Brush v. camera

As a second-year student in photography, I must write in protest at Mr. Hellings’ remarks about photography.

Firstly both he and you appear to hold the antiquated point of view that the only artist is one who paints. You should not confuse media with use of media—cannot an artist also use light-sensitive materials as well as pigment?

Secondly, Mr. Hellings’ letter shows his basic misunderstandings of the optical laws. Where photography using “long” lenses is concerned it is certainly not the camera that causes the “flattened” perspective; it is the distance between the camera and subject that does this. The eye’s definition (and focal length of around 50 mm.) is not adequate to discern detail far off—the telephoto camera merely takes a small section of a scene and enlarges it sufficiently for us to see this detail. This law also applies to “wide angle” photography where the camera has the ability to “take in” more than the eye. The camera is a mechanical “eye”, Mr. Hellings, it cannot create fiction from fact—that is the preserve of the painter! Every photograph must obey the laws of optics, since a camera merely records what is there.

Thirdly, if Mr. Hellings considers it lying to merely enlarge detail, does he not consider it lying to add “a wet track, spray, headlights”, etc., when they were never there! That, I suppose, he would call “artistic licence”! Whilst on detail, if Mr. Hellings could paint 50 per cent. of the detail obtainable on a 10 X 8 photograph, I would be astounded.

Fourthly, “atmosphere” in a picture is dependent on the emotional response of the viewer, it is not rateable in terms of detail and composition.

Finally, the camera has the sole ability to capture in a flash that moment of truth—the elation of the winner, the dejection of a driver who lost the race on the last corner. It is this truth which makes photography, and sadly the lack of the same which brings down so many photographs published in your magazine which, otherwise, I consider to be the best.

Martin Roberts.

[The very points I was trying to make! Unfortunately, although cameras should not lie, very strange things can be done to negatives, prints and colour transparencies by unscrupulous “toucher-uppers”. But then, they are artists of a kind, not photographers.—This is but one letter received in defence of the camera versus the brush.—Ed.]