Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography: But Is it Authentic?

Recently I had the pleasure of joining two artist friends at the home of another artist, whom I was looking forward to meeting.  As it happened,  I had several poofs of the photographs for my book on India's magnificent architecture with me.  My friends encouraged me to show these to their friend, who had several black and white photographs hanging on his walls.  After he studied my photographs he acknowledged "Very nice work." He asked me about my cameras; were they genuine?  I knew exactly what he meant.  "Digital," I replied.  "Oh," he said, not unkindly.  "I prefer authentic photography: film."

Of course I have heard this many times since I switched to digital photography from film.  However, the artist's comment begs the question: What is authentic photography?  Well, photography is, in my opinion, light imaging.  This type of art goes back to the caves, before recorded time.  The cave people did not have film to my knowledge.  They used available light sources and objects with which to create projected imaging.  Then, in the early years, way before the legendary George Eastman and even before Leonardo's use of the camera obscura, the Chinese had a light imaging devise in 5th century BC.  It was a type of pin hole box for controlled light imaging.  Thus, when Eastman developed the ancestor of today's camera, was that authentic?  AND, was film authentic after glass/ lantern slides were so successful at capturing images?  There are countless examples of using light imaging, aka photography, through the ages.  As one technique succeeds another, is it more valid or a betrayal of the older technique?  This question seems to be more prevalent in the field of photography than in any other of the arts.  For example, I never heard that a literary work was less authentic because it was written on a computer and not in longhand.  Or that a painting was less valid because tubes of paint were used and not pigments contained in animal organs.

I believe it is the artist's self-expression that determines the worth of the work of art.

For most of my life I have devoted myself to art, whether it be painting, drawing, design or photography.  With each new available technique and equipment, I have gained knowledge about my personal aesthetic and its process.  I was trained in classical art techniques, architectural drawing (aka drafting), film photography and its developing and, for that matter, piano.  However, when novel ideas about art became available to me, I may not have embraced them, but I took advantage of new tools and ways of creating art.  I never thought one art was more authentic than another or one way of artistic creation was "better." For me the truth lay in how I used the techniques and materials to express my art.  And, of course, the completed work.

There is a story I like to tell about the worth of art.  My paternal Grandfather was a master jeweler. He came to the US in the late 1800's and apprenticed for seven years with a master in gold and precious stones.  His fame was within the industry and he designed and crafted marvelous pieces of jewelry for many wealthy and well-known people at a wooden bench in an office on Nassau Street in Manhattan, when Nassau Street was the center of the jewelry trade.  Occasionally, relatives and even I would ask him if some jewel or art object was "worth it (meaning the expense)."  His sage reply was always the same: "If you like it, it's worth it." 

Is digital photography authentic?  In my opinion and to paraphrase my Grandfather: If you like it; if the work appeals to you, it is authentic.

Black and White Architectural Photography: Amsterdam

Black and White Architectural Photography: Catskills, NY

Black and White Architectural Photography: Snug Harbor, NYC


  1. I learned my art of photography with film and darkroom processes. I love the look of film and a silver print,however, digital capture and computer processing has expanded my art and vision.It's not the gear that makes art, it's the artist that is authentic.

  2. Thanks for your insights, Ellen. The only problems with new technology relate to the inherent limitations they pose; there is always a give-and-take; tradeoffs are made when developing new technologies; always. But that doesn't make them any less authentic. When 35mm arrived, the ability to make exquisite large exhibition prints was traded off for portability of the 35mm. When digital arrived, the beautiful scale and grain of film was traded off for ease of capture and processing of the image. Still, the technologies (old and new) are equally authentic, just different.

  3. You are exactly right, J. Riley Stewart. There are trade-offs in every technique. I use the available equipment and tailor it (as much as possible) to my needs as a photographer. Thank you so much for commenting!