In all art forms you can see the “artist’s hand” in the final work. In painting the brush strokes are unique to the hand movements of the artist, and without the intervention of the artist that painting would have remained pigment in tubes and raw canvas on stretchers. In photography it is harder to see the hand of the artist, it is less immediately apparent, but no less important. More credit is given to the instrument in photography than in other art forms. People don’t say “that’s a beautiful painting, you must have great brushes.”The brushes are just the tool the artist used. The camera is the same. As with anything having quality tools makes your job easier, but it is far more important to have vision and intention, and to work with what tools you have. The tools are important in helping realize the final product, but even the best tools in the wrong hands will not produce anything, and a cheap camera in the right hands can produce beautiful image. In modern digital photography the computer is another tool integral to producing a final image, as important as the darkroom in film photography. Every digital photograph has been altered in some way by software in a computer, but the question is really which computer and who chose how it would be altered. Is it the computer in your camera that was programmed by the designers of the camera, the designer of the app you downloaded with the cool filters, or is it the artist who took the image and decided how to best represent what they saw. I think people should ask artists not “are these images digitally altered?” because they all are in some way, whether by a program in your camera or by the artist with a computer, rather they should ask “how are these altered, and why did you choose to do that?” or “where do you draw the line in the level of alteration in your photographs?”
Photography is different from painting though because less skill is needed to enter the field, and the learning curve is gentle. This combined with the fact that cameras have become ubiquitous as they have gotten cheaper and been integrated into phones and computers that people carry with them everywhere. One might think that this has cheapened photography as an art form, really though I think it has made it more accessible than ever. It means that everyone has the potential to be an artist but it does not mean that everyone is an artist.
There are many different types of photography each with a different objective. Photojournalism is different from advertising, which is different from art. I do not intend to say that there isn’t art in each of those realms of photography, but there are different expectations for each and different rules that govern each field. Both photojournalism and advertising are about telling a story, but it is the difference between fiction and non-fiction literature. In photojournalism you assume that things haven’t been added to or removed from the picture because it is about honesty and trust. Advertising on the other hand is about making the image fit the intended narrative, you do what you must to create that narrative. Art is the observation of the world around us through a unique lens, showing things in a way that have never been seen before, and shining the light of perspective into the dark corners of the world. With art you dance on the line between the imagined and real, finding that sometimes the imagined has more truth than the real.