Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Is it art?: Distorting photo colours

Distorted Empire State Building photoIf you browse people’s photos on any of the online photo-sharing sites, you’ll see a lot of pictures where people have distorted the colours. I did it to one of my photos, as an example: the picture on the right is a shot I took last Sunday of the Empire State Building in New York City (click it to see the original and the altered one side by side).

Some people do the distortion just because they think it looks cool, but some clearly do it to get an “artistic” effect. And that, of course, raises my frequent question:

Is it art?

I certainly do think that fiddling with the colours and contrast of a photo was art in the days of darkrooms and negatives. You needed a feel for the technique in order to get the effect you wanted. You had to try a number of times, perhaps many, to hit what you were looking for. There was skill and patience involved.

There was no “undo” button.

It’s different now, though. To make the effect on the right, I used the Mac Preview program, got the “Adjust Color” pane, and pulled a few sliders around. That one involved shoving the contrast and saturation all the way in one direction, and the tint all the way in the other. Poof.

Maybe you think it looks cool; maybe you think it doesn’t. But is it art?

Update, 12 Oct: This xkcd cartoon seems like a perfect fit here.


Dawn said...

Some would say yes, anything you do for an aesthetic appeal is art. Others would say no. I think it doesn't matter. It looks cool, and if you enjoyed it, good for you.

be well...

The Ridger, FCD said...

I think you're mixing up "art" and "skill" (or maybe "craft"). If a painter paints over or scrapes down his canvas, does that invalidate the result? If someone working in clay reshapes, is the resulting sculpture not "art"?

Art is in the response, not the technique, at least in my opinion.

Barry Leiba said...

I know it sounds as if I was giving my opinion above, but I wasn't. I gave an opinion for twiddling with the photos in a darkroom, but I'm still thinking about it with respect to doing it with sliders on a computer. So I'm asking the question of others, not answering it for myself.

D. said...

Your question suggests that you consider the process used as important as, or perhaps more so, to the determination of whether to call the result Art. I don't think it should matter - it's about the result.