Purism in it's 'rawest form' is about using a manual camera with an
optical viewfinder, a manual focus lens, a lens filter, a roll off film and a brain
that can determine the exposure in relation to the light and the
pressing of the shutter button to fire the shutter and capture the
The creation is complete and the development of the negative is undertaken at home
and the final print is produced using an enlarger. The smell of the
darkroom chemicals stimulates the senses and the entire experience is
enhanced by the buzz you get when that final print appears in the dish
and is finally framed on the wall.
To this day, those photographers who maintain this 'purist approach' in
their photography, achieve the greatest fulfillment.
Digital cameras have created a new generation of 'lazy photographers'
and the root cause is the manufacturers' who in their desire to seduce
the customer, promote and sell digital cameras with technology that
takes away most of the hard work and weakens the thought process.
This is further compromised by companies who sell software
packages for post processing digital camera 'RAW' image files on a computer
whereby the photographer can adjust them and iron out any defects in the
Today in this digital age, purism has evolved and the 21st century
photographer has learned to bypass all the auto technology in a modern
digital camera and stick rigidly to manual controls with the absolute
minimum of post processing using software on a computer. Many purist
photographers will never use software but instead take the time to
properly set-up the menu ' jpeg image parameters' in the camera whereby
the jpeg file images produced are ready to print. Purism is so much more
than the way you capture images it also relates to your approach to
photography, the locations, material and the planning of projects but
most of all it is about the body of work that you will accumulate in
your lifetime which brings you immense fulfillment.
A typical example of a modern 'RETRO' digital camera that a
purist photographer might use -
From the New York Times– Mr. Dee, 68, has retired after a 39-year career
as the Soho Photographer, documenting work for artists, galleries,
exhibitions, books and portfolios. He is leasing his space at 12 Wooster
Street, just north of Canal Street, and moving with his wife, Sarala, to
Miami. The moving vans will arrive on July 24. The photo collection will
not come with him.
“It has value to someone,” Mr. Dee said last week. “Not to me.” The
absence of captions and a lack of storage space have discouraged several
institutions from accepting the archive. The National Gallery of Art,
Getty Images, and the Fales Library and Special Collections of New York
University have declined his offer, Mr. Dee said.
It is a strange statement for a photographer to make, especially after a
lifetime of work - "“It
has value to someone, not to me.”
guess that photography can become very boring and
repetitive; the professionals are out there making money shooting the
same stuff every day and the hobbyists, well there are millions of them
all shooting the same material.
Digital images are sitting on computer
hard discs, memory cards and most will be viewed a few times in their
existence before unceremoniously being dumped into a waste bin on the
demise of the photographers who captured them. A few of these images might find their
way into a collection where the new owners of the copyright will
continue to make money from them.
Today, everyone with a camera in a mobile phone is a photographer, and
capable of capturing that photojournalist shot. Recently (31st May
2013) the Chicago Sun-Times laid of 28 staff photographers and is counting on its
remaining staff of journalists to also become mobile photographers.
In a world of billions of photographic images, it may well become
increasingly difficult for
some photographers to find their own niche, their own
interpretation of images that might stand the test of time, images with
some longevity and testament to their skills and perhaps even art in
their final analysis.
The photography of Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) -
The purist seeks out 'niche' material, striving to find hidden depth,
meaning and uniqueness in their images. Many great photographers have
struggled, some suffer anxiety over their inability to conquer this and to produce images true to their aspirations.
Fortunately it is an inward struggle with little thought to other
peoples opinions regarding their work.
The work from
spent more than three decades on the road as a documentary photographer
and is the recipient of the Leica Hall of Fame Award for 2011.
Some purist photographers can be found in the war zones, in
far flung places, seeking new locations and material that is rarely seen
or experienced. Many of these photographers work freelance, some work
for national newspapers and some work out of vocation. The photography of the photojournalist is that of images
that portray in journalistic form, the hardship, the joys, the life
and death struggles to survive everyday life in far flung places. Many
photographers were photojournalists, long before the term was phrased.
Joey Lawrence - Ethiopia Location
The offshoot or
perhaps the catalyst of the photojournalist is the street photographer
who armed with a 50mm 'manual focus' lens on a compact 35mm full frame
camera uses the streets to capture moments in time. The 'purist' strives
to produce art in the images with
impressionism or surrealism elements
to bring to the viewer much more than a snapshot.
style and body of work
was more than just walking down the
street taking pictures with a Leica camera. In his early days he studied
music and he did train as an 'artist'. From the very start of his
photography he did have an eye for the 'artistic' image and this did
influence and accelerate his photographic skills. Martin Munkasci's
Three Boys at
greatly influenced him as did the
who helped to channel his photographic direction. The 'Surrealists' maintained
that ordinary photographs contain a wealth of unintended, unpredictable
I think that the image 'Three
Boys at Lake Tanganyika' does make an 'artistic' impression and embodies
'human life' within the image which is surely the statement. It was much more
than an image that could be defined by the 'Surrealists'
and I firmly believe that Cartier-Bresson transcended their perceived
photographic ideals............this combination of 'art' with the
'visual statement' within the image is why his images were so
Henri was known for his 'inward analysis' that to be creative in photography you
must be quick to seize the moment, that point in time where the scene, the art,
the statement are interpreted by the eye and the shot is taken, the image
captured. Photography to Henri was a vocation, it would cause him great anxiety
when he over indulged and the images did not come. He regarded it as a physical
pleasure that stimulated his senses and admitted that it did not take any brains
to be a photographer. Henri admits to planning some of his locations and waiting
on subjects to enter the scene, he recognised the possibility of 'art' in the
shot, whilst he waited for the right moment, the right step and the image he
desired. He also accepted that there was no rule, no set limits on the number of
shots he would take to achieve one suitable image.
There is a
great DVD which you can purchase on-line. It is an 18 minute 'short
film' which was made back in 1973 with samples of his images and
narrated by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself. He speaks very good English
with an interesting accent and discusses his images and
Decisive Moment DVD
Vivian Maier - "Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was
an American amateur
street photographer who was born in New York but grew up
in France, and after returning to the US, worked for about
forty years as a
nanny in Chicago. During those years she took about
100,000 photographs, primarily of people and cityscapes most
often in Chicago, although she traveled and photographed
Check out the following video
containing some of
Vivian Maier's Street Photography
and more information on the official website -
Perish the thought that the 'purist' would use video as a means to
expanding the art. Video must not be allowed to detract from stills
photography so breaking the concentration and diluting the experience.
The entire essence of 'stills photography' is as one with the camera to
capture a moment in time and to hold it in print. The eye, the brain can
then review that moment, can grasp the subtle meaning, the beauty,
perhaps in awe; something that may be missed in the numerous frames of a
video. A print is singular, hard to miss in it's frame on the wall; it
draws the eye, it draws conversation!
It may prove wise to forget the old cliché "the
camera is just a tool" because a photographer who is dedicated and pure
to his 'art' has long recognised that the relationship with the camera
plays an important role in their photography. Post processing should not
be a substitute for the handling of the wrong type of camera or the
handling of the the right type of camera or the inability to 'correctly'
capture the lighting within a scene. Every new (or second hand)
camera (and the lens) requires a learning curve, time for the
photographer to become familiar with it's manual controls, it's handling
and eventually an acceptance that it is fit for purpose and can enhance
the photographic experience. Many photographers have spent a fortune on
different cameras and lenses only to discover that their first choice
was the correct choice, all along.
When digital post processing becomes the mainstay of the hobby you are
no longer a 'purist' photographer but more likely to be recognised as a
Autofocus is a byword for 'lack of control', you may point the lens at
the subject but the camera decides the focus when you press the AF
button or half/press/hold the shutter button. Purism is manual focus of
the lens, the eye perceives the focus and any adjustment of the lens is
set by the photographer. Depth of field is controlled by your brain, the
photographer sets the aperture of choice and manually turns the distance
on the lens barrel
to place the selected distance and area in focus between the chosen
aperture markings. A lens without a depth of field scale and aperture
markings is not for the purist photographer!
cliché to forget "the
eye is more important that the camera" because even the worst
photographer can find new and much higher levels in their photography
through sheer hard work in developing their skills. Some 'purists' after
time and even with extensive training, break all the rules to produce
images that are simply breathtaking in their content and art. There is
no substitute for diligence, fortitude and
in continuing with your photography and eventually a 'niche' is found
which delivers a great feeling of achievement. Never become
disillusioned, always strive forward and remember that photographers
with this 'supposed magic eye' have invariably shot 100 images or
more to produce one good one from the series. There is no greater
feeling for the 'purist' than capturing an image using only the camera,
lens and hardware filters to produce a print on the wall.
Purists abandon everyday and general photography, they do not get caught
up in the cliché "the best camera is the one you have with you"
and shoot images of anything and everything. The purist has reached a
the 'niche' has been established, the goal has been determined and there
is no deviation. The locations, the material and the projects have all
been pre-set and the camera system and accessories have been carefully
chosen. The purist is in no hurry, the shoot is planned, executed and he
is not in the least bit concerned about the size and weight of the
camera system - if the lenses have to be heavy with large optics to
achieve set photographic goals, so be it.
A neat video on setting up the project shoot -
The 'purism' in photography is not just about
whether it is right to digitally manipulate an image. The 'purest'
photographer regards photography as a form of art, a vocation and the ultimate
direction is about seeking development, fulfillment and contentment with their photography.
Snapshots are not for the purist, their photography invariably contains
elements of impressionism and surrealism. Mundane seascapes are
transformed into black and white masterpieces through the clever use of
neutral density hardware filters placed in front of the lens which turn
water into layers of froth and graduated filters which transform the sky
by adding drama to the clouds.
The purist photographer in the 21st century may well use a digital
camera BUT with all the 'bells and whistles' technology switched
off. The favourite modes are aperture priority and manual with the
viewfinder the preferred viewing option, although the LCD screen is used
for tripod work, especially landscapes where precise manual focusing and
exposure compensation is invariably selected. The digital purist is only
too aware of falling into the trap of 'lazy photography' and strives to
not for him the machine gunning shots and the extensive
correction in Photoshop. He strives to capture the light, the overall
setting and when necessary using only hardware filters fixed to the
front of the lens to balance the lighting, even creating an mood
(e.g. 1930s colours) and very often adding tints to monochrome images. The camera produced
jpeg is the preferred method of image production with the camera
'capture settings' adjusted to suit. He would like the camera to produce
a tiff file but has to settle for a 'RAW' file alongside the camera jpeg
which can be used to produce a tiff with the absolute minimum of post
processing as the 'purist strand' must be maintained.
Whether you use an optical viewfinder or an electronic viewfinder the
photographer is forced to place a heavy reliance on the accuracy of the
camera's exposure metering systems. The camera in aperture priority mode
and using evaluative (matrix) metering reads reflective light
from a scene and calculates the shutter speed in relation to the ISO
rating and the aperture set by the photographer. It also produces a
histogram of the reading for the display screen, either in the
viewfinder and/or the LCD screen. For a large proportion of even
balanced light scenes this will prove relatively accurate but in scenes
where the light is uneven and where there is incident light, the meter
will struggle to accurately determine the parameters. The camera
exposure meter can cause the settings to overexpose the highlights and
the photographer when attempting to adjust the exposure compensation can
underexpose the image. The camera's exposure
spot meter in conjunction with the
camera's dynamic range capability can assist to provide more evenly
balanced parameters but the spot meter still cannot compensate for
incident light. Many professional photographers will use an external
'hand held' light meter
manually setup the camera
light meter can read incident lighting as well as spot
reading and knows the dynamic range calibrations of the camera to quickly
work out the camera parameters for you.
In most videos you see on the internet, even some videos on
Sekonic Light Meters, the host will invariably take the
'RAW' image final and finally tweak the colours in Adobe Lightroom
software to make the image 'pop'. To avoid using Lightroom or any other
software package, you can use multiple
in a holder on the front of your lens to bring out the colours at the
time of capture. Thanks to the camera's LCD screen you can now see the
full effect of adding Lee graduated and colour filters to the Lee filter
mounting frame on the lens.
The purist photographer, tends to concentrate on their own niche area of
photography, some will emulate the work of previous photographers but
seek new material and ways of capturing it that adds their own
interpretation to a recognised type of photography whilst others create
their own 'staged' scenes and manipulate the digital data to present
images that are unique at that time.
'Purism in Photography'
also has the discipline strand;
there is no temptation to store every film negative or to archive every digital image onto a computer hard
disc. The single image that stands out, the one that is captured with
just the right light, the right composition, perhaps the only one in an
entire days shooting has it's settings and location recorded or if in
digital format, the metadata
is meticulously edited and
stored in RAW, tiff, jpeg image file formats and printed. The rest are
deleted/binned, there is no going back, the images that are rejected
first hand are removed from your mind, there are no regrets, no
opportunity to reconsider, only forward to new horizons.
Strong discipline in reducing the number of final
film negatives or digital images goes hand in
hand with the longevity of a photographers work and
whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, at some stage, you may
ponder over how you will store them.
We are witnessing the gradual demise of film negatives and the massive shift
towards digital image files stored on computers and we recognise that
the digital image file format may become obsolete in the years ahead.
'RAW' image files are at best controlled and developed by the camera
manufacturers, each with their own standard and with no guarantee of
their business survival or longevity in support. The Adobe Digital
Format is reckoned to be universal but again its future is determined by
the continual support and development of software (post processing)
companies such as Adobe and PhaseOne. We are faced with the stark
realisation that alongside a 'RAW' the converted tiff format may prove to be a safer
long-term digital storage medium.
'Purism in Photography' lost when you become distracted by gear and
photographic forums; is it wise to devote so much time to reading
up about cameras and lenses and to participate in endless discussions on Facebook and Twitter regarding gear? How many photographers become
distracted and even lose direction and development through continually
changing their camera system in their pursuit of 'acceptance' amongst
forum members? Is the elaborate post processing by dodging, burning and
layering of your chosen image for forum submission worth the time and
effort for that one day of fame or even regurgitated in black and white
for a further submission? Recognition of your photography and your
skills as a photographer can prove a fickle pursuit and dilute the
'purism' of the vocation.