David Hockney: Photoshop is Boring

Very few of us have been involved in photography and art long enough to truly appreciate how much change has taken place in when it comes to cameras and photographs. David Hockney, a British artist who has dedicated much of his life to painting and photography, thinks some of the art in imagery has been lost along the way. In short, Photoshop is boring.

David Hockney was already well in to his career when he was invited to attend a conference by Adobe. There he envisioned the end chemical photography as it was to be replaced by the Photoshop.  David makes the point that the transition that has come as a result of Photoshop has brought a certain staleness to the art of visual display. There is a loss of creativity and uniqueness in magazines and fashion images. A good picture has become one where no blemishes are present and the highlights and darks are perfectly set. Images have become too uniform and too perfect and as a result, there's a loss of personal connection and human experience to what we see.

Though the ending of the video veers off his original point, would you agree with David that Photoshop has removed an element of art from the images we see every day?

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87 Comments

the plastic look of much photoshop work has about run its course .. it is mocked now, a sure sign of its demise ... post processing will continue, but with different value systems. 

an old guy .. what do you expect.... digital is boring too...

cinema is boring too..... i bet he loves the laterna magica much more....

Kevin Fulton's picture

 Obviously if you're chalking it up as "oh he's just an old guy" then you didn't really understand his point. What he's saying is that photos have become less photographic and more drawings because of the amount of touch ups that are done to them. So for him they've become very boring because it is no longer a true form of photography, in his opinion. I tend to agree with him and I'm only 32. Seeing natural beauty in fashion magazines has become extremely rare since everybody looks perfect. When everything looks perfect there's less there to draw you into the photo IMO. His point about solving problems is also very important since there are many photographers (young and old) who do not understand how to solve problems during a shoot so that it can be fixed in camera. Instead they just "fix it in post". This is fine, but why not save yourself time and do it in camera? I feel that Photoshop is very useful and definitely has it's place artistically, but it has also resulted in the over use of post production.

Tobias Solem's picture

His argument is as old as he is. People have been complaining about retouching even when we used the dark room. Before that they were whining about auto focus. People who aren't tech-savvy will diss tech out of pure self-interest. Of course there are bad examples of over-usage of Photoshop, I'll find you bad examples of retouching in analogue photography as well. On the other hand, back when I used to work with my father (early  90'ies) in flight photography of people's homes, we had a retoucher remodel things, taking away ugly barns, making them in another color, etc. - the end result was most often as if it was real (this guy was that good). I bet there could be an old guy who used to mix silver nitrate and other chemicals on a Daguerrotype back then who sounded just like this dude. There will always be whiners, always. Why people listen to them, I'll never know. Just love your craft whatever it is and ignore all the haters.

Kevin Fulton's picture

 So if people ask him his OPINION on the use of Photoshop it should be ignored? His opinion is "as old as he is" and that's it? Nobody needs to agree with it, but a taking a little time to listen to him and understand his point would go a long way in helping people take better pictures. Don't get me wrong, PS definitely has it's place (I use it here and there as well), but many photographers could benefit from doing more in camera.

Tobias Solem's picture

Sure. Everyone has an opinion. Some opinions are popular, others are less than such. In reality I don't have nothing against his age (that was just frustration because I've heard it before from old-timer photographers who are/were anti-tech). The problem REALLY is that people like him fail to realize that it isn't about the tool, be it chemicals or photoshop. It is in the application of that tool. 

We also have to realize that different tools are best used in certain situations. I'd never use a fisheye in a portrait situation, and I'd never use a HDR shot for a product shot, etc. - since there are a lot more photographers in 2013 than in 1980- something and we are exposed to more images we are bound to run into people whose use of the tools we either don't like, or are an improper use of them (like wanting to light a serene beauty shot but using small light sources creating tons of contrast and shadow). Still, it isn't the tools' fault. Whining about photoshop is about a tired argument as there are. And this is why it is in the opinion of this photographer that his opinion stinks.

Simon Whitehead's picture

I think saying you'd never use a fisheye for a portrait or HDR for a product is about as old-fashioned and conformist as Hockney's supposed attitude, no?

Tobias Solem's picture

Maybe so, show me an example of a great portrait shot with a fisheye.

Simon Whitehead's picture

Even if I can't does that mean it can't be done? Does it mean we should only use the same tools as everyone else? Or should we challenge that and produce something unique, original and meaningful?

Tobias Solem's picture

In the words of Chuck Palahniuk: "You are not a unique snowflake". But yes, I do see your point. Established rules need to be questioned. I agree.

Platon uses extreme wide angle, which is close enough.

I do kinda have to agree with this guy, Photoshop has made mainstream photography a bit boring, But not all photography, there is alot of stuff out there that isn't in a magazine that look stunning, alot of which wouldn't look as stunning if it weren't for photoshop. I will agree certain styles or certain areas have gotten boring, but Photography as a whole has gotten more exciting in my opinion. as for Tobias I found these three images taken with fish eyes in response to your request from simon All three of which are decent photos. They may not fall under the "Great" category, but it's only a matter of time until somebody creates one that will :) 

https://500px.com/photo/72536https:
http://500px.com/photo/2499190

Worked for Joe McNally on the high steel (full-frame 15mm fisheye), but maybe you don't consider environmental portraiture to be portraiture. I cringe every time I hear some by-the-numbers n00b talking authoritatively about things like "portrait lenses". Ain't no sech thing, son.

And HDR works great for product shots, particularly if you're after an old-fashioned illustrated feel faster than an illustrator can do it. Instant Rockwell. Or Sundblom.

It's not Photoshop that's killing photography, nor is that really what Hockney's talking about. It's the conformist polishing of an infinite number of nearly-identical turds that's the problem. Photographers who are and feel free to be artists are the solution.

You probably need to read my post again. This was uncalled for. "I don't use" is not the same as "You can't use". Also put my responses to Simon's comments into the context and maybe, just maybe calling me a "n00b" and a turd are a bit over the top.

Kevin Fulton's picture

 It's not a critique about the tools though. It's about peoples use of the tools. His opinion is that too many photos are being touched up to be absolutely perfect and to him perfect is boring. He's not "whining about photoshop". In fact, he says "it's a useful tool". I'd highly recommend re-watching the interview. Believe it or not you and Hockney are in agreement about this issue, but you don't even realize it.

Tobias Solem's picture

I listened to it and it still sounds like he's anti-photoshop and generalizing "all magazines look the same", really. They do not. That's like saying that all the classic painters made paintings that were all the same. People always had similar/the same tools but were able to produce different results with them, just like with photoshop. The fact that certain industries (fashion being one of them) demand similar usage of retouching is not the problem of Photoshop (again), and saying that "Photoshop is boring" is literally missing the mark. He may as well have said "A paintbrush is boring". 

Kevin Fulton's picture

 Well then I'm sorry my friend, because you completely misunderstood what he was saying. You've definitely missed something.

Tobias Solem's picture

Or you have. v0v

Christopher's picture

Very good points Tobias I agree with you and could not have stated it better.

Exactly Kevin!! I keep saying that over and over...You are 100% right.. People today rely to much on photoshop, instead of teaching themselves how to take good images with their camera instead.

Danny Wong's picture

To say David Hockney is old and therefore irrelevant is miguided, I think. The guy is still creating some of the most visually interesting paintings, not to mention all the digial artwork he's making on iPads...

An Old Guy!!! What the frack is that suppose to mean? Why don't you have some respect for someone who has been a Photographer / Artist as long as he has and only wish that one day you could say you have been shooting as long as him and achieved as much..

You dn't know what it is to be respectful. He is onl bringing his point accross but then again the younger society have no values to live by.

Blah, blah, blah, newer technology is ruining the way things used to be, blah blah, blah. We hear/see the same song and dance from old timers in every creative medium as technology mixes with trends and allows a greater number of people to achieve the same look, if they so choose. Does anyone actually feel like there is a lack of creativity and styles, really? Have you browsed the Internet lately? Of course we always see the same type of look and feel from mainstream advertising photography but that's because of requirements set by clients in order to achieve a look that's widely popular (aka mass appeal) in order to reach the most prospective customers as possible. 

There are more photographs being taken today in a wider range of styles on a greater amount of subject matter than ever before in the history of man kind.

Nic Cage's Hair's picture

Any true retoucher- as well as myself- will tell you that retouching is an art and that art is to make the photo look as natural and unretouched as possible. It's all about making the photo look as good as it possibly can. Bad retouching and amateur retouching is the reason photoshop has a bad image. 

There's a saying: "Garbage in, Garbage out". What he needs to think about is if you take bad pictures to start, photoshop can only fix so much- you will still have a bad photo. And that starts with the photographer's abilities, not any software program ruining it or making it bland.

I'd love to tell him that he's been using Photoshop all his life- it was just called something else-  "The Darkroom". If he thinks Photoshop is responsible for lack of creativity nowadays, he needs to hang up his camera and retire right now because he's being downright insulting to the craft of a photographer.

Tobias Solem's picture

David Hockney is boring.

I agree with the 

I will also add, as a caveat, that there are absolutely true artists who use PS.  I just think, by and large, that's a very thin percentage of the photographers out there who are artistically gifted and I think that's what Hockney is saying.  If you obliterate a photograph beyond recognition in PS is what remains photography?  

Kevin Fulton's picture

Pretty sure he wasn't saying there was no creativity in the field. It was more about how the over use of PS has sucked the life (imperfections) out of many of the photographs. Obviously, these are details that he enjoys as a photographer and artist. He also talks about how there's many problems that many photographers encounter that they just fix in post rather then learning to do it in camera. He has a point, even if you don't agree with it.

Kevin Fulton's picture

He's not talking about retouchers, he's talking about the idea of retouching in general whether it looks natural or not. Obviously he's not the kind of person that enjoys flipping through pictures where everybody looks perfect, with not blemishes, wrinkles, or out of place hairs. He finds that boring and honestly so do I.

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