What Is Pure Photography ?

Nikon released their new DF camera last week to much praise and from other sum criticism.My opinion can be found here. In the surrounding hype of this much leaked camera were a series of 30 second videos with the message behind them “Pure Photography”. On release the fact that video features were left out of the camera and the camera’s “retro” design emulating the old FM2 camera was stated as a  “philosophical decision”. My question is then, what is Pure Photography?

Starting with the term “Pure Photography”,  it was not coined first by Nikon, originally the term referred to a style of photography where the photographer attempted to depict a scene as realistically and objectively as permitted by the medium of photography without the use of manipulation. This was championed by, the name sake of this blog, Group F/64 who worked as photographic purists.

“Black Bowl”, by George Seeley
An example of Pictorialism in Photography

The term first surfaced in the 1880s and meant simply an unmanipulated print, in opposition to the pictorials and their more painterly images. At first the term was even used by pictorials to separate their two types of work. It was Paul Strand who in 1917 regarded his work as “absolute unqualified objectivity” changing the meaning of straight photography. Pure photography was now a specific aesthetic found in a photograph through high contrast, sharp focus, an aversion to cropping and an emphasis on underlying abstract geometric structures within in the subject. The aesthetic was  taken a step further by some who interpreted these elements as a language to translate metaphysical or spiritual dimensions into a visual form. The Pure Photography aesthetic caught on in the early 1930’s most notably with the west coast photographic movement, where famous photographers Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Dody Weston Thompson and Berenice Abbott are considered the innovators of this style.
The emphasis of pure photography and the unmanipulated print dominated into the 1970’s.

Paul Strand’s “Wall Street, 1915” An example of Straight sometimes called “Pure Photography”

Taking these ideas and translating them into the digital age where we mainly shoot raw, pure photography is actually where there is limited to no manipulation to an image, with very limited cropping. For Raw shooters this would mean a basic conversion, and images need to have high contrast and really sharp images.

Nikon’s pure photography comes in a 6 part promo.

A photographer stands alone in a bleak landscape. Something has been missing from his creative life. Will he find it here?

This question comes with the sound of the dials from a film camera. From the fact that the caption says something has been missing, one can say that it is the sound or more the ritual of clicking the dials for the best exposure. The missing creativity can be found in the action, that the cathartic experience feeds the creativity of the photography. We could also understand from this that modern cameras don’t give us this experience and that the creativity has been lost through the plethora of options and settings we have to choose from and understand, all this sucks away the creativity.

Really this first part is about the experience of taking the picture and that it is the experience that can feed the creativity. Pure photography is firstly the emotional act of taking the picture.

Unrushed and unhindered, a photographer makes his way through the woods. What will he discover along the way?

From the second episode pure photography is when you can take your time and you are not having to rush and not bogged down with things. This is really more about the experience of taking a photograph being a pleasure and enjoyable. When you are rushed or there are things in your way, you become stressed; start taking short cuts, in the end slowly reducing your quality and passion. The video also seems to be about finding the unexpected when you have time to explore, this does not mean explore the world but also your craft and ideas. The exploration of your passion can lead to intriguing images the further you delve. This is true for all I feel, looking back at our first shots; they are not on the par with those that you take now. Even for me when I went on my photography hiatus for two years, the images preceding the hiatus were better than those after, because when we are doing something regularly and are active in a discipline, actions become second nature with the camera being an extension of our hand and eyes. It could then be said that pure photography cannot be achieved by a professional due to the fact that they are not unrushed or unhindered, they can’t take the time to delve into their passion because they need to turn the work around for their clients, whereas amateurs and enthusiasts have the time.

The second part of pure photography is the notion of being able to explore photography, ideas and passions to create great images.

Alone by the campfire, a photographer prepares for tomorrow’s shoot. What do these moments of solitude mean to him?

The third video continues directly form the second, taking moments of solitude cleaning and organising your equipment. The question being asked is, what do these moments mean to you?  The answer is probably different for everyone. I would say that these moments of solitude would be moments of reflection about what tomorrow will bring, the shots you may take, previsulising what you want to achieve, maybe some experiments you want to try out. Adding to the idea, Pure Photography is not made on a whim but through consideration of what the subject is and how it should be captured.

It could be said that this video is partly covered in the second part as it is about having time to explore  ideas and passion the third part is in a similar vain.

How can a photographer discover something fresh in old and familiar places? It depends on where — and how — you look.

Pure photography from the ideas above is about finding a fresh view of something old, in a way breaking the collective unconsciousness and giving a familiar subject a new perspective. The collective unconscious exists because there are universal pleasing ways to compose certain subjects like a coffee cup in a frame. Pure photography breaks this, partly through the very ideas expressed before. In modern photography for some people there is fatigue in the medium, everything has been taken, there are no new images. The best photographs are those taken when not in your home town or city.

The idea of pure photography is to move beyond that and relook and rediscover the old and familiar subjects.

Our photographer stands at the end of a desolate road. Time seems to stand still. Can he capture a moment like this in a photograph?

This is a very straight forward idea. A photograph is a window into the past and photographers are the time lords, with the ability to freeze time or more actually freeze a moment. Pure photography is about capturing moments to remember, emotions and memories. Yet it is not constrained by the subject of manipulation because the camera is always manipulating the scene, what is more important is the moment being captured as you see it.

Why do I take pictures? Because I must. A photographer faces his creative self. This is the concluding episode of the series.

The final episode sums up the other videos talking about your passion being something that lets you forget what time it is. Recapping from the previous videos showing that in each one the man is taking his time and lost within in his passion and find what he loved about photography.

Nikons philosophy of pure photography is obviously a marketing idea that may have originally been a faint premise in designing the camera. The fact that there is no video capabilities in the camera  shows the idea that this is a camera for photography but I feel that by taking a deeper view all photographers can take something and shape pure photography into their work.

Example of the collective unconscious. Layered instagram images of coffee cups all composed in a similar and manner for the most pleasing image.

Example of the collective unconscious. Layered instagram images of coffee cups all composed in a similar and manner for the most pleasing image.

Pure photography from the Nikon Perspective is taking pictures with your emotions and letting your emotions feed your creativity, not being harassed by deadlines or time and just getting lost in your passion. By taking your time to enjoy photography, time not just for taking pictures, also to feed your imagination, plan, previsualize and dream about the images you are going to take. With time we can see things differently and take a fresh look at the world around us to create a new view with photography while still freezing a moment of time.

Within the modern world this is a generally positive theme for a philosophy. We are all harassed by our lives with shrinking time that we can spend on our passions. It is quite easy for our creativity to become stagnant and the idea of dedicating time and feeding your emotion of taking a picture to feed your creativity. With a more creative vision the old can become new, you will not just stand and click put observe the light, the structures as well as view point  and form, taking an uninspiring subject and making it a new.

Pure photography of the F64 group was a back lash against pictorial photographers, where images were not representing reality in a real way, with digital photography you could say that for a lot of images this has not changed and we may have come full circle. The Nikon idea of pure photography that they have shown through their videos is less about the manipulation but more an idea to motivate people in getting back to the reason why they started taking pictures and enjoy photography.


Pure photography is taking photographs that allow people’s passion drive to create images of the world as we may not ordinarily have seen.

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