, in walking along Ruth saw the marvelous curve of the curb stone and the cluster of men. This was the SHOT to make. The chap sitting of the Vespa knew some English and Ruth explained what she wanted. The guys were more than happy to oblige. The up shot? Well ask any American female who by herself has roamed the streets of urban (big urban) Italy. Moral: If you are a single American by yourself in Italy you had better know Italian, not just pronto and ciao ... but Italian. Ruth 's photo tells it all.


From: "Wm. B. Becker" <> Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 04:06:04 -0400  

I had a few thoughts on "Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter" in my essay in "Photography's Beginnings: A Visual History" (1989):

The temptation today is to separate photographs according to the motivations behind them: those taken for the purposes of creative expression are to be considered "Art" and those taken for other reasons are designated "documentary" works. This dichotomy may be useful when considering recent photographs but it is ill-suited to earlier images. In many cases, of course, the sub-texts which might explain a photographer's motivations are no longer available. But perhaps a more important objection is that this emphasis on artistic intent is a modern construct. To the nineteenth-century mind, there was artistic beauty in the accurate delineation of reality and, conversely, even the most "documentary" of subjects were fair game for creative meddling. Thus Alexander Gardner's "Photographic Sketch Book of the (Civil) War," aside from its artistic-sounding title, exhibits a highly pictorial style: for one photograph, Gardner went so far as to move a soldier's body to a place that suited his compositional aims. ....
I hope Prof Sapir will reconsider ascribing the information on "Rebel Sharpshooter" to "Civil War buffs," and presume he did not intend to slight the historian William A. Frassanito, whose carefully-documented research in the book "Gettysburg: A Journey in Time" (New York, Charles Scribners Sons, 1975) revealed this information and much more. Frassanito's work is a model of scholarship-- something in perilously short supply in our field.

Bill Becker

From: J. David Sapir <>
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002

Bill, Living in central Virginia I would never use "Civil War Buffs" pejoratively. I use Frassanito's Antietam book when I cover Gardner and Civil War photography. David

From: Peter Hamilton <>
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 12:19:25 +0100

David Sapir's very interesting (and flattering) response to my earlier e-mail allows me space here to apologise to readers for not citing in my book, the necessary chapter and verse on the precise date of the LIFE article, "Speaking of pictures", where the Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville first appeared in print. Although I had Doisneau's tear sheets to work with, the date was not marked on them, and I had to find a complete run of LIFE for 1950 before I could locate it - (June 12th 1950 - the cover is a portrait of Hopalong Cassidy - and the article runs pages 16-18). For some reason this vital info did not make it into print!

As I have remarked in a number of places, the Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville was not given great prominence by LIFE at the time (it is on top left of p17). Its 'life' as an iconic photo did not really begin until the 1980s, when Doisneau's work was rediscovered by the postwar generation. It appeared for the first time in one of his books in Trois secondes d'éternité, published by Contrejour, Paris in 1979. It then took on a new existence in postcards and posters, until it could be found throughout the world in bootleg form, and in merchandising such as duvet covers!

The French humanists such as Doisneau had a particular view of 'straight' photography, and in most cases it did not extend to mises-en-scènes, which were seen as a gentle form of 'cheating'. When I curated a show on Doisneau's compatriot Willy Ronis in 1995, he made a point of writing in his preface to the catalogue that we put together that, although occasionally he had been obliged to construct mises-en-scènes for a reportage assignment, only seven of the 250 or so images displayed in the exhibition could be defined as such - the rest were 'from life'. Indeed he emphasised that he had always sought to photograph "what is most typical of our daily life" - and I feel that this may be one way of getting towards a loose definition of what many people mean by 'straight' photography. (If I may be permitted to refer to some other publications here, this quote will be found in my Willy Ronis: Photographs 1926-1995, Oxford, Museum of Modern Art, 1995 which contains a substantial essay. A more general discussion of the French humanist perspective, that includes a much larger group in whom Cartier-Bresson, René-Jacques and others figure as key exponents of a distinctive photographic paradigm, will be found in an article for French Literature Series, vol xxviii, 2001, "A poetry of the streets?" Documenting Frenchness in an era of reconstruction: Humanist photography 1935-1960. ) I'm working on a major exhibition about the French humanist movement which will explore these themes in greater depth.

Peter Hamilton
6 Bardwell Road
Oxford OX2 6SW
T: 01865 310875
F: 01865 556358

From: Robert Hirsch <>
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 08:36:37 -0400

Robert Hirsch

I would like to bring a few other ideas about "truth" into play by adding a few other photographers to reflect on:

Jerry Uelsmann

Adam Fuss

Vik Muniz

From: Rob McElroy <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 13:23:33 -0400  

This is a fascinating topic. Being a photographer by trade with 20+ years experience as a photojournalist, commercial/advertising photographer, "art" photographer, and photo historian, I have discussed this topic with many different groups of photo "enthusiasts" (for lack of a better word) -- and each group of people seem to have a different idea on what "straight" photography is, each based on their own set of values and criteria. As a photojournalist, you are taught never to "set up" a photograph because you (and your camera) are only supposed to be a witness to an event, and a silent witness at that. The overriding principle is not supposed to be the creation of an artistic, dramatic, all-telling, daringly-composed image (which all photo editors want) -- but a reflection of the "truth." If you happen to have the creative ability to be in the right place at the right time and to effectively combine all of the aforementioned elements into a photograph that can emotionally move the viewer while telling the truth -- you will have succeeded in doing what few photojournalists can do on a regular basis. In other words, you will have produced a compelling, informative, and often beautiful image that tells the truth -- with no set-up, manipulation of the environment, interaction with the subjects, or manipulation of the image after it was taken. In my opinion, this would be the purest form of "straight" photography, and you are either good at it or you are not. The more a photographer has to interject his skills-of-manipulation on the image (or subject) -- the less the image can be classified as "straight photography."

It all seems to be a matter of degree, depending upon which discipline of photography you are referring to. Does the final photograph tell the truth, is a question I often ask and often we (the viewer) will never know, because we weren't there. But this truth question mostly relates to what was before the camera when the shutter was tripped. Does the photograph tell the pure unmanipulated, undoctored, unretouched, unposed truth about its subject, or did the photographer use his skills-of-manipulation to improve the image either before, during, or after the image was taken? On the other hand, does it really matter if the subject and/or his environment, or the final image, was manipulated in some manner, if the end result is successful? If the photographer has interjected some amount of manipulation into his image, does that now declassify his image from the "straight photography" category? Is this category even a useful construct? I think not, because it is too fraught with ambiguity and is not universally defined. Even if there was a useful definition, I can't see as it would provide much help in the discussion of the history of photography. Our need to put photographers and images into categories often seems so unnecessarily confusing. Let the image stand alone, without classification, to be judged by all who view it, in their own way, with their own set of values and criteria.

I have many more thoughts on this subject, but I will stop for now.

Rob McElroy
Buffalo, NY
-who likes not to be classified

From: Gary Saretzky <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 13:40:38 -0400  

Perhaps "straight" has more to do with photographers who want to create an illusion of an unmanipulated image than with the techniques that they use. All photography involves various types of manipulation to some degree, including when to take the picture, framing, cropping, and sometimes interactions with subjects before exposure, as in the Doisneau example mentioned earlier in this thread. Sometimes the public has gotten upset with photographers when it was learned that some manipulation had occurred in what had appeared to be a "straight" photograph. Examples include Rothstein's steer skull which he moved to a more desert-like piece of ground. (ButI haven't heard any complaints about Ansel burning in the sky in his Moonrise image.)

Isn't "straight" a matter of degree -- a continuum of various degrees of manipulation? On one end, you have photos like the Viet Cong being executed (assuming the photographer didn't set up that "shot") and on the other, Jerry Uelsmann's blends?

gary saretzky

From: David Haberstich <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 15:56:19 -0400

I disagree with Gary somewhat on this issue. I don't consider selection a subset of what we've come to call manipulation. The photographer MUST select a time, a place, and a portion of an object or scene (i.e., framing). After all, what's the alternative?

We might argue that taking a photograph is an intervention, but that's not the same thing as direct manipulation. I think of manipulation as (a) the direct physical rearrangement of a scene before it is photographed--not the mere selection of when, where, and how much to photograph; and (b) the direct, deliberate modification of the image after exposure, whether physically, chemically, electronically, etc. (in effect, fighting the automatic nature of photography). I see two basic forms of post-exposure manipulation: (a) attempting to assist an imperfect technology (traditional photographic, electronic, what have you) into duplicating the photographer's perception of what was photographed, or (b) deliberately attempting to deviate from that perceived reality, for whatever reason. Yes, basic darkroom controls such as burning and dodging constitute a kind of manipulation, but they were once considered tools for "quality control" rather than overt falsification. Post-exposure "manipulation" meant going beyond the basics. nyway, I think selection is qualitatively different from "manipulation". I'm not ready to concede that the mere selection of what and when to photograph and the selection of basic image production materials and processes constitute manipulation. Collecting, arranging, or constructing objects to be photographed is directorial manipulation in a sense that the straight or documentary method of observing, selecting, and framing is not. Yes, there's a continuum, but motivation is important. Knowing how easy it is to make manipulated photographs look "straight", I think there is undue skepticism about photographic "evidence" in cases where there was little motivation to alter anything. Taking into account the whole spectrum of photography and its history, the straight photograph seems to be the norm.

David Haberstich

From: Gary Saretzky <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 16:21:27 -0400

I don't really disagree with David on this one but for me, it's still a matter of degree. Selection isn't usually a form of manipulation but it can be through the deliberate exclusion of part of a scene that would carry a different meaning if one saw more of it or by timing an exposure so that something has moved out of or into the frame. More often this is manipulation by an editor after the fact or by the photographer through enlargement and cropping but it could be done at time of exposure. For example, let's imagine a picture of Hitler smiling with a caption stating that he is happy over his latest territorial conquest. But if the photographer had used a wide angle lens, we see he is looking at young Leni or Eva.

I mention this hypothetical example because I vaguely recall a picture of Hitler and Leni where he had a number of other men removed and replaced by bushes, so he could be "alone" with her in the picture. It appeared in an early issue of Prologue. This is clearly manipulation after the fact, not by the photographer at the time of exposure.

gary saretzky

From: Rob McElroy <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 16:58:32 -0400


Gary Saretzky wrote:

Perhaps "straight" has more to do with photographers who want to create an illusion of an unmanipulated image than with the techniques that they use.

This is an interesting way of looking at it but I don't think enough people would accept that definition. This broad category should more aptly be called "straight looking" photography which infers some sort of manipulation to the image to make it look unmanipulated.

All photography involves various types of manipulation to some degree, including when to take the picture, framing, cropping, and sometimes interactions with subjects before exposure...

Personally, I don't feel that framing, cropping (in the camera or in the darkroom), when to take the picture, or what vantage point to take the picture from -- should be considered manipulations in the current discussion of straight photography -- because they do not change the original environment or subject in any way, and they don't represent any manipulation to the scene's naturally occurring reality. Interactions with the subject or still life for posing or the directing of a subject's facial expressions, etc. is where the grey area begins with regard to straight photography. The more manipulation, the less straight the photography becomes, though I feel that posing a subject or still life should still be considered within the boundaries of the "straight photography" definition. in the Doisneau example mentioned earlier in this thread. Sometimes...the public has gotten upset with photographers when it was learned that some manipulation had occurred in what had appeared to be a "straight" photograph.

The key word here is "appeared." There has always been an unspoken and trusted expectation by the the public that a photographic image which depicts a naturally occurring reality -- is in fact unmanipulated. That expectation has been severely eroded over the past century and a half, and nowadays the public trusts very little that is presented to it under the guise of straight or unmanipulated-looking photography. For an extreme example, how many people pick up a supermarket tabloid magazine with the expectation that all of the photographic images in it are "real" and depict a naturally occurring reality -- just as it appeared to the photographer's camera during a single moment in time? Almost no one, I would suspect.

It all comes down to how an image is presented. Is it presented as an eyewitness account of an unmanipulated event that happened in front of the photographer's camera (example: newspapers, newsmagazines, documentary photographers, etc.) -- or has it been presented as a photographic illustration of an idea, which tries to portray a reality (real or imagined) and fool the viewer into believing it really happened naturally? All too often these two examples are presented to the world without clarification, and that is why the public gets upset when it finds out later it has been duped or fooled, and that the photo they "believed" to be a true reality -- was either fabricated, faked, or manipulated from what naturally occurred. The fault here lies in the assumption that the public makes about photographs in general -- namely, that all photographs are an accurate depiction of an unmanipulated moment in time unless the photograph's caption states otherwise or it is obvious from viewing the image that it is some type of fabrication.

Strictly speaking, I define "straight photography" as that in which neither the original scene nor the resultant image were manipulated (the exception being normal darkroom dust spotting and modest darkroom manipulation to control tonalities). Burning in the sky (unless it turns day into night), adjusting development times, lightening a face, etc. are all permissible in my definition because you are not changing the inherent naturally occurring reality of the original scene that was captured at a particular moment in time. Film and paper have never been able to capture all of the tones that the eye can see and these modest darkroom manipulations are generally used only to try and approximate or enhance the original reality. Using Photoshop (or any other mechanical means) to alter, eliminate, or add objects to the image, etc. is manipulation that is unacceptable for my definition. The original capture of the image may have been "straight photography" (as long as the scene was not manipulated) but the presentation of the image, with its Photoshop alterations, changed the original reality of the scene and therefore can no longer be considered a "straight" image.

The closest definition I can come up with for the opposite of straight photography is "manipulated reality" photography. Sometimes the manipulation is obvious (Uelsmann, Pfahl) sometimes it is not (Rejlander, Robinson), and sometimes it is meant to confuse, or challenge our perceptions (Witkin, Man-Ray).

And then there is that ever-changing grey area in between.

Rob McElroy
Buffalo, NY

From: Gary Saretzky <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 22:12:17 -0400

It seems to be easier to define straight than manipulated. Straight connotes pure, no tricks, no compromise. Manipulated is everything else; a slight deviation from straight and, voila, you have fallen into the grey zone.

Strand defined straight in Seven Arts, 1917:

"... a real respect for the thing in front of him, expressed in terms of chiaroscuro through a range of almost infinite tonal values which lie beyond the skill of human hand. The fullest realization of this is accomplished, without tricks of process or manipulation, through the use of straight photographic methods."

(reproduced in Paul Strand, A Retrospective Monograph, The Years 1915-1946.)

And yet Strand used a hidden lens to get his "straight" candid street portraits published in Camera Work, fooling his subjects into thinking that he was taking a picture of something else. Wasn't this just a tad tricky or manipulative? Is there really a big difference between being tricky before you take the picture or after? (Be assured, I'm not dissing Strand for whom I have great respect.)

I don't disagree with Rob or David, just stirring the pot a bit,

Gary Saretzky

Saretzky Online
Photo Books, etc.

From: "Gerald H. Robinson" <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 11:11:20 -0700  

The discussion of "straight photography" rests, it seems to me, on some more fundamental issues regarding concepts and categories generally.

When we try to classify things, a series of questions arise. To begin with, all classifications are not equal. Scientific classifications and categories are generally precise and events or things can be categorized because there is inherently little ambiguity. There are exceptions, but the rigor of science tries to minimize them.

In history and the arts, categories, it seems to me, are far more fluid. I like to think of them as convenient aids, but there is a lot of "slop-over" between them. Sometimes, categories like "straight photography" are useful for introducing students to the movement, but we also must make students aware that the concept is not a scientific one and is rather like an accordian bellows (or view camera) : it can be stretched and twisted without trouble.

By introducing the idea that a photograph was made "without manipulation", we merely push the inquiry to another level. For example, when photographing a plant in the field, do we manipulate the image by hanging a black drape behind it to screen out annoying intrusions in the background? How about spraying it with water (or some similar substance) to bring out the highlights? What about adjusting the camera angle to emphasize part of it at the expense of another part? How about extending development (or constricting development) to get the values we want on the negative. What if we merely change film to get a similar result. Etc. Where does it end?

So categories are sometimes useful, often confusing, and sometimes a source of great discussion like that between Weston and Mortensen, or this thread.


From: Tom Bamberger <>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 14:02:54 -0500

Regarding unmanipulated or straight or whatever photography, the more truthful stuff...etc.

This is a very interesting discussion and worthwhile philosophical discussion. And like many philosophical discussions that have their roots in the world, it wouldn't be decided by the parsing of ideas. Whatever we think, there is also a practice of the medium which creates a common sense that will filter up and change they way we look at photographs.

So I was talking to son of the friend of mine. He is an intern in the sports department of a newspaper. He started complaining about how bad the photographers were. His solution -- Photoshop. Cropped wrong -- Photoshop. So the ball isn't in the right place -- Photoshop. What about when the photographer misses the shot -- no problem -- photoshop it. Is Sammy Sosa too fat? Photoshop.

My friends, our sense of what a photograph was, was in part determined by the absence of photoshop and the directness of the old photographic process. I know we have always cropped and done this and that, but nothing like what we can and do today. This new found ease will change our intuitions about photographic truth, and that is probably not so bad. The old theory was pretty naive before high school students started moving balls closer to gloves.

Truth was never that easy.

Tom Bamberger

Date: Sun, 01 Sep 2002 19:11:28 -0400
Subject: Re: [PhotoHistory] Fixing Shadows - defining straight photography and its opposite.

Robert Hirsch

It seems to be easier to define straight than manipulated. Straight connotes pure, no tricks, no compromise. Manipulated is everything else; a slight deviation from straight and, voila, you have fallen into the grey zone.  

Maybe we should consider other classifications?  

In a New Yorker interview ("The Shutterbug", May 21, 2001), William Klein
told Anthony Lane that:

"I think there are two kinds of photography -- Jewish photography and goyish photography. If you look at modern photography, you will find, on the one hand, the Weegees, the Diane Arbuses, the Robert Franks -- funky photographs. And then you have the people who go out in the woods. Ansel Adams, Weston. It's like black and white jazz."  

This notion was recently expanded in Max Kozloff's essay, "Jewish Sensibility and the Photography of New York" in the book New York: Capital of Photography.  

I appreciate concepts that open less used pathways to think about photography. At present we seem stuck with syntax from the past that doesn't work in the present. Given how much societal thinking concerning photography has changed, maybe it is time to reconsider the basic terminology that we use to make fundamental determinations about the nature of photographic truth?  


The following was added later:

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2002 15:45:54 -0500

I'm a senior citizen (sic), who still remembers the surprise every roll had when you held the wet film up to a light. A new high speed lens, a new film with the fantastic speed of 400, or the new developer that allowed you to double the film speed or give you a 11 x 14 print with hardly any grain, was a revelation. You knew that their was a limitless amount of subject matter around the corner worthy of being explored with a camera.

Now, you have forums on how to define straight photography. Very, very amusing. In the old days, no one would want to waste their time on such trivia, when so much fun awaited you with your next discovery by just pointing your camera and squeezing off a shot. Just the sound of the shutter made you want to do it again. Since photography became embraced by both the art world and the world of academia, ideas have become more important than the images they examine. How unfortunate and amusing.

I'll take a whisky sour on the rocks with a slice of lemon, and please take it easy on the glass.

Submitted by: Ed Gelabert (

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