5 stories about variations photography

Stories Without Borders

(Companion piece to “We are Surrealists”. Overlap warning.)


The Two Photographies

1. Jessie Carveth knows nothing about photography and cameras.

Photo art uses cameras only to transport a crude capture to an image editing program, where it’s turned into something  (painting, drawing, comic, pencil, watercolor—artistry [tampering] beyond the capture.)


The camera capture itself is usually the least interesting part of photography to those who image edit. She upsets an unfiltered initial shapshot. All camera captures unfiltered are snapshots. Pre-process. Document photography.



2. Document photography.

Carveth is curious about the appeal of “unfiltered” photography, especially when someone brags about something that happens when a button on a machine is pressed.

This form of photography is favored by famous photographers, many conceptual photographers, it’s used in journalism to illustrate the news, and things like store catalogues and celebrity photo shoots. Oh wait no. Celebrities are frantically photoshopped, one of the few instances where the types intersect, except the difference is the aim of filtering celebrity document photography is to make it appear unfiltered.

This type documents moments in time. It’s more pre- than post-process, interested in adhering to the original camera capture as much as possible.

It’s not interested in transformation, filtering, edit, decoration, artistry. Document photography without an interesting (to the viewer) concept looks the same whether a professional photographer took it or anyone else. Check out any photography magazine online and you’ll find it hard to distinguish a professional’s pics of her daughter from anyone’s kid pics.

Both  photographies are easy because of the advancement in technology. Almost anyone can now do what required training before the fairly recent explosion in tech advancement.



All photography, art, and commentary on  this site by Jessie Carveth unless noted


Jessie Carveth, participating in various photography communities on the internet and off, observed that the photo edits of hers she likes most are rarely what others like.

From gallery, to photo magazines where she is scolded about pixels, with Photoshop, VSCO, Instagram,  retired sites and this temporary new one, she can’t predict which post-capture versions of an initial capture will be liked more than another.

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

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

Is that why she does Variations Photography, offering multiple versions of one capture? Red brick, neon brick, night like day, day as night, yellow/orange, pastel, saturated, abstracted, charcoal, oil painted, psychedelic, blurred, pop, cartoon, black and white, one shot, many outcomes, many shown.

Processing photography is easy and Jessie, indulgent.

Variation 130924B674-477F-4BC3-8676-B63E1B362C3D

Variation 1799BBD1B0-CE95-4982-ADB1-6C218C69EDAE

Variation 9olddaysph3 more


Photography is the only art form today that has no literature of expertise consensus although if you scroll through the billions of instructional articles and videos, every instructor speaks as if there is an established consensus. There is no consensus, only stories.

There existed until recently an elite group of superior, revered photographers. No more, because of the technology that was produced in lightning speed and promoted by social media.

The first step, before-edit, belongs to the camera. There’s a button, you press it. There are no buttons on a paintbrush, she repeats too much.

The programs for image editing, available to anyone interested, pretty much made everyone surprisingly good, interesting photographers.

The advancement in photography technology seems supernatural, it’s made everyone’s photography professional. Sell your photography.

Photography (machinery with buttons, taps and clicks to color and lighten) doesn’t require talent. Care. Attention. Interest

Why did the painter’s aim, one finished picture at a time, different from all other paitniings, become the aim for photographers? Photography is completely different. First, it’s a machine production.

Camera combined with machinery loaded with editing programs, there is no one finished version necessary.

Carveth tries to imagine “Guernica” as one of many other variation Guernicas that Picasso painted before deciding on one, tossing the great variations away.

What do you think?

Choose one? toss the rest into a delete file? No way.lne



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

Good painting includes one last brushstroke, one canvas, one finished picture—and some level of talent.

Good photography is opposite in almost every way. Talent isn’t required, first of all.

(Care. Attention. Interest)

A paintbrush isn’t a machine. The camera is. Try pressing a button on a paintbrush. Then repeat with camera.

Photography is a promiscuous, generous art form.

The camera grabs a capture, software takes it to town, and the photo artist creates any number of variations. For Carveth, a camera capture is never done. (It is for most people who take pictures, professional or not. Nick calls the finished product of his photography filtering “advanced unimprovably”, signaling one finished edit from one capture.)

The promiscuous aren’t tortured by choice. They choose everything, all the edits. They acquire, use, create, waste very little, give a lot back.



It is exciting realizing that, because of technology and sharing platforms, everyone became a photographer without training, and much of it is really good.

Maybe having large, global online communities to share pictures inspired the care now given to getting a capture (and with 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, degrees, fame, darkroom, proper art world language, bags of unnecessary equipment.

The hierarchy in professional photography is already ridiculous.

Film scoffs at digital. Fancy digital 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 opinions about ridiculous, Martin Parr 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.


4. If you care.

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 Jessie. Is vacation photography bad because people don’t call their trips a “photo shoot”?

a. I did a photo shoot in Cancun.

b. Here are the photos from my trip to Cancun.

Honestly, what you should do if you care is hashtag—name—differently.

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

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

Not #springbreak. Instead, say #conceptualphotography.

If you care, know that the higher on the hierarchy of experts, the more likely hashtags are taboo altogether. So rust belt.lne



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.

Carveth can’t tolerate the intractability of one. Worse, wasted time.

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 recent years smartphones appeared, and sharing platforms, and an enormous amount of remarkable photography taken by you, all of you.

This revolution pisses off the about-to-be-extinct photography experts, the “professional” photographers, and the art world critics. As soon as we stopped being casual and careless taking pictures on picnics, and accompanied by current technology, you all rose to a level of impressive competence.

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

Lots. Someone recently said: “I like some of your edits more than others”.  Exactly.

If she didn’t show all, there wouldn’t be “some”. There would be one.



Right about the time Jessie’s painting skill with colors started to catch up to her ease at rendering, and people were asking for her work, she jumped ship.

Painting is too important.

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


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.

Every variation, edit, version, is homage to a machine, not the person who pressed buttons.

(Note: Subject choice, or series concept, is different. Some have a flair for intriguing ideas, unusual subjects, Of all genres now in fashion in the photography world, conceptual is the only one that captures her interest as viewer.)



1. People like unfiltered photos when they like the subject, though they don’t know that about themselves.

We can become interested in topics we don’t ordinarily like only when they’re made artistic through photoshopping.

Many photographers are proud to be #unfiltered. Carveth does not like unfiltered photos of almost anything, by anyone. The significance of unfiltered eludes her.

The camera does that part, there’s no artistry involved no matter what we hear about focal point and right lighting.

If a capture is image edited, though—artistry— even a flower photo is interesting. Post-capture processing is the art.

Unfiltered flower photography is simply a gardening catalogue. Carveth wants either a real flower or an artistic edit, not a seed catalogue unfiltered picture.

Is a photograph 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.

2. It became a project to ignore the norm. Photography doesn’t demand what art does. You snap a button and there’s a whole picture all at once.

3. 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, equally great variations.

4. 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?

5. 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 Gauguin, Raphael, Vermeer?

6. SAVE, SCREENSHOT, STEAL. Pluck what you want. Jessie doesn’t care if her photos are stolen, falsely claimed, altered. She can make another hundred. It’s just a camera and software.





Key Words: abundant, fecund, multiparous, infinite, teeming.

Show, share, hand out, let go, give away.


IMG_1784 (Edited)


7 thoughts on “5 stories about variations photography

  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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