tom chambers – prom



Prom Gown #3 by Tom Chambers


BURN will soon be featuring an essay by this artist. For this series, Mr. Chambers was influenced by Mexican religious art.

101 Responses to “tom chambers – prom”

  • Ok, we’ve washed into the realm of art and fiction, so we can forget the rules associated with visual truth. We can also À la carte any of the rules associated with photography since with this implementation of art; well… photographic capture is just a bit player in a much larger cast of ‘make it happen’ artistic activities.

    once you’ve dumped the rules related to truth and dumped the rules related to photography you can begin to explore the only two aspects of this equation that matter. There is (1) artistic intent and there are (2) the activities that take place to make that intent happen; and it doesn’t matter if the result ends up on your monitor, in a magazine, or tattooed on your girlfriend’s boob, it’s all two-dimensional media as soon as you started cutting and pasting.

    So of course the activities that make artistic intent happen can be photographic, pure page layout, pure graphic design, or even pen and ink; nothing is off limits now that we’re talking about two-dimensional art as the intent and the result.

    So what’s the intent? What activities took place to produce the result? What intent and what activities are in the scope of Burn’s interest?

    What’s the general appetite for two-dimensional media these days over pure photography? How much of the paid-for-results are pure capture of a visual truth? How much of the paid-for-results are re-imagined fiction? Is Burn about two-dimensional media so long as it includes ‘capture’ somewhere in the artistic lifecycle? Is Burn about widespread commercially appealing two-dimensional media?

    How about considering the context of time to produce the result? How much was spent dreaming this art up? How much was spent with photographic ‘capture’ activities? How much was spent cutting and pasting or other predominately graphical design activities? If most of the time was spent cutting and pasting verses photographic capture, would Burn still be as interested in this two-dimensional art form?

    It’s not uncommon for an end result like this to be on the cover of a quality magazine, except it is more common that three people joined professions to create it. What if the artist ‘buys’ all the subject matter from a stock photography agency and only ‘assembles’ this piece of photographic-‘like’ art? Would Burn still be interested in the result? How about if they did do their own capture activities, but the capture was trivial in comparison to the cutting and pasting activities? Would Burn still be interested in this result?

    Ok, bare with me, I may seem like a suddenly started smoking crack while doing this next bit of typing.

    Soon the presentation of essays on Burn are going to become more complex; once we had clickable image changes, then smooth transition slideshows, and now we have shows augmented with music. It’s just a matter of time before essays on Burn include panning, zooming and voice-overs with music. Magnum is already there and has managed to make some pretty dull images look interesting using techniques that had nothing to do with photography. So if more time is spent on these non-photographic, multi-media activities to produce the ultimate visual result,… to produce a result that would be dull in comparison if it was just a clickable change of images, would Burn still be interested in that result?

    Ok, enough questions, my knee-jerk response to Tom’s very commercially valuable image is i wish it was not here on Burn. i stand by my initial and positive opinion of it: it is very good and very surgical and very sensational, but no offense Tom, if i want to see work like this, then like Ben mentioned, i’ll go over to deviant art, and since i never go there it’s a measure of my personal taste for this art, i say again, personal, but it can be summed up by this statement.

    For me, photography affirms reality, but does not explain it. Part of it’s strength lies in its ambiguity, its suggestiveness. – Alex Webb

    i too believe that a still image still offers an illusion in that you don’t know for sure what’s happened before it and you don’t know for sure what’s happened after it, but you know something has already happened by the time you see it and you have the luxury of looking at that image, contemplating that image, studying that image indefinitely for what it is, or indefinitely as a metaphor for something else.

    for this reason a still image will always have an unmatched strength against the flowing aspect of moving pictures and even written narratives, but…. only if that image actually carries the pedigree of authenticity; we simply need to believe that the image was not staged or we ‘will’ know what happened before (some one took a light reading) and we ‘will’ know what happened after (the model went back to his or her chair).

    and in the case of these montage images, it’s even more anti-illusionary for me as it’s a cutting and pasting exercise rather than a staged effort.

    that being said, maybe i do wish Burn was just about the results of predominantly photographic ‘capture activities’ and shunned ‘cutting and pasting’ efforts; but i appreciate that’s a naïve, almost juvenile way of thinking in this day and age. i would go so far to say that by not embracing Tom’s image above (to varying degrees depending on what you want to do with your photography).. but avoiding the ideas Tom employs might actually stunt your growth and your ability to survive in this industry.

    i know i always bang-on about this, but Darwin is alive and well with still photography, and where dinosaurs used to rule the world, so did pure still-photography, both for the same reason: there was no competition at the height of their rule.

    i mentioned already there were three professions to create a magazine cover. Is it such an impossible reality that in three years you will only survive in any of those roles because you can do well all three of them? Certainly those people will be the most marketable. How many magazine graphic designers of product media are taking their own pictures to reduce cost? How many brides are letting the guests take all the pictures only to have them assembled by a processing guru? And let’s not forget the purists, the John Vinck’s of the world, thank god they are still there, but even their pure P.J. images must compete with the prevailing presentation techniques, and thank gawd that Magnum has embraced them.

    luckily no one is shunning the multi-media extensions used to ‘make-happen’ their intent using some capture activities and loads of presentation activities. This is good; because we know that the better you are at both of these the better your work will compete in the growing appetite for multimedia.

    so i guess that’s my point, graphic designers and multi-media experts are going to own the keys to the castle for two-dimensional visual work (art or fact-based), prepare to pay them dearly or become one, but you will find it hard to compete without them in the future because the intent and the activities to implement that intent will be far wider than just capture. The writing’s already on the wall.

    and just so it doesn’t seem like my lack of interest in Tom’s image is just categorical, my second most admired photo essay, second only to Alessandra Sanguinett’s essay staring Guille and Belinda is ironically a ‘photo montage’, and even more ironic, it’s an essay incorporating just as much fantasy as reality, but i challenge anyone that is totally against photo montages to confirm that This Photo Essay by Kelli Connell doesn’t move you a teeny bit!

    Best Wishes Tom, you already know this, but you’ve surely got the skills to pay the bills for what the future will demand.

  • Joe,
    Just interested. Do you consider Loretta Lux’s work as commercial as well?

  • “I like different kinds of photography, but this isn’t photography. It may be created from a group of photos, but it certainly isn’t photography.”….

    La Trahison des Images…..

    oh my god…for once i am left in near silence…..”Ceci n’est pas une pipe”

    how to explain the inconsistancy of the light, how does one explain the inconsistancy of a dream, how does one argue that inconsistancy of light is an irelevancy in a image that comprises a construction of other images, and how does one find any photograph that has a consistancy of light, since light is difuse and is broken and scattered in every photograph as it makes it way across, around, through, reflected, covered, through a prism of all manner of things…anyone ever stand on a hill overlooking a valley, city, sea and notice how light (refracting through the air splays itself in myriad directions)…one wonders if we’re talking about photography at this point or how we have grown accustomed to manufactured photograph: what a photograph needs to look like (u remember all those photo classes we took, or the stuff we read in books first learning about harnessing light with a box)…

    hmmmm, and adams light was more ‘naturally’ consistent:

    and let’s no forget HCB Decisive Moment:

    to think that there is ever a specific moment that meets the countenance of this life…

    I am always amazed, stuppified really, when critique boils not down to: i dont like or feel or understand this (fair, legitimate, reasonable) photograph(y)…but instead, we scour our resources and the language of the work we like to justify why something is ‘not photography’…

    instead, we argue: i dont like this work because it fails my precepts, my aesthetic, my understanding of technique…the world is filled with tens of thousands of photographers who love Bresson and yet there was only want bresson, and there is a lifetime of moments, each of which is decisive, that go captured or lost….

    the world is there for whoever has the imagination to capture it, to dream upon it, to shuttle it, to let it sit inside as it reinvents itself anew….

    and all those digital photographs being made, which convert the properties of light into a a calculation of 1’s and 0’s aint photography either, i guess?…

    this work surely is not documentary or journalistic but it is photography, for all photography is only a very simple thing: to use the tools and mechanics of light to manufacture a image that survived past the original moment: life, or memory or idea or dream or thought or scent…

    ok, i’ll make it simple: i do not like every photograph in Tom’s galleries, and i think some of the sequences work better than others, for me, but i dont like most of my own work but try to see it for what it is: an extension of expression of life, of moments, of dreams and ideas….

    ce n’est pas une critique

  • JOE: :)))))))))

    kelli connell ROCKS…i’m a big big fan of her dreams, her ‘lives’ and her ‘siblings’ and ‘family’…she had a show here in Toronto for Contact a few years ago…..brilliant, intelligent, thoughtful PHOTOGRAPHY! :)))))

    wear that white hat tall :))))….good on u :))


  • Those readers who are disappointed that Burn is not the purely photojournalistic/documentary magazine they’d expected, might want to reread what editor/curator David Alan Harvey wrote in ‘about burn magazine:’

    “burn is born from an educational imperative and to bring strong photographic essays and powerful text to not only photographers, but to anyone fascinated by a visual and literary interpretation of our complex planet. Your interpretations may be either journalistic in nature or esoteric subjective pieces. I hold all artists in high regard. With me as editor/curator you need never think “what does he want or like?” I will push you to do your thing, not mine…

    “We will do something very special right here on burn. A collaboration between thee and me. Adventure. Always exploring new territory. With YOU as the authors.

    “Authors of your own destiny.”

  • Martin, commerciality considers the exchange of economic benefit for goods or services.

    Loretta is successful at collecting economic benefit for her photographs, so by that definition it seems that everyone should consider Loretta’s work to be of commercial value.

    A better question is if Loretta’s work is photography. Do you think they are photographs Martin?

  • you know what?

    i have a new project lined up, due to start next week. the discussions happening here on BURN (even if sometimes over the edge regarding “general politeness”), really make me think think much harder about my views on photography, my visual language, my style, my commitment, my ‘honesty’. they make me re-evaluate my opinions and make them stronger, better thought-through

    BURN makes me want to go and and shoot for BURN.

    and BURN makes me want to make it f*#%ing amazing.

    again, “caesar, morituri te salutant” sounds appropriate.

  • You are supporting “pan-everythingism,” where photography becomes anything and everything…and ultimately becomes nothing. What does it mean to someone when I say I’m a photographer? That I assemble images in photoshop? That I take whole cloth and cut it into pieces and re-assemble it to mirror my imagination? That I use a camera only to collect the parts? The result is art, of course, but it’s not a photograph. There are plenty of venues for the purely imaginary. I’m not sure the world needs another one.

  • james,

    what do you want “i am a photographer” to mean? “i have only pressed the shutter once”? or maybe “i have not “manipulated” it after (digital or analogue) development”? or maybe you mean to say that photography can only be inherently “realistic”, meaning can only depict wholly what actually exists?

    hmm… very thin ice here…

    or do you mean to say that it is the process that defines something being photography?

    i’m really intrigued, i’m not trying to bash you… i’d love you to elaborate on your point of view, if you wish to do so.



  • Am not taking issue with what you said here Cathy, but these days I, through my traditional leica film-based straight street shooting, keep asking myself if anything I am shooting is real..I am there making choices and sometimes causing an effect..I can’t help but feel that those moments on film are being created.


    :))) I know EXACTLY what you mean … This place here really does rise the stacks (gosh I have always longed for something like this!!) … One can never do it right for everybody, but one has to do it right for oneself, so one can stand by one’s work when the storm rises. Until now this was kind of a gut-thing for me. Now it is becoming more and more very active thinking. I, personally, like this a lot. It is about responsability. Environmental responsibility so to say :)

    While I painted, I had the oppinion that I needed at least 3 good reasons for everything I did to or on a painting, otherwise I should leave it out. Maybe that is why my paintings were so empty :) But ok, I cheated to … sometimes saying 1. balance 2. balance 3. balance … All a matter of priorities … :)

    BTW … dear BURN core team
    please come up with a “donate” button soon… People get used to things too quickly. And … I am running out of money :)

  • “pan-everytingism”…..and what is the world….what?….the issue of saying “I’m a photographer” is up to you, your understanding, your meaning, for you to determine…so, the day bresson put the leica away and began to paint again, he was what, no longer a photographer?…cameras do only that: collect/arrange parts…a photograph, even what appears to be your ‘traditional’ understanding of what a photograph is: a gossamer quilt of parts: each moment, 1/125th is an infintesmial moment of the entirety of the moments that past before your eye as you were clicking…venues for the imaginary: that would be our head…and dare i suggest, the world surrounding too….what i quarrel with you about is not that you dont find the photograph to your liking but that you assign it unworthy of being a photography, in fact, dictate to us what is a photograph…i still have not read what is a photograph to you…and how this differs in any real and legitimate way what tom’s work is….a photograph composed of photographs is not a photograph…i’d agree only if you allowed that a single image capture in a camera is not a photograph either…that’s the absurdty of your logic…why cant you simply say: i dont like this PhotoShop constructed stuff, it aint my bag….you know of course the shit that all the street guys swinging their leicas got from the ‘photographers’ of the world that used glass negatives or instant processing (in situ)….ironic isn’t it….emperor’s new clothes…my friend, we are all emperor’s masquerading behind our togas, what really is the need to say your robe is the only robe imaginable….

    and which magazine is the magazine about PHotography??:




    i do agree with you though about one thing, the world needs more than photography or photographic venues….infinitely more….


  • … and Dali speaks Salvadorian Dalian Spanish ..
    Ola from Los Angeles…

  • It’s not really anything very deep. I’m just concerned that if the definition of a photograph is broadened to include imaginary images created in photoshop, that a viewer will no longer be able to evaluate an image I hang in a gallery without each image being accompanied by a declaimer explaining how it was made. Sometimes real photos are messy, but created “photos” can be perfect. The featured photo could not exist in the “real world.” It is pure imagination. But it looks like a photo made in the camera to most people. How do my messy real world photos compete against perfect, impossible, created “photos.”

    I think that’s the slippery slope. It needs to be made clear to viewers what they are looking at. It is posted here without explanation.

  • Joe
    what about Gursky … ? Serious question.

    BTW there was manipualtion in old film photography too, even though there was no PS. They added fake skies, painted leaves on the negative … etc. etc. :)
    Have a look here …
    Did not get the name of the french names correctly… But it is quite interesting.

    And the little birdhouse I sent around for those I had an email of, has, if you look at it, two major mistakes:
    It was fairly dark where I made the photo, a little more than I needed to get the shadows I want – but I did not see the corner of the wall ending exaclty where the rooftop of the BH begins (it is a point & shoot – you do not see things EXACTLY as they will be photographed) … It would have been a question of moving to the side a little, not much only a tiny bit, but even while I remember trying to figure it out, the corner as you see it now just came up prominently when I raised the contrast … Well ok, I can still say I needed that for the layout because of the typo – even thought I know it is not the truth …

    BUT, unforgivable: the little – how you call it?! – thingy for the bird to sit on … The thing that is stuck under the hole (which in fact is a painted black dot)… it should stick out. It HAS to stick out … Instead it optically ended up “inside” of the house.
    I sent it around to some people yesterday … and then, later, … I sat down to manipulate the image to ease my pain :)

    As I could not simply redo the photograph because I am on the other part of town now, PS was the way to go. I prolonged the little piece of wood. It looks now as you would expect it to look and ends where it should end.

    BTW, David got the original version… without PS. Damn! :)

  • Sorry, … manipulation mentioned above connected to the link was on plate not on film …

  • I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out why Tom Chambers’ example of a beautifully constructed surrealistic photomontage is provoking such outrage. I think James Powers has given me a hint. In this world of digitally manipulated images, straight photographers–especially those who identify themselves as photojournalists–are afraid that no one will ever again trust that their images represent the unadulterated truth. Of course we all know that even straight photographers choose what truth to show, but still, what they see through their viewfinder is what you see in their print or image posted online. Whereas someone like Tom Chambers is showing only the truth of his vision.

    In my opinion, both Tom Chambers and James Powers are photographers; they just use the medium in different ways.

    When Joe implied that Tom was simply “cutting and pasting” I think he was ignoring the complex process that goes into the creation of every one of Tom Chambers’ works. If anything, we straight photogs are the ones who have it easy. Hell, we just makes our settings, look through the viewfinder, click the shutter and either print or post our photos on the web. To get an idea of what Tom Chambers goes through for every photomontage, check out his process statement at

    I think we’re talking about apples and oranges here. Each is a member of the fruit family even if you prefer one more than the other. I personally like both…


  • I was laying in bed this morning remembering all the conversations on road trip about whether or not it was okay to crop an image!!! We’ve come a long way from that for sure :))

    In that previous conversation I agreed with David, that FOR ME the discipline of creating the entire image in the camera was the ultimate goal. Have I cropped? Absolutely. Have I used photoshop? Definitely, but I would prefer not to NEED to.

    I remember the first time I heard the expression “I’ll fix it in photoshop.” It was at the Crow Fair (pow wow) in Montana. I was standing next to a woman who was photographing horses where there was a background filled with telephone poles. Time marches on and now “I’ll fix it in photoshop” has evolved to “I’ll CREATE it in photoshop.” FOR ME this work of Tom’s, along with the other links I posted above takes a great deal of talent and is very well done BUT where I draw the line is that it is COMPUTER BASED “IMAGINED” ART which I not my cup of tea. I prefer camera based photography that originates in a “real” moment in time. I believe they are two different animals. I’m not going to tell others they can’t like it or consider it to be photography…but I don’t.

  • Joe,
    I’m pretty sure that most artists or photographers don’t think about the money before or when producing a succesful body of work. However I’m pretty sure they are happy that they are making money and why shouldn’t they? I don’t think we can call all photographs that are selling for high prices commercial photographs because once they were created or at the start of the artists/photographers career they didn’t have the value. Just because a Nachtwey image is valuable I can’t call it commercial. Of course in a way it is, but not in the same way as an image in a Coke commercial. So I don’t think artists or photographers think much about the money or the images commercial value. HOWEVER and unfortunately the galleries do. But of course in a way I totally understand them.
    Regarding Loretta Lux.. I like her work and they are not photographs, they are two photographs in one ;) I think it’s art and don’t feel the need to label it as this or that, but partly the medium is photography, because cameras and photographs are used.


  • If one paid attention to the mean of photography and the etymology of the word we can’t discuss that the work of Tom are included in photography. In my personal view i don’t like use this term for those works, maybe because i grown viewing some photography that have an inherent relation with the reality, with the life. But for other person, for Tom, there is life in it. I can’t see it, i have not emotion. I don´t understand why a girl put in this position, what means this position. Without the denoted meaning i only have the connoted and i can´t found something that moves me. Is like a poem, you don´t have to understand, you have to feel. You got it or no. Hope you understand my english and, just in case, i am not trying to put outrage feelings here. I only trying to digest and learn. Welcome Tom

  • I understand what you are saying Erica but regardless of any “manipulation” on your part, you are still recording SOMETHING on film. Something is HAPPENING in time. For whatever reason, that is important to me…or at least I prefer it.

    Reminds me of something else I want to say…will post it below. Thanks.

  • fair enough james…i hear u on the ‘messy photos’ bit…just wait to you see my messy and messed up essay…all made with cameras (35mm, holga, diana, pinhole and lomo) and film (trix) and scanned negatives (some printed)..i think the issue about competition is a slippery slope too, the way i abide that is NOT to compete…actually, as digital technology and glass and PhotoShop have improved and often changed the look of imagery, i find myself returning to much less perfection…the magic of the moment, what i bring to the moment…u’ll seen soon, i think…it’s all a mess, and like u (i think), i prefer the ‘dirty’ photograph to the ‘clean’ one…i think we all just need to think is this: each of us does what we do and we send it out into the world and once that happens there is little we can do with it…like our children…i know i’ll catch flack for my essay (my work has always been critiqued at stupid or crass or not-photography or without technique), but all we can do is just do the work and let the cards scatter where they may…

    i’ve enjoyed the chat…i hope u didnt take any of my bombastic tirades as personal…its all silly in light of what happens in the world, and i tend to be undiplomatic….

    all we have is the work and the way we live and maybe the 2 reflect one another to some weird degree…


  • Erica’s comment just reminded me of one last thing…

    NOTHING EVER HAPPENED is the title of a book written about my spiritual teacher.
    It seems an appropriate expression for this type of art as well.

    Just because nothing ever happened doesn’t mean the image can’t be appreciated for what it is.
    It also doesn’t mean Tom isn’t a really nice guy…from what I recall, he is. As well as being a good sport for allowing us to have this conversation about his image. Great that we can express our opinions here and hopefully learn a thing or two from each other. For me this helps clarify what I like about photography and why I like it.

  • ha. this thin line between photography and visual arts is indeed very thin :)))

    i mean, what if i were to take a perfect 6×9 “analogue” shot of a surrealistic painting by dali?

    think about it: real photograph, but totally unreal subject in the painting… but the painting does exist, it is real.

    or what if i were joel-peter witkin… his work is something you won’t come across in real life.

    i don’t think you can decide something to be photography or not, depending on the process(es) involved. i know us humans like to categorize everything, but i think saying:

    “if photoshop used more than x percent, then not photography”

    is not really hitting the nail on the head.

    i might be wrong here, but doesn’t it just seem too simplistic to categorize in this way?

  • Hi Marcin,
    Yes, I shoot all the elements for each image. I shot the background for this image in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone Park. Splicing a background and foreground shot together for better depth of field. The sticks and girl were photographed in Virginia. Up until this year I used a medium format Mamiya Pro TL (film) but I recently bought a digital Nikon D-300. Film, scanning and processing costs became too expensive. Thanks.

  • When an image stops me…that’s enough for me….that’s why I love the way Eggleston responds when somebody makes all these complicated and imaginary questions and explanations about his images..

    I just love photography in any possible dimension as much as I love all kinds of music and art… but what I love more, is when people dare to do something different that’s why Ilove Tom’s work (since I’ve seen it for the first time in Photo Eye gallery)….beautiful.

  • Easy Patricia, ;-)

    with the exception of someone insinuating their peers are narrow minded, i don’t see anything unhealthy in this discussion. it’s an exploration of something contentious and all the energy for the most part is sincere, no? and there’s been loads of energy, yes?

    just yesterday we were toying with the concept of intent verse truth regarding Mustafah’s processing, so it seems an intuitive leap with this image. i honestly think David posting this image next to Mustafah’s discussion was like throwing a red-rag to the bull. i was holding my breadth for Stupid’s opinion as it was going to be gloves-off for sure if Stupid had an opinion.

    as far as this whole debate of… is it a ‘photograph’ or is it ‘two-dimensional art’ is interesting, but stops being conclusive after you’ve taken the first two steps (and of course i’m generalising, but i hope people get the drift):

    (1) ’How’ you plan to ‘collect light’ … How being things like perspective, focal length, shutter speed, aperture, quality of glass, etc.


    (2) ’What’ you plan to collect the light with … This light sensor, be it analogue or digital will typically behave a certain way based on the manufacture/chemistry of that sensor and capture a prescribed output of image for a given input of light.

    for a given decision to step one and step two you will likely get repeatable and predicable results regardless of what artists performed these steps or what spectator was viewing the output of these steps and some might consider these two steps to capture the truth of light and the cradle to grave of making a photograph.

    after that you go into a world ‘without’ such an objective algorithm and it doesn’t matter if you decide to use expired film, develop your negs in kryptonite , or print your images on tree bark, anything you do now is a rendering decision and there is nothing to say you are still working with a photograph or just visual art, is there? that’s a real question?

    i guess this grey area of intent and implementation will make it harder for people that don’t want their audience to think they have stretched this ‘base-truth’ too far, it’s not an unfair reaction to stretching the truth unless it’s well disclosed. But since most people now think that most of the images we now see are digitally remastered, it’s maybe too late for disclosures? When was the last time you bought a ticket to the concert and they disclosed they would be lip-syncking while they danced… hmmmm

    anways, it seems my ‘cutting and pasting’… ‘test’ is what incited you the most Patricia. Make no mistake about it, i’ve not reduce this activity down to cutting and pasting, i just chose that activity because of all the grey area of this topic, that step seems the most irrefutable to occur here and the step most foreign to the concept of photography. If it forced the topic, then i’m glad, i don’t appoligise for that, but it wasn’t to incite a riot, just discussion.

  • One more comment…images are not created only for photographers….common viewers just know if they liked or not….they don’t make any analysis about it…they don’t know about techniques, photoshop or if the image is digital or film and the best part is that they don’t care either….they just like or dislike the result…and most of the time they don’t even know what makes the image great or bad in their criteria…

    I guess that this is why the first advice that you receive (from the experts) when you start collecting photography is “buy what you like”.

  • “and most of the time they don’t even know what makes the image great or bad in their criteria…”

    but doesn’t that mean that you remain on the surface, and to be able to explain why or why not gets you to a deeper level, to an understanding of what you see and of yourself?

  • there’s some irony to what you say Martin :-) because in-practice you are correct, but in-theory you should not be so correct!

    professional artists have bills and hunger like the rest of us, so it would suggest they do care if their investment in a work of art will result in some bill-paying benefit.

    but alas, it seems we can go along way with just the romance of being an artist, so yes, commerciality does seam to stay concealed until the work is done, maybe ;-)

  • Tom, I immediately thought of an American Indian funeral rite when I saw your photograph; the kind where the body of the deceased is left to the elements.

    You have certainly opened a debate about what is “real” photography and what is not. Montage and photoshop are not my personal favorites; especially if it is not immediately obvious that the image has been manipulated. Your example here is certainly very well done and I understand and respect your stance: such work is somehow closer to writing in my mind than to photography and there is nothing wrong with that; you have something to say and you have chosen your medium.

    Personally, I’m with Lance in that I want to capture the fleeting, human condition, moments that will never happen again. E.g as much as I respect the landscape photographer I just can’t pursue the genre with any enthusiasm as I always feel that someone else could stand next to me and take the same photograph, or come to the same location next week and produce something similar to my efforts. Nevertheless the issue of manipulation is still relevant to documentary photographers: perhaps even more so.

    Joe has mentioned a few times that he personally sees some of the documentary photographs that have been shown here as too over-processed. When reading his comments I am reminded of the work of W Eugene Smith, a Master of the photographic essay and traditional B&W darkroom technique. When looking at Mustafah’s website yesterday I was struck by the similarity of one of his photographs “Patagonia Cowboys, photo number six” to Gene Smith’s photograph “Japan, Minamata Bay Fishermen. 1971″ (see it on the Magnum website). Anyone who has seen his Minamata photograph “Tomoko In The Bath” (now, I believe, withdrawn from print at the request of Tomoko’s family) has witnessed the raw power of a Master photographer and printer at work. Through the darkroom techniques of burning, dodging and bleaching with ferricyanide he was able to impart to the viewer the visual and emotional response that he wanted them to see and feel.

    We regard such work as examples of printing at the highest level but tend to consider similar digital work as “manipulation”. I’m not saying that this is what Joe stated: he was more concerned that the techniques presented were not, perhaps, of a sufficient quality as to be believable (I hope I’m not putting words into your mouth, Joe).

    Today’s photographer has at his disposal a vast array of digital techniques. This brings both freedom of expression and responsibility; particularly to the documentary photographer.

    The whole issue of how an essay should be presented is very complex. The photographer must show the truth of a situation but must be free to use techniques that he or she feels are appropriate and which aid the objective of informing the viewer. How much technique is too much technique? Only the photographer can decide; but I do believe that he / she should find their own “voice” – their own visual signature. Take your time and make sure that it is you and not just today’s fashion.

    Best wishes Tom,

    Mike R.

    Joe, I’d be interested to read your feelings with regard to Jonas Bendiksen’s exhibition “The Places We Live” which consists of re-creations of a number of slum dwellings complete with inhabitants (see it a Magnum). For me, it’s still straight photojournalism / documentary photography. He’s pushing the boundaries in terms of presentation but I’d be happy to see such work at Burn. I suppose it all comes down to intention.


  • Hola Eva,
    4 or 5 years ago I was very active as a painter (photography made me quit!)…and it was very funny to hear the gallery owner inventing all these personal and “deep” stories about one of my paitings while trying to sell it…I was in shock…For me, sometimes there’s no explanation or “level” or any story behind… it’s just what it is…

    What I was trying to say is that if you just show Tom’s image to one of your friends..(one that is not a photographer) that person probably will only tell tell you ‘I like it” or “I don’t like it”….and if he or she likes it, probably it will be for a reason that’s far away from the artist’s intention.

    I think that an image could be really good for someone and bad for another….depending on what connection exists between the image and the viewer at that moment…but at the end.. I think it’s about that result,…that first impression….wha it provoques to you..

    Of course I love an image more when I learn where it comes from…That’s why I love Leibovitz image from lennon (after learned that it was done 5 hours before he was shot)…that’s why I love Sally Mann (after learned how brave she was of doing her children’s work after being accused of child’s pornography)….but I don’t love or respect and image more or less because it was done with digital, medium format, a Leica M6,
    or on Photoshopt…maybe I’ll not do it myself that way…but I really respect the work the same.



    might be worth having a look at “retouching – case studies”.


  • Arnold Newman’s shot of composer Igor Stravisky was manipulated because it was cropped….and that image is all about composition (the original one without the cropping is just another image)….maybe it was not Photoshop but it was manipulated and that is what makes that image great.


  • before reacting predictably to the ‘debate’ above I would like to comment on the image.
    I have no emotional response to this. It is a very well made image that has had a lot of thought put into its conception and execution. The execution is well done. I read this as a metaphor of sorts for the’ rite of passage’ to which the dress refers. The passing from one state to another. childhood/adulthood, innocence/knowing, safety/risk …whatever you like really. I have no problem whatsoever with its integrity or lack of [depending which side of the divide you reside] and I believe my reaction to it would not change were I to know that the whole thing was faithfully set up and rendered on film and presented unretouched. As i said first off, I have no emotional response to this image, further it is not a type of image that i find myself magnetic to. It has though, as much right to exist, and indeed to be ‘here’, as any other i have seen. And the artist/photographer/insert favorite damm with faint praise, should be respected for making his vision concrete and releasing it to the world, rather than condemmed for daring to move past an [always imaginary] line.

  • To weigh in, I’ve been contemplating staging some images for a project I’m working on at Uni. I see staging and this kind of photoshoppery as being basically the same. I could raise all sorts of objections to this based on some misguided notion of photographic purity, but the real reason I don’t want to get involved in staging or extensive photoshop creation is that when it comes down to my *vision*, I don’t trust it. If I was given complete free reign I’d probably end up producing something trite, overdone and uninteresting.

    I see a camera as a kind of safeguard. A set of rules that restrict what I create, and through those restrictions my output becomes more valid and interesting than if I had freedom to produce *anything*. That’s why I’m a photographer, and not a painter.

  • Online communication is all too open to misinterpretation, don’t you think, Joe? If I implied that I was objecting to the “contentious” nature of this wonderful discussion, that was not my intent. Nor was I implying my peers were “narrow-minded.” Hardly. This is a very important discussion, one that is bringing up lots of strongly-held opinions about an essential issue–ie., “What are the perimeters of photography today?”–and that, to my way of thinking, is very healthy indeed. In fact it is EXACTLY what many of us had hoped would happen here on Burn. BRAVO BURN!!!


  • Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • OK Ben I would prefer if you kept your adverserial tone to yourself.

    And take a word of your own advice and re-check what I wrote

    “Hate to start the great debate, but you and Ben seem to have a pretty narrow view of photography if you consider documentary forms as the only version that you consider art.”

    How did that become

    “thanks for calling me narrow minded Lisa, oh and for putting words in my mouth… As far as I am aware, I don’t think I actually said:

    “i think documentary forms of photography are the only version that can be considered art”

    Yeah, I checked again. I definitely didn’t say that.”

    You obviously didn’t check very well because I didn’t write it either.

    I am simply stating an opinion and if you had actually read what I said without immediately doing a knee jerk you can see that I proffered a reason for this as well.

    Because I actually read carefully and comprehend most of what is written here in English I will also say that the second half of your reply seems somewhat more balanced.

    Your tone towards me however is illconcieved and rude and to quote the words of a wiser person than me,

    ‘Whatever the problem is in your head, it isn’t me”

    Cathy I will read your next comment of course.

  • Cathy as you will note in my previous reply to your last comment NO WHERE did I call you or Ben narrow minded.

    I said

    ‘Hate to start the great debate, but you and Ben seem to have a pretty narrow view of photography if you consider documentary forms as the only version that you consider art.’

    How does that turn into accusing you of narrow mindedness?

    Please DO NOT misquote me. It pisses me off.

  • I like this idea expressed by Silas. Is it similar to what Robert Frost referred to in his quote about ‘playing tennis without a net’?! I think Tom’s image is extremely well realised (and I’m envious of his strong vision), but to re-iterate what others here have stated more eloquently, the fact that it’s not a recording of a single moment in time takes away some of its appeal for me. I’d have the same sort of feeling if it turned out that Capa’s Death of a Loyalist Soldier was staged (though this would obviously be a more extreme case as Tom has in no way hidden how his image was created).

    I’m glad it’s been posted here, however, as reading through the discussion pushes me to try and define my own rules about what I would like my photos to be. It’s always good to get your expectations challenged!

    All the best,

  • Excuse me Lisa, it was Ben who used the words “narrow minded” you only used the words “narrow view.” Is there such a big difference between the two expressions that YOU should be pissed off? Seeing that I did not get pissed off by what you said in the first place you might want to just drop it!

  • It’s so cool that Tom Chambers is on Burn! I never woulda thunk it!

    I’ve been a fan of Tom’s for a number of years now, after a random Google search of photographers in Richmond led me to his site. I really fell in love with his images, mainly because they reach deep into the symbolism of the unconscious and reveal things that we might not see in waking life, but which nonetheless speak to a “reality” deep within us. I always imagined Tom waking up in the middle of the night, writing down a dream, and then bringing that dream into reality through photomontage…it inspired me to do the same, and I have begun keeping a little journal of dream-ideas, images that, if I ever get around to making them, will probably be posed instead of superimposed, but still, his work inspired me to think of making images in a different way, which is always good.

    It’s certainly breaking the whole Burn thing wide open to have Tom’s work on this site, but I welcome it. To me, looking at work like Tom’s, or like my alltime fave Robert Parke-Harrison’s, is like staring into a pool of the collective unconscious. As photographers we are generally driven to look outside of ourselves, to see and interpret the world in a particular way. But the images of the imagination are, and have always been, central to the tradition of art and picture-making, and they tell us just as much about ourselves and our world as any street photo. And having Tom’s work here certainly raises the bar for sheer aesthetic quality, which to my mind is also a good thing.

  • cooooool. i always find past intentions to be very indicative of future intentions, so you should always find my intentions favourable Patricia :-)

  • Hi Mike,

    I’m only sure of one thing after these last few days: I’m more confused than ever about what i’m sure about.

    The things i’ve seen and the things that people like you have written have made me rethink my views to such an extent that i find it really hard to see thinks so objectively.

    It’s a painful feeling for me, but my best boss always said, if you’re not a bit anxious, then you’re not at all learning something :-) I’ll check out J.B’s work now that i feel i’ve grown a different set of eyes!

    I do know that this dialogue has already impacted my capture activities in my current project, so something is going on.

    Cheers Mike,


  • Carlos, guess I wasn’t clear with what I wanted to express. I think it’s not that important, as a viewer, to know what exactly the photographer wanted to tell, or how a picture is made or why, as long as it speaks, as long as it kicks something off in the viewer (except perhaps for straight documentary, but the above picture for sure is all but docu). I find it interesting to discover what a photograph can achieve, be it as a viewer of others pictures, be it as a picturetaker myself. To put in thoughts the ‘why’ a picture works (why I like or dislike it, if you want) helps me understand better not only what I’m seeing, but also myself, as opposed to only consume photography.

    Saluti ;)

  • I find it interesting to discover what a photograph can achieve, be it as a viewer of others pictures, be it as a picturetaker myself -Eva

    I find that sentence to describe the most compelling reason to participate with this community; if you only want to look at worthy pictures you may miss one of the greatest benefit of burn; which is the deep exploration of the dynamics of imagery (in the past I would have said photographs ;-)

  • Personally whilst I can admire and appreciate the technicalities and vision that goes into a montage, I don’t like them, I don’t like feeling that I’m being fooled in some way, I want it to be something that really was, however it might be portrayed.
    (BTW, I initially didn’t clock on that it was a montage, I guess I thought the supports had been removed,in the same way as taylor-wood’s ropes were in her suspension series, so technically this is very well done,though I speak as someone who doesn’t know how to use layers).

    Ultimately although this is a nice production, (call me cold hearted), I don’t pick up any emotion or stirring of thoughts from this and that’s what I want from art.

  • Hey Chris, Goethe said ‘Be bold, because in boldness there is greatness’

    An open heart speaks a volume…

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