The triptych of photos shown in this story were made in my camera, not in post-production, with only small tweaks for slight retouching, exposure, and minor saturation adjustments. I say this entirely as a point of information, and not as a point of honor!
Personally, I like to learn about how an image was made as a matter of my own education. Perhaps learning about an artistic process will give me an idea for how to do something myself. But I care most about the final image, and it doesn’t matter to me if a photo was made using digital versus analog equipment, where it was heavily manipulated in Photoshop (or not), or even if the surface was painted upon. I’ve always had an eclectic attitude towards the art that inspires me, and feel photographers can learn much, and look with pleasure on (for example) paintings by Paul Klee as from any photograph.
Then again, photography has been burdened from the beginning as a mimetic discipline. It is naive to think that any kind of photography reproduces “real life”—but observers have made this mistake repeatedly. The reaction to this false equivalence was in the early years of the twentieth century the sappy aesthetics of “pictorialism”—which itself generated a counter-reaction in which only “straight” photography was morally acceptable to certain gatekeepers.
It has not generally been recognized how much the break with the analog photographic toolset brought about by digital photography has upended this perpetual debate. The photographic process is now, willy-nilly, a cyborg—with the computer portion of that equation residing in the camera, or in Photoshop, or in both. The entire production can be seamless, and bound only by the constraints of taste and meaning—which is, after all, the point of any fulfilling art.
All that said, it is fun to remember what can be done with simple photographic technique, control of the lighting, and a pinch of creativity!