Quiet Desperation

Picture-perfect pictures aren’t always a good look


If you were born after World War II and before Apple, you might have some out-of-focus family photographs around the house.

Unless you had a Nikon or a darkroom, and not many of us did.

We had Brownies and other crummy Kodaks that took rolls of film that had to be taken to a drugstore.

A week later, you’d get an envelope with 12 crummy prints and your negatives.

Some of those prints were better than others, and miraculously captured a moment.

You took what you got. There was no improving the prints.

That’s all changed.

Almost anyone can point and shoot a camera or a phone these days, get a high resolution image, and then improve it with Photoshop or a variety of other applications.

There’s even one that lets you take a clean and clean contemporary image and turn it into a crummy one that looks like it was taken after World War II and before Apple, complete with scratches.

Oh, there are still some among us who couldn’t take a good photograph if Ansel Adams was standing next to them, and take pictures outdoors at high noon when the sun makes anyone’s nose look like mine.

Professional photographs of my artwork once required a controlled environment with all kinds of equipment, tripods, special lamps and filters. Now? Angela shoots in my living room with a handheld camera and nothing else nearby, except Harry at her ankles.

If a color is slightly off in the resulting image, she can correct it.

She does that on a computer, not in a darkroom. She doesn’t have a darkroom.

I took a number of photography classes when I was in college, and everything had to be developed in a darkroom in the dark, amid trays of pungent and dangerous liquids.

There were darkroom tricks to achieve special effects, but it was nothing like current options that can swap my head for John’s on the cover photo of “Abbey Road” and make it look authentic.

All of this means a number of things.

For one, everyone on Earth can be a good photographer.

For another, photographs can no longer be trusted.

Ostensibly, I could document my paintings myself. But I don’t and won’t because of the cost of a camera like Angela’s.

The other reason is more human, and it’s why I don’t stretch my own canvases or do my own taxes.

I like to work with Angela. I like to work with Pat at Meininger, who stretches my canvases, and I like to work with Harley and Amy, who do my taxes.

Nothing is better than working with someone who knows what they are doing.

Those bad photos we all have are beloved by art galleries and collectors, precisely because they are primitive and grainy.

Imagery of all kinds has changed. Films and commercials are full of truly unbelievable special effects.

However, if you check out the Rotten Tomatoes rating for the 1933 “King Kong” and compare it with later versions, you’ll see a big difference: 1933 wins.

Sometimes, in fact very often, technology does not improve art.

You might even have a drawing taped to your refrigerator of crooked animals and flying pirates that you appreciate more than you would if a Chagall were taped to it.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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