Comes with the territory

One of the main criteria for perceiving something as a work of art is its uniqueness.
It’s one of the kind and no one can reproduce it, not even the author.

There’s only one Mona Lisa, only one Guernica.
It’s almost a requirement, to be unique, to be a single item.

The “non reproduction” characteristic is a cultural and aesthetic value.
Unique is a major concept in art theory.

Things changed and all the sudden we entered a digital age taking printing to a whole new level. Books, posters, album covers, flyers… you name it. All the sudden the world became filled with communication objects but… a very special kind of communication objects. They are designed, from the beginning, to be reproduced. We don’t call it art, we call it design.

Take the Gutenberg Bible as an example. We see it as one of the most important objects in the history of mankind, we acknowledge its cultural value, historic value but not much the artistic value. We talk about how rare and important it is but not about how the pages are designed, the fonts, the margins, the kind of paper, the finishing, etc…

Reproducibility is the characteristic of these objects.
Communication, graphic or industrial creations, more or less creative but not art. When Marcel Duchamp picked up a public urinal and exhibited it in an art gallery, something changed forever.

There it was, an object not conceived as a work of art, mass produced and reproduced, with no aesthetic value, being seen as art.

The bottom line is: Uniqueness or Reproducibility should not be a criteria for the aesthetic evaluation of something. Uniqueness or Reproducibility are just a characteristic of something.


That brings me to film.
I have a pathological… thing concerning dust and hairs on my negatives.
Well, dust, hairs and scratches are a characteristic of film photography. I know that film is not supposed to get dirty or scratched but it comes with the territory.

No matter how well taken care of our negatives are, there’s always that tiny spec we just can’t get rid of. It’s part of the process and we all accept it. However… is that characteristic a criteria for the aesthetic evaluation when look at a photograph?

I truly believe that the Sex Pistols cover is as beautiful as the urinal and as beautiful as the Mona Lisa.
And I’ve also said that the intrinsic characteristics of something should not interfere with our aesthetic evaluation and enjoyment.

When it comes to dust and hairs does it interfere?

Please click on the images to see them larger.


Untitled-13Untitled-16PS: I hope that some of my writing is understandable. I try not to misspell a lot and I try to improve on every post. That being said I would appreciate any advice or correction from my English speaking friends. Thank you.

  1. I know the look of the hairs and dust on my negatives and I know the time it takes to remove them in Photoshop!! Enough said. Your English is fine and your vocabulary is impressive.

    • Thank you my friend.
      I admit that for me hairs and dust are something of a personal “phobia”. I don’t even use the Dust and Scratches filter in Photoshop, I always Stamp Tool my scans.

      I can’t look at one of my images and like it the same way if it has some dust on it. I think I appreciate it more if it’s clean.

  2. jeremy north said:

    I don’t always comment on your posts, sorry, but I love your blog. Your english is very good as are your photographs.

    The urinal is not a work of art, but I agree that it may be a thing of beauty. I find the same with many manufactured products. Have you looked at bicycle parts? I love them, also many mechanical pieces.

    As regards dust and fluff, they are the arch enemy of all film shooters. We detest anything which makes scanning even more of a chore than it should be.

    • Thank you very much Jeremy.

      I like reading about art and aesthetics and thinking about things and you nailed one of the major differences between “artistic” creations.

      Yes and yes a million times.
      The urinal is not a work of art!
      According to the “art thinkers” a new concept had to be created to accommodate these new “already made” pieces.

      To accommodate those objects which were not created to be works of art but designed to be utilitarian objects but that hold a certain creative and aesthetic value.

      The art theory says that those are not “works of art” but “art objects” or, as you wrote it so well, “things of beauty”.

      I always try to post clean images but clone stamping the scans in Photoshop is a time consuming and many times using the Dust and Scratches filter alters the edges on some parts of the images making them much too soft that they really are.

      For posting samples of a lens, for example, it can give the wrong idea. That’s why I always use the Clone Stamp tool.

  3. Mark said:

    Really interesting article. I personally think it all comes down to an image being “finished” or more importantly knowing when to stop working on something. This is true for all works of art. As a graphic designer, like yourself, you know it can be a difficult decision deciding when you have done enough and the artwork is finished without over doing it. It’s not something that can be taught, it just feels right.

    I think photography is the same. Whether it’s deciding that the composition is correct, the balance of highlights and shadow, contrast, etc. That includes dust and hairs on film. If the image is made worse by having marks on it then they need removing but if you were shooting with a plastic toy camera then any impurities would probably add to the overall image effect and could probably be left.

    It really just depends on the image.

    PS I really wouldn’t worry about your English. It seems pretty good to me and half the population of this country can spell or have no idea how to use punctuation correctly anyway! That’s why text-speak is so popular. It definitely doesn’t read as if it’s been written by someone for who English is not there first language. 🙂

    • Excellent point Mark.
      Yes, many times those impurities can be used as a graphic, expressive or textural element. It comes down to a personal choice.

      If one feels it is “right”, as an image, as a final result of something the fact that it might have some impurities will not take out any aesthetic value from it.

      You do have a clear view on this. Thank you for the wise words. Instead of immediately refusing to deal with that inevitable characteristic of film I should take a step back and try to look at my images in a more open way. Thank you again.

      PS: You are very kind Mark. The truth is that I respect language and I like to learn.
      In the words of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa “My homeland is my language” 🙂

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