The End of One: Variations Photography



Observations on Modern Photography, With Needless Variations Playing on Loop

w.jpg(Photo/painting of Penelope cr: unknown)



The end of one

Jessie Carveth, participating in photography communities on the internet and off —in shows—observed that photo edits she does and likes are rarely the ones her viewers like.

Variations photography was started because of this, to generate multiple versions from the one initial capture. Something for everyone.

Here’s one she likes a lot more than you did   

And the reverse. You like this way more than she did. 

Photo editing is easy and Carveth, indulgent


It isn’t painting. It’s simple machinery.

Photography and photo art seem to be the only art forms that have no expert consensus, although if you scroll through the billions of instructional articles, magazines, and videos, every online tutorial presents as if there is a recognized literature (somewhere) with objective guidelines defining bad, good, and better photography.

There existed until recently an elite group of renowned photographers. Their days are numbered because of  technology produced rapidly over a tiny number of years, and shared on social media.

The first step, getting the capture, belongs to the camera. There’s a button, it gets pressed.

Programs for image editing, available to anyone interested, pretty much turned everyone into photo artists, at a skill level hard to distinguish from professional digital photography.

The same can’t be said about me, you, Gauguin, Goya.

The advancement in photography technology has made those who are interested more skilled than they know. Sell your photography.

Good photography doesn’t require talent. It requires interest, care, and attention.

It’s easy and fast

One capture, variations



What isn’t photography?


“The thing I’m most proud of is my finish — the finish on the painting,” says Alex Katz (painter), now in his 90s. “It took me years to get to this finish.

How did the painter’s aim, perfecting “finish”, become incorporated into photography?Photography is completely different. First, it’s a machine production.

It can mass produce, quickly, not one but many, “finished”, varied,images. A photograph, unlike a painting, never has to finish. One snapshot can lead to any amount of images through post-capture editing.

Jessie tries to imagine “Guernica” transformed into fifty variations of the original Guernica executed on canvas with brushes and paint–quickly.

Photo art does that, produces as many variations of an original camera capture as the photographer wants, quickly.

Paint artists (Carveth guesses) necessarily require, because paintbrushes aren’t keyboards, a tormented (and pleasurable) amount of time to finish one. It’s torture. She envies and admires everything about the process of making real art and knows how different it is from photography and post-capture editing.

The first demands interest and talent, the latter interest only.

All this to say that photography training needs to evolve, transform, rename itself. The arduous work of paint and other non-camera arts is unlike snapshot play, but art schools still teach photography as if producing, choosing, and showing one finished image requires training instead of a button.




More of the same


Anyone who understands why there’s only one known Mona Lisa understands a difference between painting and photography.

Good painting is one last brushstroke, one canvas, one finished picture—and some talent.

Good photography is the opposite. Talent isn’t required, first of all. What photography demands is interestattention, and care. Even those who care more than they need to and spend more time than it needed generate many more than one good photo, quickly.

A paintbrush isn’t a machine. The paint artist doesn’t mass produce variations of images.

 Photography is capable of being a promiscuous, generous art form

A camera capture has no end of potential to be altered into other, different pictures. (This process ends for most people who take pictures, professional or not. Nick coined “advanced unimprovably”, signaling he’s done and pleased with the one.)

Promiscuity isn’t tortured by choice. It chooses everything, all the edits. It acquires, makes use of, creates, wastes very little, gives something new back.


What you get when you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Watch the technology turn everyone into dramatically good photographers .

Maybe having hugely-populated, global online communities for sharing pictures, like Instagram, inspired the care now given to shooting a picture (and filtering, for those who filter).

There’s no difference in capture quality between (former) pros and everyone else.

Technology has made it difficult—very soon it will be ridiculous—to claim expertise based on things like film, lens,  fame, darkroom, proper art world language, bags of equipment.

The hierarchy in professional photography is already ridiculous.

Film scoffs at digital. Fancy digital camera is scornful of phone camera.

Black and white scorns color. Urbex disdains street. Street scoffs at urban.

It’s what you get when you don’t have a leg to stand on.





Speaking of ridiculous, Martin Parr, a photographer whose ideas Carveth admires, thinks the number of people taking pictures these days is hilariously awful and ugly.

He did a “series” (took a bunch of pictures like everyone else) of crowds of tourists taking pictures.

It would be funny if his photos were better than his subjects’ photos.

Jess has done enough research to tell you that the photos taken by the people Parr made fun of are as good as his. His ideas are interesting and funny, that’s his special talent, but an idea isn’t a photograph.

Martin Parr takes good pictures. Everyone does. Photos are a machine production.

If you care, hashtag. 

What does the artforum crowd still have that others don’t?

Pretention and vocabulary. Long exposure, gear, Art Basel, slow shutter, low light. Vanishing point. Pixels. Layers. Aperture. Leica and Fujifilm. Photo series. Photo shoot. Focal point.  BNW.  


The derision thrown at tourists taking pictures seems so weird to Carveth. Is vacation photography bad because people don’t call trips a “photo shoot”?

“I did a photo shoot in Cancun” or “Here are my pics from Cancun.”

If you care, hashtag (name).

If you care, say #photoshoot or #photoseries instead of #summervacation or #tourism. Photography is often dismissed without a glance for improper naming! Ugh.

Proper: #oftheafternoon #filmforever #rentalmag #broadmag #landscape_hunters #thespacebetween

Not #springbreak. Instead, tag it #conceptualphotography.


Canvas torturer


She had from the age of two tormented paper and canvas, drawing, painting, ink, charcoal, watercolor. Paint arts require feeling pleased with either one finished version that took an inordinate amount of time, or tolerating an inordinate amount of time only to decide it’s terrible and toss it in the trash, left with nothing.

Art Anorexia. For several years she turned away from making art. She stopped doing film photography on the Olympus, too. Interesting years. Not even a doodle. The only art project during that time was a freehand illustration for Doug Frayn’s book on dreams. She wouldn’t have done it for anyone else.



she got a Canon and went to Paris and kept going back.

At some point in those relatively recent years smartphones appeared, and sharing platforms, editing software, and a surprising amount of remarkable photography taken by all of you.

This revolution threatens the about-to-be-extinct photography experts, “professional” photographers, and art world critics.

As soon as everyone stopped being casual and careless taking pictures on picnics, and accompanied by current technology, you all achieved impressive competence.

Her children’s generation doesn’t know there was a time when Avedon and peers were exalted. Carveth’s daughter, I believe, was the last to be hoodwinked into imagining a professional photographer is anything more than the machine operator we now all are.



Happy end

Right about the time Carveth’s skill with paint color started catching up to her ease at rendering, when people were asking for her work, she jumped ship.

Painting is too important. It’s about one. (See Alex Katz quote above.)

The paintbrush and canvas, the hundreds of drawings she did imagining a one right image was asking for its exceptional completion—killed art for her.

tap to enlarge



Maybe camera engineers feel desperate, and software developers, to produce new products, but we who are handed these products and start snapping are instant artists of photography.

(Note: Subject choice, or series concept, is different. Some have a flair for intriguing ideas, unusual subjects. Of all genres now fashionable, conceptual photography is the only [no-edit] that captures Carveth’s viewing interest.) On the other hand, filtered photography is always worth seeing. Please share all of your photo art, photoshop, filtering experiments with her.



~ People like unfiltered photos, if they like the subject.

~  Very few know this about themselves.

~  However, we can become interested in topics we don’t ordinarily like when the initial capture is altered with filtering software.

Many photographers are proud to be #unfiltered or #no_edit. Why? The camera does that part, there’s no artishtry involved.

Is a picture of an anguished young girl running from napalm bombing art or journalism? Jessie’s theory about art and journalism school is that lots of time is spent answering questions like that, and that’s surely why she found creative arts and writing school intolerable.

Enjoy ignoring the norm of ONE. Photography doesn’t demand what art does. You snap a button and there’s a whole picture. Snap again. Another whole picture.

~ It’s annoying, it makes no sense, that kids in photography programs are taught to adopt the persona of paint artist. Photography students are still instructed to choose one, a “final project”, and file away the other, probably just as interesting, variations or captures.

~ Why isn’t the difference between machines that capture beauty (easy: press a button), and the process of painting (difficult, talent rare) acknowledged by now?

~ In this Instagram world, everyone with a camera and interest is a good photographer. This can’t be said about Cézanne’s paintings and our paintings, right?

Unfortunately, and though she does love Cartier-Bresson, Jessie is convinced that the gap between his photography and ours is negligible. She can’t say the same about Magritte.

Don’t believe her, but there are 800,000,000 people who can do what Cindy Sherman does. How many can do Cassatt or Botticelli?

Artishtic here

Fancy in a Darkroom here

Who Killed the Professional Photographer? here


IMG_1784 (Edited)





The Baby Did It production. 2018



  1. Some really interesting points of view there Jessie. There are some smart phones out there that have amazing cameras, and the technology is improving all of the time.

    There is some pretentiousness by famous and well known studio photographers, and who are not necessarily that good technically, and taking photos of people taking photos is so cliché.

    I make photos because it is creative, because it slows me down, because it makes me interact and have a deeper connection with the world, and that is art – at least in my mind.

    Can Ed Sheran paint like monet? Does the fact that he can’t stop his music from being art? Can a Broadway actor sculpt like Hepworth? Does the actors inability to sculpt stop their performance from being an art?

    Art – is art only painting? Or are there other mediums that are also part of the Arts? Yes all people can take photos, and can take technically good photos if they want to. It is accessible. But does that stop it from being art? Is there an artistic process in the process of creating a narrative in an individual or series of photos? Is photo developing art but with a different medium?

    I’m not saying that photo is or isn’t art per say. I’m certainly not saying that my photos are good, but there is an artistic process that I go through with my photography. That process takes me to a sacred place within so that I can connect to the sacred in the world.

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