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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Previous comments

The digital age is still in its infancy. Compare the age of serious DSLR/Photoshop usage and its existed, what? 6-7 years? Compared to decades of analogue. Certainly there currently are more memorable shots from the analogue era, but do you REALLY think 50-60 years from now that people will still say what you're saying?

Christopher's picture

@Sandy "I definitely believe the more you edit things, the less it is photography"Can you define photography for me based on this sentence?That is like comparing an impressionist painter to a realist and saying one is a painting and the other isn't. Do your eyes see in color or black and white because i see an awful lot of so called brilliant photography that was made B&W. It must be "less photography"BTW, the human eye can see double what a good camera can see so how are blown highlights and deep shadows natural?

Sandy Phimester's picture

It is less photography. You're doing a good job of  getting passed the point. There is still a difference in an image, digital or film, if you alter it. The main point being raised was that the more an image is touched and altered (which many people love to do, by all means, go for it) the less it will last the test of time as a truly timeless piece. Shifting pixels around, adding, subtracting, merging and manipulating a core image captured is not photography, it's computer art of some kind. Does it make it less of an art form? No. Does it make it less photography (you know, using a lens and a camera?) and more computer (you know, turning something basic into something wild or totally different than the captured image?) art? Yes.

So whatever it's worth, the silly argument that photography isn't natural, or that we don't see black and white, yadda yadda... etc. etc. Those are poor arguments that aren't even addressing what I was getting at.

People will always believe that over the years, images that have more "honesty" in their capturing, will be ones that ultimately have more meaning and impact going into the future and beyond. Don't believe me, fine, but it's been true thus far, and it will continue to remain as such.

Sandy Phimester's picture

 Yup. They will. Digital is one thing, but changing the photo afterwards is another. It's not about one VS. the other, it's about how they are both captured and altered (or not). That is ALL I'm talking about.

I think whoever describe a creative tool as BORING is retarded. Because a tool does not carry info at all, the picture did.

There's some truth to what David Hockney says about Photoshop. Photos of people & especially celebrities are all touched up in magazines by PS artists to the point where their skin is perfect & without any blemishes whatsoever. These photos are becoming very homogenised. But is the fault of the photographers or touch up artists or PS!? The issue here lies more with agents & publicists wanting their clients to look perfect in the media. The general public puts these celebrities up on a pedestal & also has an insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip & the majority certainly wouldn't like to see their idols as less than perfect & looking ordinary, so the public's expectations fuels this air-brush type of photographic processing as well. 
However, if you venture outside of the world of fashion/celebrity photography, I'd argue that things are very healthy indeed. Photoshop & other programs provide endless possibilities for photographers in terms of what they can achieve with their images - limited only by their imagination. I've not personally had a lot of experience with dark-room film processing. But the thought of working in a darkened room using nasty chemicals doesn't exactly hold much appeal to me. I think many analogue photographers might be getting a bit nostalgic if the truth be told. Give me the digital dark-room any day!! There's much more scope for creativity & I'm much happier sitting in front of my Mac in a comfy office chair, listening to some great music & sipping a glass of red or a beer while I'm editing my photos. 

I also get tired of the old argument from 'old school' film photographers claiming that digital photography isn't 'real' photography, but more like digital art. They claim that the photography was was more pure in the 'golden days of photography'. The truth is Ansel Adams spent a great deal of time manipulating his images in the darkroom to get 'the look' he had envisioned. The post-processing was just as important as the taking of the actual image. Famous war photographer Frank Hurley, created photographic composites & manipulated his striking images of war. He was criticised for these techniques as this was considered 'taboo' for photojournalists. I'm sure Hurley would've embraced the digital darkroom. I'd bet that if the technology we have today was available back then, many would've adopted it into their workflow.

Personally, I certainly would not want to return to the days of analogue.
The future of digital photography looks bright & editing programs like Photoshop will evolve to enhance creativity in photography. 

This makes me think of old movies versus modern remakes, and I hope the analogy to this discussion is clear. Two that come to mind are "The Thing" and "Total Recall". The old versions use things like animatronics, costume makeup, and matte paintings to bring fantasy to life, while the new ones are overloaded with ridiculous, soulless CG imagery and effects (see "I Am Legend" with Will Smith and the 1000mph creatures). It's difficult to suspend your belief and actually care about a story or character when there's nothing grounding either in reality.

Photoshop is just a tool, but it has certainly *nurtured* the creation of boring photography that wasn't possible before, simply because it removes the limits of reality and makes things easier to do. Going back to the movie analogy, you can use CGI to make someone ride a unicorn over a rainbow, but who cares, because no one is suspending their belief about that.

David Sr.'s picture


Sandy Phimester's picture

 Photoshop isn't photography. That's all, and he (and myself, and others too I'm sure) like photography. Yeah, it's a tool, like any other, you cannot dismiss it. I don't. But it's something else. The darkroom only carried you so far, but it was all about the photograph, regardless. I think when I see this discussion in my head, we aren't talking about Photoshop - and it ends there, as a simple tool or program, but what is thought about how many people use it, and why. There is the "issue" being raised. To me, I could care less, but I definitely agree about his thoughts on it.

If you're gonna call yourself a photographer, impress me with your photographs, not what you did to them after you took them. Thanks.

So you've never increased the contrast or dodged or burned in your days as a photographer because it would make the image less of a photograph? Because, believe me, a lot of those Magnum-photographers that made the timeless photos you're talking about have done so.

I think he is right about the PS part of retouching. Yes, retouching exists and to me it's such a boring activity, that I would rather add another light source or reflector than paint shadows in post. Photography gives me all the tools I need so I barely need Photoshop. I've seen photographer taking bad pictures saying "i'll fix it later". He could move 2 inches to the left to fix it on location or switch to M mode and dial exposure manually, but he never thought about it, as he finds PS the only way possible. There are much more successful low quality photographers and models since the beginning of digital era.

Photoshop is boring has to be one of the most ridiculous statements I've heard in a long time.

Sorry... I feld a sleep during his 'boring' voice ... :)

 when i saw your Pictures me too...

Good thing then they aren't made for you ...! :-)

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

Wow, I find it funny how defensive the photoshop diehards get anytime anything critical is ever said of photoshop. 

What I got from his video is that he'd like to see people being different in the fashion mags. Basically, we don't need to remove every blemish off every "Hollywood star". That they are all starting to look the same. 

I don't believe that photoshop is boring... I think there are too much boring people using photoshop.
And as for the magazines... it's the egg and the chiken. Magazines have gone the same because of PS or Magazines want to look alike?
The MAGIC thing 'bout PS is using just a tad, accent light here and there, maybe some colour, etc. The most comon error in PS is saturate the pic with effects and text, and bevels, satins, etc.

And don't make me start with the signatures photographers have!!! Literally my eyes starts pouring BLOOD out of pain!

I'm a multimedia designer and I'm just starting with Photography.

Honestly this really comes off pretty harsh as someone that is bitter about the change. While he is very knowledgable he also seems fairly ignorant at the same time. 

Not many people draw anymore? There are more illustrators both digital and classic than ever before. You only have to spend a few minutes on a site like DeviantArt to see how widespread obsessively talented drawing has become. Fashion mags have stopped printing drawings because they want to print more photos, it has nothing to do with the availability of drawings.

Furthermore, anytime people try to tell me photoshop has removed creativity from photography it really rings kind of false simply because it has done the opposite. 

Photography has always been about balancing the art with the technical. Making creative decisions within the confines of technical limitation. In the beginning the technical limitations were very steep and thus most photos were quite limited (and boring). Then as film photography progressed and darkroom techniques were discovered some of that technical limitation was removed allowing photographers to enjoy marginally more creative freedom. 

In this new digital age between the advent of the digital camera and the creation of photoshop almost all technical limitations have been removed (minus of course a few remaining ones such as light sensitivity of sensors)

This naturally means that because technical limitation is all about eradicated from photography it truly can become all about (or nearly) creative decision making. And THIS is what I am seeing. Sure in portraits each one has a certain degree of technical retouching (blemish removal is a good example) but 5min with an artistic fashion magazine like Papercut and you quickly discover how endlessly creative photography has become. 

Whenever I look at older photography from the film days there is always the odd photo that really impresses me but for the most part I find THEM all very boring. Why? because most photographers had to shoot in a very similar way because that was effectively the ONLY way to capture that which they were photographing. 

Nicholas's picture

I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. I really respected his example of the owl as is and how an owl is interpreted by Picasso. His insight on how a painting isn't what we see but about how we see it, lingered long after I finished the interview. 

James Tarry's picture


Why do we even give these old idiots a platform. Photoshop maybe slow with useless features but Not boring. This is why these people should be shunned, their brain cells are dead!!

Jason Peters's picture

Who knew photoshop would be a polarizing as politics... 

Jens Marklund's picture

Fuck all of you. This guy is awesome.

Summed up nicely!

hahahahaha love this guy

nowadays you can call yourself a Photographer...
No matter how not  you are a Photographer.

This guy is right.

Even me i dont feel as a Photographer really.

Because im not yet in the position to be Proud of my work.

Theres a lot of guys copying work of other Photographers and calling theirself Photographers ans Creative.
The other thing is to create an Image that comes from the Heart...

Fashion Photography nowadays is the copy of fashion Photography from the Time of Richard Avedon.

Fashion become a vertical Image with soften Skin (looks shit) and the same Posing over and over again.

To call yourself a Photographer you have to be call yourself an Artist.

An Artist create, a guy with a Camera just Copy.

M2 FOTO's picture