What is Alternative Photography? Interpretations of the term

The term Alternative Photography can be interpreted in many ways. The question “What do you consider to be ‘Alternative Photography’?” in the DAP (Dutch Alternative Photography) survey, sparked controversy on the subject and provided a basis for a debate between alternative and Analogue Photography organizations held at the Revela-T festival on 20th June 2015. Here is a summary of the discussion.

Writer / An Zuriel

Alternative Photography as a term

what is alternative photography?The term Alternative Photography seems to be confusing.

There is wide disagreement about the usage of this term as a collective term for non-mass photographic techniques.

The disagreement was argued in the answers of the survey, as well as through discussions on social media regarding the survey. Some users did not participate in the survey, because they did not feel that the survey was directed at them, seen as the term “Alternative” was part of the survey’s name. There was also a discussion on Facebook regarding Pinhole: is it Alternative Photography or not?

The website AlternativePhotography.com refers to historical processes (including Pinhole) as alternative photographic techniques, while organizations such as London Alternative Photography Collective and Dutch Alternative Photography regard any experimental non-mass technique as alternative techniques.

Some people and organizations regard Alternative Photography as part of Analogue Photography, while others regard Analogue Photography as part of Alternative Photography.

In regard to the question “What do you consider to be ‘Alternative Photography’?” in the DAP survey, a big difference was shown in how users of Historical Photography and users of Film Photography regard the term Alternative Photography. While only 24% of Historical Photography users regard Analogue Photography as part of Alternative Photography, 53% of Film Photography users state that Alternative Photography applies to Analogue Photography as well. On the other hand, respectively (only) 74% and 55% of Historical Photography and Film Photography users view historical photographic processes as Alternative Photography. There were various reactions to this question, including: “no idea what it is – very confused.”, “alt phot = wrong term” and “Not my term – yours. Never thought of it as alternative.” It is difficult finding a suitable term for these techniques when there is disagreement on the definition of the term.

It is also difficult to define the whole range of techniques, including all non-mass techniques and excluding mass Digital Photography, when some mass techniques are used as part of non-mass techniques, such as digital negatives or working hybrid.

alternative photography as a termTerms as Craft Photography or Artistic Photography do not always define alternative techniques. Different groups of (potential) users might have a different association with these terms.

This topic was discussed between alternative and Analogue Photography organizations as a response to the DAP (Dutch Alternative Photography) survey at the Revela-T festival on the 20th June 2015. The organizations talked about the importance of the term used to describe these forms of photographic techniques, which include all forms of non-mass digital techniques (including hybrid techniques). Users should distinguish between alternative and analogue organizations from other photographic establishments supporting all forms of photography. A uniform term is important, so that (potential) users can find the organizations and relate to them easily. A name should be appealing to both users of the techniques and newcomers and should be easy to understand. It should include all historical processes, hybrid techniques and other alternative techniques.

The group was not able to agree on a suitable term that includes all the techniques. A survey will follow shortly where you can have your say, but in the meantime, what is your view on this? In the meantime, feel free to comment below!

Attending the discussion were: Attending the discussion were: Revela-T, Analog Mania Festival, Analogue Now! Festival, Proceso Luz Argentina, London Alternative Photography Collective, Lux Darkroom, Lomography Spain, Dutch Alternative Photography.

5 thoughts on “What is Alternative Photography? Interpretations of the term”

  1. If one chooses to use the term “alternative” one should always mention to what it is “alternative” to.

    The term “Analog photography” seems to be sufficiently clear in itself.

  2. I think its important to make “Alternative Photography” an inclusive concept. One that encompasses traditional crafts and experimental approaches to making images. Lets not get too precious.

  3. I think initially the various terms were adopted to draw a distinction between whatever the mainstream process was and people who wandered away from it. Twenty years ago, I think digital photography qualified as “alternative” but not now. It’s the mainstream. I can go into my local pharmacy and pick up an sd card for my digital camera, ink for my inkjet printer, even photo quality paper. But try and buy a roll of Tri-X…

    I would argue then that “alternative processes” is a broad category containing many processes–historical, experimental, traditional, and hybrid.

    I also do gum bichromate, but I work exclusively with digital negatives when I do. That, to my mind is a hybrid.

    My own work with salt prints and calotype I consider “historic processes.” I am not trying to create a new process, but to recreate processes no longer in general use.

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