Look at the Beautiful Noise: Noise Photography and Jeff Ascough

We often feel we must choose between representation of the external and expression of the internal. Can’t we enjoy both?

© Don_Gato(LoFi Photography) with CCLicense

© Don_Gato(LoFi Photography) with CCLicense

With the advent of the digital camera ideas about image quality changed radically. Photographers became obsessed with clarity, and the presence of image grain, known to photographers as noise, became a contentious issue. A wide gulf opened up between museums and art photographers, who often turned away the work of digital artists for being too clean, and digital photographers and institutions that considered grainy images anathema, seeing them as mistakes or bad shots passed off as art. A good deal of great work on both sides was getting stigmatized, and that stigma remains in many circles.

© glindsay65 with CCLicense

© glindsay65 with CCLicense

Part of this may stem from the way noise itself changed. On film, especially in black and white or sepia tone, noise presents itself as fuzziness or grain. With digital, noise often presents itself as oddly colored pixels which look very alien and stand out mercilessly in the image. Digital artists came to prize clarity, the strength of their medium, while those who stuck to film prized personality, the strength of theirs. It would have been valid to ask what beauty was found in the weaknesses inherent in each medium. Instead, many photographers and critics threw words like “artsy”, “clean” and “noisy” around as if they were pejoratives and it looked as if society was turning its back on noisy photography. Then services like Instagram came out, redefining noise as romantic, vintage and trendy and letting us add it to our digital images.

Jeff Ascough is among the most famous wedding photographers in the world. He considers himself a “wedding documentarian”, meaning he likes to take unposed shots as they happen, without special lighting in order to capture the essence of the moment. The use of noise is prevalent in his work, both as an aid to reveal how the moment felt and as a natural product of foregoing intrusive lighting and positioning. At any rate, many of the images he produces have a weight and power that a perfectly clean photo would miss.

This interview with Jeff Ascough from fellow wedding documentarian Crash Taylor’s Blog is full of scrumptious images (not all are from weddings) and reveals a very interesting and intelligent artist. I love the smoking man from the wedding set, so delightfully whimsical. Please enjoy!

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