One of the first things I learned in the first History of Photography class I audited with Brenton Hamilton at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport several years ago is that from the beginning photographers have been lying to us.
Brenton showed us examples of very early works that had fake content, fake skies, fake scenes. His lectures (starting again on next week on Tuesday the 11th of September and running for ten weeks at $20/class to audit) started me on a path of unceasing study of photographic works since the beginning of the medium, and nowhere did I find an era when photographers were committed only to reproducing the truth.
Matthew Porter (American, born 1975). 110 Junction, 2010, printed 2012. Inkjet print; 81.3 x 101.6 cm (32 x 40 in.). Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2012 (2012.274). © Matthew Porter. All Rights Reserved.
So where did we come up with the ridiculous saying – “The camera never lies”??
Photography is an art form, not a copying machine. From the beginning, photographic artists and experimenters in the medium have had no compunction whatsoever about creating in whatever way they want whatever it is they wanted to see, and it’s the rare photographer who simply recorded.
So, it is with great joy I am getting the word out well in advance that a mind-bending new exhibit will open October 11 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art called “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop”. It runs through January 27, 2013 and I hope like crazy I can get there. I learned about it yesterday in my new September/October 2012 issue of PHOTOGRAPH in an excellent short essay by Lyle Rexer – “About the Cover”.
I can’t tell you the number of conversations I have had with photographers that went one of two ways – a whispered apology that this photograph was put through some new paces in, yikes!, Photoshop, OR an adamant avowal that this photograph has never seen the inside of Photoshop and never will. Yawn. These photographers have obviously never cracked a photo history book and that brings them immediately down a notch or two in my estimation. How can you move forward in your craft without knowing what has come before you stepped into the medium? Can you imagine a painter having no interest in previous painters? No, because painting is a living, breathing, ongoing mind of millions and you can’t pretend you aren’t part of something much larger than your own lifespan.
So, this is why I’m adamant about why Brenton Hamilton’s History of Photography lecture series at Maine Media Workshops is vital: if you are a photographer, it will change your life and your work irrevocably to hear Brenton bring all who have gone before you back to life before your very eyes, and you will understand how YOU got to this point in YOUR OWN work.
And when the series ends in November, hop on a bus or plane to NYC and enjoy the heck out of The Met’s “Faking It” exhibit, which, by the way is made possible by Adobe Systems Incorporated. The truth is, that’s exactly how it should be and it makes the point beautifully.
PS – just saw an ad for “Cut & Paste – Photomontage and Manipulation in the Pre-Digital Age” opening at Keith De Lellis Gallery in NYC o September 27 and running through Dec. 1. Two-for-one on the subject of fake images from the past.