Deliberate Composing

Time for a rant…
There are photographers, peers I guess, out there that I consider purists - those that believe that a photograph should start and end in-camera, with no enhancements or treatments whatsoever. Most of them gravitate towards the following genres: Macro, Landscape, Street Photography.
We all have opinions, I realize that, and I am no different. My opinion is: photography without enhancement is boring. It's just what I enjoy. I associate purist photographers with documentary filmmakers, There is a place for documentaries, and I like some of them, but I am not at all interested in being a journalist or a documentary lenser. I am interested in the cinematic, in heightened reality, fantasy, surrealism and conceptualism.
But the one thing I have noticed is this snobbery coming at me from the purists, sometimes politely, sometimes not, about what I do. In fact, I just got a comment that prompted me writing this in the first place. The comment was about this image:

and the comment was: "Maybe it's more graphic, than photography!?"
Well no, it's not. So not only is your comment unwelcome, it is inaccurate. This image is 100% photographic; the field, the model, the crucifixes, the sky, all shot by me. Even the debris coming off his hat in the foreground, was a high speed shot of soil being sifted from my hand. So let's take stock here, if you want to challenge "what is photography" shall we? If this person focuses on landscapes, for example, he is likely walking fields and mountains, hill and dale with a camera bag, a camera, and a few lenses. He is likely using natural light, and adjusting his camera settings accordingly. So, he gets a great landscape, courtesy of nature, light, and all things random and wild. Great! Congratulations on being there and twisting your knob. My opinion is coming out here, but it's partly from a place of defense, so please bear with me…
Now let's talk about what I did to get the pieces that comprise my shot:
I booked a model. I shot the model with studio lighting. I went out to a field and shot the field in natural light. I shot the soil being sifted from my hand using high speed strobes. I shot a close-up of the crucifix prop. The rest was made using borrowed and altered photographs - the light, for example, was a shot of the sun I took in the sky with my aperture stopped all the way down, and then heavily manipulated. So…natural light photography, studio/high-speed lighting photography…hmmm, mine seems to demonstrate a little more in the way of techniques, and so far, all of them photography-based. In short, mine took more effort than yours did.
Now before I offend anyone…that previous statement does NOT mean that mine is better. At all. It simply means that I choose to use photography as a medium for art compositing and collage, and you choose to only focus on the photography in and of itself. I consider what i do "Deliberate Composing" for lack of a better term. It is the same approach to painting or sketching.
And guess what: there is room for both.
But do NOT come at me with your purist snobbery about mine being somehow "less than" photography, when in fact, sir, it is MORE photographic in spirit than yours. At least that is the way I see it. Do not assume I do what I do because I lack some skills behind the camera and am hiding behind trickery. I choose to do this because it is what makes me happy. It is a form of artistic expression, and shooting a homeless person on a gritty city street is not art TO ME. To others it might be, and that is fine, but to me it is journalism, or a documentary, and well, slightly invasive.
This purism snobbery has always been there, in all mediums against another. Painters felt threatened and therefore lashed out against photography when it emerged. Black and white film purists felt color film was sacrilege. Theater took a dim view of movies. Filmmakers had a low opinion of television. And on and on…
I do not consider what I do groundbreaking or remotely new. Jerry Uelsmann has been doing photo collages since before Photoshop was even around to help! His wife Maggie Taylor is a pioneer and visionary in that field as well. The list is long.
I have no illusions about what I do, and as some background, in my defense against these ignorant opinions, I have been shooting cameras for 12 years, and started with portraiture. I have done macro photography, product photography, occasional landscapes (not my thing at all), a couple live events, dogs in the wild at play, and have shot twelve live performance videos and several other music videos. I can edit in Final Cut, and Premiere Pro, have extensive experience using Photoshop and After Effects, and have been teaching myself studio lighting for six years. I shoot a Canon 5d mk II and have three prime lenses that I use because they cause less chromatic aberration than the zooms, and the clarity and quality is so much better. I own a tripod, I own radio transmitters, and have a basement full of light diffusers and gear.
So, Mr. Purist, who doubts my bid for photographic credibility, I have done my time, I have learned my lessons, and I can shoot a picture. i just choose to look at it now as a starting point, and not the end point. I choose to compose my shots deliberately, not to be a slave to random occurrences and luck of just being there at the right place and time. I choose to control light, not be controlled by it. I choose to express something in my art, not just capture something.
This is not the first comment I got like this. Recently someone insisted calling what i do "graphic design" and that really got under my skin. I have been pretty vocal about the purist mentality on as well (see my blog post "the Sublime and the Snobbery.").
So you go be Michael Moore, or whatever documentarian you appreciate, and I will be Spielberg, Lucas, and Del Toro. That's who I want to be, and I am busy now looking at scripts and dreaming up surreal environments, so take your close-minded opinions and long lens and take a walk in the woods - I am sure something amazing will present itself.
Or maybe it won't.
Michael Bilotta, January 13, 2013