The Snobbery of Territorial Imperative

The other day I had a discussion with a member of my photographic society who was an old time large format film photographer. His work was always good and worthy of a look. While talking with him however I was struck by the subtle lack of respect he demonstrated for anyone who used a digital camera, photoshop or who in any way engaged in a digital work-flow. His opinion, as it turns out, is that technology apparently blunts the creative edge and chases the muse away.

I thought about this at some length and tried to see it from his perspective. Did my abandonment of film, the darkroom and 35 mm cameras in favor of a digital work-flow mean I had somehow fallen from grace and forsaken high art? I didn't think about it too long because I already knew the answer.

No matter how far back one wants to go in the history of creative process, there has always been an atmosphere of elitism within the ranks of the art intelligentsia, particularly those who have secured their comfort spot and thus see themselves as part of a long and historic tradition of art.

I imagine that the first cave dweller artists, squatting on the floor of some dank cavern, painting images of successful bison hunts, or tribal events for posterity, using only red ocher dye or perhaps their own precious blood as medium for their art, had their own personal misgivings about daring contemporaries who insisted upon taking the art outside to a tree or perhaps a rock formation in the sunlight and fresh air. How blasphemous!

History is rife with examples of this sort of snobbery. The old school oil painters disdained the new watercolor masters. The watercolor artists suspect the legitimacy of acrylic painters. Painters in general scoffed at anyone who worked with materials from nature other than pigments dyes and paints. And at one point every artist involved in 'real' art, ganged up and rejected the idea that photography could ever be considered a fine art. Every self respecting artist that actually created images using their imagination, their own hands, and used paint or clay, knew that photography was a gimmick, a hobby, more akin to simple craft and plebeian mimicry than real art. Yet. . .

Today there are scores of high end galleries that house fine art photographs juxtaposed with renaissance masters works and impressionist era paintings.

So why, it may be asked, does the issue continue to be debated in forum threads and in photography journals when its an issue that, in the long run, is really not an issue at all? The freeing truth about Art and creation in general is that its never about the methodology, process, the particular medium used . . . or even the 'schooling' of the artist. Instead it always boils down to the emotional response, awe and appreciation, and sharing of vision, that the final product is able to elicit in the viewer.

So if you are one of those daring technocrats who uses digital camera exclusively, and are perhaps inclined to feel less than adequate by the rantings of one of the established Artist elites, Please Don't ! Simply learn your craft well, ignore the naysayers while giving them their due, and try not to be too hard on the next generation of artists who depart from what you yourself have learned so well.

These images, created with a digital camera and processed using a computer and digital software as a darkroom, is virtually indistinguishable from one created using a traditional or film workflow. Is it any less relevant? Would an oil painting of any of these be more relevant or emotionally moving?

Photo credits: Lightart.

Your post must be written in English

May 01, 2009


The same can be said of the word processor and typewriter. A good book is a good book, I think this... Sorry my english.

April 30, 2009


great article, well said!

April 30, 2009


Yep, I totally agree with you at this, for some people it's hard to accept the evolution.

April 28, 2009


I'm a bit older and when I meet someone like that, I just say, "Oh, I have one of those out in the garage somewhere". And, I usually do.

April 28, 2009


Eloquently stated, and so true. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Digital photography can be as creative, evocative and expressive as any art form. As technology advances, it will be interesting to see what new art forms arise, such as holography, or virtual reality/fantasy, or even transdimensional art. (Hey, it could happen!)

April 02, 2009


Thanks so much for sharing this well written piece.. I believe you're as much of a writer as an artist or photographer! My favorite part was your summary...starting at So why, the grand finale! It is pretty easy to see whose glass is half full and whose glass is half empty! The half empty glass folks are the critics(in general) while the half full glass folks(in general) are most often found encouraging others and their work! I challenge everyone to ask themselves is my glass half full or half empty. We may be surprised at what we thought we were....when we look in the mirror!

March 13, 2008


Amen. Amen. Amen. I hear this all the time in my office. Someone will comment on one of the photographs I have on my wall - Oh, what a nice picture. Then they walk down the hall and swoon over the acrylic painting that my boss displays (he is good, though) and then after that they'll plunk down good money for an oil painting in a gallery downtown. As if one was any more difficult than another... or better. Frustrating. After all, the painter usually stands in his living room or studio, while I freeze my butt off somewhere...

Beautifully written by the way, and helpful.

I have a button that says "never apologize for your art" and that has been helpful too.

October 07, 2007


Well said.

October 06, 2007


I agree with you. Art is no boundaries and the limits are only by our imaginations. There exist international photographers who just using simple point & shoot cameras, and I known somebody who like to shoot with a simply home-made pin hole camera.

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