Is New Photography, Photography?

Few years ago when I was jury member in an international competition of photography we had a photograph taken of a ripped well known classic photograph. Some of the jurors initial reaction was that it couldn’t be accepted, as it was plagiarism taking a photograph of another photograph. I decided that we should accept it because the new photograph was taken of a photograph modified by the time and nature. I don’t remember the author, but imagine you have a large size Helmut Newton photograph on the street, already a bit ripped by nature and men, and you take yourself a photograph of that photograph. You didn’t use Helmut Newton’s photograph, you’re showing us time over it. You’re showing us something new, and at the same time doing a tribute to Helmut Newton (here just an example, as I don’t remember any of the authors).

I just read a very interesting article on Mutant Space about Michael Wolf‘s “Unfortunate Events” series of photography that I didn’t know, and again this same “old” issue: no doubt that he is taking photographs of photographs, or of stills by Google Street Views at his screen. And as I am sure that Google didn’t ask any permission to anyone to shoot them in the street, I’m also sure that Michael Wolf used the same method. Anyway, the still was there by Google, and Michael shot it while it was at his screen. Technically the same method I used to do the B Shot by a Stranger project about youth and loneliness in their intimate moments: shooting the iMac screen with my Canon.

Unfortunate Events by ©Michael Wolf

But back to Michael Wolf: who’s the author of the final photograph?

Michael Wolf. Google did the Street View, giving us free access to do Street Photography without going out of home. Wolf made his own search of people and corners and streets and moments also bringing us a new aesthetic. What you finally have is a digital photograph like any other, taken by him. He took a photograph to his screen, and it doesn’t matter if his screen had a document in word or the Google View, like when you take a staged photograph of someone drinking it doesn’t matter if it has whiskey or apple juice in it.

Aesthetically Michael pushed the whole mesh that comes out when you shoot the screen, giving the voyeur feeling as if he was there behind a window’s net for mosquitoes, but he also assumed the shot by living Google Street references or even the cursor, creating new images.

Unfortunate Events by ©Michael Wolf

In B Shot by a Stranger project I’m having, since more than a year, volunteers not acting, who share with me – the stranger-, their intimate lonely lives. They’re from all over the world, and I wanted to do this as a sociological project with all the cultures, globalizing the human feeling. Opposite to Michael Wolf I had the permission of the models (as they were the ones calling me) and to preserve their privacy I decided to do the photographs blurred, also not assuming the mesh of the screen, and not leaving screen evidences like the cursor in it. I had some quite pixel-broken though, due to some bad connections, webcams or even light at their homes. It was not an easy job I must tell you, as you can’t shoot the side of the screen or turn around to get better angle, so this took an effort also guiding the models through the best light, corners, etc not being there. Only this way I could get as many models from such different countries and cultures word wide. This is also a new method, new photography, in our digital era: shooting through satellite. The final result is a digital print like any other photograph on paper.

JC7 – B Shot by a Stranger by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Photography is a register of light, an exposure we did with more or less time, enough to get the result we need to get the image we want to be able to express what’s in our mind.

Digital photography is no less than analogue in this. Maybe it can have more value the analogue because of the original negative. But now we have files. And if to give value to an analogue photo we should destroy the negative, on digital – as it happens to me once in a while asked by the client on commission works – we can destroy the original file. Delete, is the key name.

SH5 – B Shot by a Stranger by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Pinhole done with a box of shoes is quite cool to do, as we all learned in our first photography classes, but we must agree that is not very practical. So what is practical now is to have a camera in a mobile phone. Is a mobile photograph less then a digital one taken by a proper or real digital cam? Well, guess not, apart from the “cool vintage” Instagram filters they put over them to look good. And that is the problem, or not, as we know that no matter shitty becomes the mobile picture, the result will become cool vintage so great to share. I indeed take mobile photos less serious, but there are indeed exceptions and you can find real mobile street photography for example.

Next step will be Google glasses with which you can take shots of what you’re looking at and post immediately online.

There are lots of questions and issues to talk about this: privacy, plagiarism, value of the photographs, paper print vs. screen, art vs. photography, etc.

But the what-is-art-in-photography I’ll write later on.

AA8 – B Shot by a Stranger by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Now, being film and video an image motion or a sequence of pictures, if we’ll get one from the whole collection of the video are we stilling it? Apart from taking photos to the computer screen, we can also take photos of a TV screen and capture a still of a movie with or without subtitles. In this case are we doing any kind of plagiarism? Being a video a collection of stills and capture with our own camera one of them… No, as we don’t still anyone’s soul when we do a portrait in real. What we do by capturing a still at a TV screen is to rapture a moment that makes part of our life, like shooting the screen at Google Street View. They are different medias, and it’s the same as taking a photo of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous lady at Louvre through the protection glasses.

With a bit of luck you can even get a self-portrait in the reflexion of the glasses or the screen, as so many times happened while I was shooting the loners at my iMac. Then you can even call it “Self Portrait with Mona Lisa” or “Self Portrait in a Street View”. And this way you can prove it’s original work.

AWA10 – B Shot by a Stranger by ©Gonzalo Bénard

But what would be your reaction if you see yourself not only in Google Street View in a weird scene but also later on, amplified and printed by an Art-Photographer in an exhibition?

©Michael Wolf