EP23 – On Perfectionism, a critique – An audio essay from B+W PHOTOGRAPHY MAG

This episode is a recording of my piece for Black+White Photography Magazine issue 194

This piece is all about the over emphasis on the benefits of perfection in photography. 

Photography is a medium that lends itself to perfectionism – ever better options and technology mean that aberrations and imperfections will be ‘optional’ in the not so distant future. But what effect does this have on the medium’s ability to convey the kernel of our humanity? Do ever sharper pictures with perfectly rendered tones lead us to a sense of truth or away from that and into a world where ‘values’ have moral supremacy?

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If you’d like to discuss printing your work you can get in touch with me at alex@flowphotographic.com or visit the Flow Photographic website.

Thanks for listening,


PS Thanks to Chad Lelong for the music!

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4 thoughts on “EP23 – On Perfectionism, a critique – An audio essay from B+W PHOTOGRAPHY MAG”

  1. Sound thoughts beautifully expressed, Alex. I do like the idea of displacement activity. As one who will never get his head around all that my cameras can do, I rarely stray from automatic, although I do try to ensure that not every single leaf, no matter how distant in the frame, is in such sharp focus that our own eyes would never notice. Sorry I can’t be contentious 🙂

  2. Well I can be contentious, but I think it’s Alex that is being contentious actually.

    Whilst I hear & get where Alex’s is coming from I think this is generally an old & outdated argument in today’s world.

    There is noting wrong with perfection, and if you are going to learn your craft of photography you need to know where the approximate line of perfection lies. That takes practice and getting a custom to seeing it. There are times where sharp is needed, and to suggest that it gets in the way of everything else creative is a broad and often wrong assumption & statement. It can happen as can most vices in life.

    Instinct is something you may have or don’t have until you have practised photography, got used to your camera & proven to yourself that you can create what you intended to create. There is nothing more frustrating as an artist (photographic or otherwise) than not being able to execute your vision. In many, not all, photographs something is sharp, as you need to direct the viewer’s eye to certain parts of the image. This can be done in may ways but sharpness is a key one.

    There are boundless websites, podcasts, and other media that focus on the creative and cerebral elements of photography, but of course they are out numbered by ‘gear sites’ and reviews of cameras – this is a commercial world after all.

    Technology does not need to get in the way of abstract concepts or ideas, it is a bedfellow and a rounded photographer encompasses both. Whilst the camera you need to execute your ideas is a ‘sufficient’ camera, ask yourself how many great photographic creatives and artists what camera they have, and invariably it will be a Leica, Hasselblad, or hugely expensive medium format or large format camera with ‘perfect’ lenses, so much for not creating new visual languages when using perfection capable technology.

    The fact that so many people are using Silver Efex Pro, software derived textures in images, Lomo cameras & film, Lensbaby lenses etc, means there is a huge proportion of photographic population embracing creative channels in thier photographic articulation of what they see. Is it a cheap & nasty copy of film photography, absolutely not, as 35mm film was not a cheap & nasty version of wet-plate collodion although it was thought of as such when George Eastman launched his version of today’s democratic technology.

    In conclusion, perfection is great, embrace it, marry it with creative ideas & abstract concepts, produce a Jeff Wall, a Gregory Crewdson, or an Andreas Gursky with perfectly sharp images throughout, or produce a Chris Friel, a Sugimoto, or Alexey Titarenko.

    Argument is both fun & constructive, looking forward to more.

    1. Several good points there, Steve… I am a sucker for a beautifully crisp image myself and I use Leica and love the quality of their lenses so I am completely guilty as charged. For all sorts of reasons we need to strive for better and better optical technology – to do otherwise would be to deny progress and, as you say, where would we be without the progression from plate to 35mm? My argument is that the development of new cameras is driven by a lust for technology and not for art. Technology is consuming us and the conditions in which we disseminate our images and view the images of others is becoming increasingly dictated by a sense of technological perfection. But in every other way I completely agree with you.

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