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The historical future of Photography

by Editor Wicher Bos

Weird title? Yep, but let’s face it, we are in an era of weird changes in picture making…
That’s a word used to bring Painters and Photographers in one word, Picture makers.

Nowadays, a new born (we christened it CGI) is growing-up fast and demands its place in the picture-making family. What should we do?
Let’s explore some historical viewpoints.

Just after its birth, photography was called “mechanical reproduction” – the ‘crafts’ were claimed missing. The tool used to create an image was believed ‘too easy’ to be artistic. Yet, it seemed to bring “Truth” – reproduction of reality – as a bonus. This was a short lived believe. The 19th century photographers like, H.P. Robinson and O.G. Reijlander were introducing actors and combining multiple pictures into a single print, creating a scene that never existed in reality.

CGI – or digital image generation – is called ‘artificial renderings’ – at first these were easy to identify as artificial. Today, we hardly see it, it seems to be taken from reality. This new technique however, can create images that are (almost) impossible to do in Photography. Show buildings that never existed, people or animals in crazy dangerous situations.

As Senior Critic Mike Kreiten has mentioned in reply to an earlier article about CGI by Editor David Williams, examples on can be found:


“The path” by Agniribe


N/T by Mountain Cloud

In response, photographers disagree being compared to this ‘unreal’ and ‘cold’ computational world. Totally understandable. Yet, in the image-buying business these images will be stiff competition. As mentioned on the forum: “…deeper down you see photography can become superfluous soon”

Next, if only the tool (CGI) is seen as the discriminating factor (because the image is not based on an exposure of light sensitive material but just generated by software, or a similar definition) what does it mean for the use of modern cameras. Is it lack of genuine ‘photographic craft?’ Why else this criterion?

I see an historical pattern here…
Is painting – photography? No, but a photograph of a painting is…

Is CGI – photography?
Not in the traditional sense, however what if a photo processed heavily in digital software? Is it still a photo? How big needs the % of reality – or % of optical tool bases be, to be accepted as a photograph? What if cameras get much smarter, as we start seeing already. (DSLR’s can do HDR and Focus stacking internally, some of which processing can be labelled as compensating the camera’s deficiencies in comparison to the human eye.)

What makes the distinction? Reality?  No not really ;)
Because the result of most post-processing photos never existed in real life.

The key philosophical consequence and question is:
What does it mean to have always ‘perfect pictures’ which are beyond reach of an ordinary photographer?

Well, first of all, the perception of beauty in society will be heavily impacted… Idealized situations become standards… This will trigger high expectations about images and a looming disappointment with reality.
Is this perhaps the reason why we see so many photographers falling back on old ‘appearances?’ We see so many photos inspired by Pictorialism, Italian Futurism, etc. ‘faked’ by digital post-processing – only a few die-hards still use traditional negatives and chemicals.



“Misty Path” by William (Bill) Eiffert


“But soft, what light ...........” by William (Bill) Eiffert

Italian Futurism-like


“Hop skip and jump” by Mel Brackstone


"Feel the joy” by Mel Brackstone

Others also using known ‘analog’ techniques’ or ‘film-type’ processing


"multi house #2" by Roberto Marini

N/T by Suzuhiko Suzuki


“words of love” by Oleg Oprisco

Is a specific tool (the optical lens, sensor, film) as suggested above – the ultimate criterion to be called photographer? If so, how far can he go in processing digitally after the fact? I see often photographic composites that stun me… but despite the photographic origin these do not truly match the tool-criterion…

Should a picture-buying business care? Or… should its focus be on the image itself: the creativity of the artist – the message it carries – the emotion it evokes…

Painting didn’t die, it explored new territories like impressionism and abstract painting, going ‘wild,’ if you look at artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Photography should do the same – explore and reinvent its reasons to exist…

Perhaps our criterion should be the ‘purpose of the image’: fun for the viewer; pleasure in making; conveying a message; reporting a fact; or ‘food for thought’ like a visual poem; or a good mix of them.


Poem” by Filipe Correia


“Fading away” by Gilad33


“Big dreams” by Ben Goossens


“Think” by Tommy Ingberg


“Surrounded” by Tommy Ingberg

Society should redefine its believes and its treatment of photographs as sources of truth fast… as nothing is certain anymore… staging and manipulation is there already, CGI en advanced photo editing techniques make it more urgent to decide. News agencies, that specialize in verifying all messages issued, are society’s latest answer to handle this trend of ‘frame-able’ reality. Maybe we need ‘sworn in’ photographers certifying what they report in their images to be true.

For artist picture makers? I am convinced the world is theirs… as it always was.
Let me finish off with a photograph that, to me, expresses that vision:


"The curator" by Gus

Suggested further reading:

Peter Henry Emerson – Naturalistic Photography 1890
Antony Guest – Art and the Camera 1907
Susan Sontag – On Photography 1973-2005


Hello Wicher, I appreciate your very interesting contribution to this popular CGI subject. I will not comment it, because I'd just repeat my comments to David article on the same subject. However, what surprise me that I can hardly see comments or words of recognition from 1x curators. IMO they should express their opinion not only to this article but also to many other published articles in 1x blog. Somebody should think about it.
Should...... won’t. LOL
It would indeed be interesting to read the point of view of the curators and especially of the founders of this site. I also wonder why not more 1X-members express their views on the matter.
Miro may it all comes down to this fundament difference in the end: Applied and Fine Arts, which are differentiated most commonly by the factors of utility and aesthetics. Utility traditionally involves the design and making of materials that respond to functional needs, whereas aesthetics are motivated more by their ability to produce something that looks beautiful. However, contemporary views of the visual arts have moved beyond the polarities of „fine‟ and „applied‟ to questions of subjective expression and objective function. quote from Helen Caple's 2009 PhD thesis... we will see..
I'm sorry if I mis-understand your article, but it seems that you're placing my two images into the CGI category? They're both shot in one frame, using motion blur. There is no other processing other than a little contrast and saturation in one case, and contrast and de-saturation in the other. Motion blur is quite easy to do in camera. Apologies if I'm reading it incorrectly, but I need to make sure that you realise the images are NOT produced by software.
Hi, Mel This is excatly what the problem is. It is getting so difficult to see the difference nowadays. Looking at your stunning images, it’s obvious to me it is motion blur. Also under the correct category and looking at the article again, they have been placed under the title of “Italian Futurisim”
Sorry, I hit send before I finished! So anyway I did notice this "We see so many photos inspired by Pictorialism, Italian Futurism, etc. ‘faked’ by digital post-processing" So possibly it was mistaken for CGI. Again this heightens my point about how difficult it is to see the difference now.
I have not meant to say your images were CGI, not at all, the just the opposite! I know you made these with motion-blur. However the style reminded me of Photodynamism (Anton Giulio Bragaglia) and Italian Futurism, that's why the heading reads Italian Futurism-like - i meant: 'in the style of' just to indicate that nowadays we see many excellent images in various 'photo-styles'. The word 'faked' i used because all these are digital images, made digital or scanned copies, not the old plates (of course not - because those are impossible to share in this way) Apologies if it is a wrong word, but this was my intention. Personally i do not pretend i can check an image for CGI elements, that's why in that category i just referred to two images that were labeled on the forum as such in a previous discussion. And indeed - David's conclusion is fully mine: It is or will be impossible to see the difference. What will that do to our beloved photography?
Yep excatly what, Wicher said. What will it do to our beloved photography. It saddens me actually. This type of image would of been cutting edge decades ago and even though it’s still an awesome shot to us photographers, many people will instantly think “CGI” hence my point about the importance of correct category and explanation in the comment section. Not saying you didn’t, I mean in general. To end this discussion, your two shots are great, I really like them. I’ve done similar myself and I understand you completely. But like myself and Wicher, CGI, editing etc now let’s us make this type of image easily. That’s the sad truth :(
Thanks for clearing that up Wicher, I appreciate it. I'm sorry if I didn't interpret your words properly. I agree that there are many instances of images trying to make out they're not manipulated, and yes, it can be difficult at times to pick them. Thanks also for your input David williams.
Hey there Wicher :) Interesting article following mine about CGI. I’m happy to see such an in depth article about it, again provoking responses. One of my main points was to have an extra category for this type of “photography” or “picture making” like Mike said. Also what really gets my back up is people putting a CGI photo in a category let’s say animals when it is 10% animal 90% CGI. There is a category named “creative edit” but people don’t use it, why? Trying to pass off a CGI image as real, really gets on my ......
Thanks David, as you will know - I have no influence on the categories, if these change – for me it’s ok, still remains that in the next years I will be increasingly difficult to identify rendered images. May be we need more categories then, similar to ‘straight photography’ as pledged by Emerson and others.
BTW: Amazing artwork selection in the article, every single is a masterpiece!
Great article, Wicher! The problem of art seems to be technology ... ok, let’s talk more about art! When it comes to the specific effect of art, technology/technique is secondary, isn’t it? From the artistic point of view, it should not make any relevant difference whether you got to the specific effect of art in your artwork using a camera, brush etc., just the 3D software or a combination of all. Just my opinion... Cheers, Alexej
Excellent article (and choice of illustrations) ! Photographers are picture makers ever since the beginning of photography. As Ansel Adams said " You don't take a photograph, you make it".
Thank you for this interesting article, Wicher. You touch many valid points, and everybody had the chance to see what I was referring to in CGI reading my post abut renderings.
Technology is developed to stay, and 1x is a perfect example of using new technologies t imitate past technologies. The still lifes, wet plate looks, blurred and highly edited macros, cleaned abstracts, they all appear like paintings. Obviusly we consider them artistic and eye-pleasing, rewarded with publications.
Same could count for CGI, just they imitate photography or filming, and it would be easy to go one step further and make them look like paintings. Anybody seen "Loving Vincent"? A perfect example.
My response to David's article and my post in the forum was taken a bit out of context. I wasn't saying CGI is a bad thing and should be banned. My point was, like Susanne said below, it is a different way of creating a picture. And 1x, as far as I read the first 4 sentences of the FAQ, not a picture site, but a photo site. So again, if curators want to take CGI in portfolio, then please in an extra section. The slots on 1x front page are limited. We all experience rejections because of the necessary selection process. So every slot occupied by a 100% rendering takes one away for photography. Which I personally would only agree to if the CGI selected stands out from works in it's own genre, not compared to photography.
That was the reason I posted about renderings in the forum and replied to the former article. And it seems I was heard, which I very much appreciate.
Hey Mike :) I agree with you :) and yes you were heard :) let’s see what happens with the extra category. Things in the background are very busy right now, but I believe categories will be updated. Cheers, David
Hi Mike, had no intention of misquoting you, just wanted to dig in further what the real issue is we are facing here. Diluted borders between photography and CGI (and when linked to AI it gets even worse) - we can not see the distinction anymore. So i think the intent was in line with your expressed concerns. I have no clue what happens to the categories, but surely over time any photography site will have to give guidance on what is acceptable to them. (And get people to judge it properly - as the identification of CGI (elements) in photographs will become extremely difficult i think.
An interesting article! It opened a new would of picture making. I had no idea. Painting, photography, the graphic arts and CGI have one thing in common: the creation of an image. Big difference is how it is made - this may sound like an open door, but it is ‘t. A photorealistic painting is still a painting, allthough it looks like a photograph. And, as is shown in some of the above photos, photographs can look like paintings - but they are still photos. A CGI may be a look alike photograph, but it isn’t, because the technic behind it is different. For a painting you need a canvas, brushes and paint; for a photograph you need a camera - with film or a sensor. Without those tools you can’t make that painting or photograph. So CGI pictures have nothing to do with photography - and painting. It is a discipline In its own right and should be treiterde like that. I wonder if it should be shared on a site that is about photography. If it is shared, why not post photorealistic paintings? They are as looke a likes as CGI’s.
Please read for “treiterde” like that: “treated” like that. The computer played me a trick.
Love your comment! :) :D
Susanne and David, thanks for responding to my article, and you are of course right painting is not the same as photography. Maybe I should have been more precise, but in the early days (read Emerson and others) photographers (often ex-painters) beautified their photographs with painting. Diluting the border between the two. Exactly as happens now between photography and rendered images… In the end this did not satisfy the buyers and color photography partly took away the need. How the solution between CGI and Photography will evolve remains to be seen, yet, today it is a blurry interface already. Principally, I see no difference between CGI and Photoshop – Fill Content Aware for example. Both are rendered. As said, I see images on photography site (including that are highly processed and hardly relate to a photograph as you could make it in a real-life situation.
Indeed Wicher, the boundaries between photography, painting and rendering are very thin. And I often wonder if those highly processed images on 1X have anything to do with photography. At the other hand, we must not forget that in the old darkroom days, the manipulation of the prints was also extensive and had often nothing to do with a real life situation. It is all about image making with different technics which all have their own value. As you said, 1X should make it clear which technic is acceptable - by creating a new section or by banning CGI.
Bellissime. Complimenti. Beautiful. Congratulations.