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What is a Photograph
What is a Photograph?
So, what is a photograph, do digital cameras take photographs, do film cameras take photographs? I suppose the answer has to be sometimes.
All right, that needs clarification and is rooted in the definition and concept of what is a photograph; photos – light, graphein – to write, by extension, to draw with light.
If I set up my Shen Hao, and expose a sheet of film in it, then develop the film; I have a negative image drawn with light. If I then set up my Olympus E-420, focus it, there on the rear-viewing screen is an image drawn with light, click the shutter and the image is captured. That looks convincing, both images drawn with light, photographs. If only it were that easy; the real problem comes when we want a tangible, positive image that we can stick in an album, or on the wall, or take to work and show our mates, in other words, a photograph.
I work, mainly, with film, I develop it myself and use a photographic enlarger to produce positives; the whole process is photography from start to finish. Light forms the latent image on the negative and the development process reveals it. The negative is put in an enlarger, light is shone through it and a latent image is produced on a piece of light sensitive paper, the development process reveals the positive image, light is totally involved with the creation of the image.
However, what if you don't process your own, you may use one of the many high street developing and printing outlets, some use inkjet, some actually print with chemicals, in a mechanised way, your pictures, will they be photographs? I would say the ones produced chemically are, just. You may not have an enlarger and you scan your negatives into a personal computer, edit them and then print out on an inkjet printer. Is that photography, sorry, except for the negative, the answer has to be no, it is printing, squirting inks on to a piece of paper, not producing an image from a direct action of light.
So what about an image from a digital camera, the images on that little card that pops out of the camera are drawn with light, it makes no difference whether we use film or a sensor plate, the light sensitive receptor causes the formation of an image from light striking it: drawn with light.
How do we display these images on the card? If we feel flush, I suppose we could have one of those fancy, electronic frames, is that photography, probably, the image even looks as if it's drawn with light. We could just view the images on the monitor screen, photography, yes; light plays its part in drawing the image. It’s not very convenient to drag your mates into that cubbyhole under the stairs, where you keep your computer and monitor, when they want to see your holiday snaps.
We may be on the way to a legal definition. During the early part of 2009, the British police, in one of their many guideline leaflets for police officers when dealing with photographers, used the words, '…it is not illegal to take photographs or digital images in a public place…' Clearly, a distinction is made there.
There is one way (there are probably more but I’m too thick to think of them) where digitally produced images, whether from film or electronic card can be considered true photography, but it will require dragging yourself, your computer and digital images back to the early part of the 19th century.
Use a photo editor to make a negative image of, say, 7x5 inches and print it on to ordinary, A4 writing paper or overhead projection film. Look at my cyanotype or Salt Print Hubs, telling how to do it and what chemicals to get, follow the instructions, and safety rules, it’s dead easy, and fun.
That's an interesting blend of technologies, and a real photograph ala Herschel or Talbot.