It would be better not to make such statements at all...
-- As you said.
 Citations for context, if you need them.
Non-topographic 19th Century art with 20th C influence:
Is "Photography is at the cutting edge of contemporary art"?
Does art exist?
Nobody thinks like this anymore. These were debates from a long time ago. This is all strawman. These questions don't need to be answered. Digital post processing is the norm. It does not make an image worth anything. It does not ruin it. It is just a fact or not (and in these cases, we know its true).
Second, why does this even matter? Well, for (1), it opens up an entirely new realm of colours. Second (2), it allows for an entirely new realm of image-data-translations. So, we can assign point X a unique color, and then translate point X and all its neigbours to unique colors, without ruining the "image" information in the process. (3) It enables an entirely new rage of output colours, so what we see is and relate too is more/less similar based on 1x2x3. This is independent of the quality of the input image, but is magnified when these inputs are high-quality (because more translation can occurr with better tonality, et). Here is the intuition: Photoshop workin space vs Monitor output space.
Massive difference. Of course none of this has to do with what the image originally took in, this is just what we can do with it after we have it. We can do alot.
So, takeaway #1 is the actual color pallette of digital is unique. The acual image may be a tiny subset, and it may be designed such that it maps to an even tinier subset that is shared with C-print or whatever else you choose. But although I may end up in a <tiny> output space not blowing through the <working> space during my translations is critical. If I am workin in <tiny> space I am very constrained on translations. Ina <large> space, I can do lots of translations and then jam the output into <tiny> space at the end, wit a lot less damage.
The next question is: style and image composition. Is that unique to digital, and if so how? Why does it matter? Is it visible. etc. This is actually alot more important than the color range. The color range, we can (if we want to) keep "normal looking" pretty easily. But we need powerful tools to keep it normal looking, if we want to also have stong image tonal controls. Each time we dial up an RGB curve, it gives us more color in addition to more contrast. In chemistry, the paper controls the contrast level (for the most part). But the paper is the whole image, so a strong contrast and a punch color go together. the whole image has this "look". Kodachrome, Vevia etc for example is typical. But in digital, I can have a stong contrast and a muted color, because I can turn down the color for each turn up of contrast. So, even on a cloudy day, I can have stong contrast in the midtones, with no black shadows. I can add strong contrast to the light sky, without blown out highlights. I can have stong overal contrast from forground to background. I can have massive tonal seperations between a green grass and a grey river. etc.
This look is very "contemporary". To sum, its strong local contrast with muted to natural color. There are unnatural amounts of information present in all kinds of atypical relationships. Visual cues of depth and relative location do not act like normal. etc. Its more "interesting" to look at, because there is actually more information in the image.
What does this say about image quality? Nothing. This is true for good images and bad images. You can generate some of these effects on instagram. Its just more stuff to look at that is precisely tailored to the way your brain processes the images (ie, midtone=yes, shadows=no, etc). There are a whole host of subtle mind tricks, if you want to go there. Point of fact is ansel adams is using these techniques in many of his prints, just not in color. Its just that with PS this is all easier, faster, and far more widespread the understanding.
So, is some of this present in the images? Yes, it seems it is. These images are also interesting in their own right, this is not a critique. But for the many folks who are wondering "how it is possible" they are so lifelike and HD and cinematic and etc. This is in part the reason. In his day, they would have been nice BW prints. But the colour space of "lanterns" vs the color space of ProfotoRGB? is not comparable. lots more information extraction is possible in color today than 100 years ago, no doubt. And thats part of the reason for this "uncanney valley" of hyper-reality people seem to notice here. The extra information paired with the artifacts of glass plate images, and all that is almots-not-quite-perfect-but-still-very-cool.
So, is this insightful? I don't know. That's for you to decide, I was only sharing this for those who cared.
Not all viewers are equally naive...I think readers on this site deserve more credit by default
WEll, this may or may not be well known. My first few answers were thinking everyone knew this. But I hope you don't feel like this is talking down to you. This is also providing the foundation to understand Gursky. Its abit outside the scope of this discussion, but suffice it to say he is projecting freehand N-dimensional spaces, that are masked to appear normal. Consider a panaroma from the mars rover. But stiched together in an imaginary plane. But now consider that the rover is flying, not stationary. Its sort of a picasso in photoshop. But it looks "normal". Until you see how it doesnt. How it cant possibly be real. But then you step back, and it looks normal. you step up and can see every detail, perfect. The color is normal. The contrast is not extreme, etc. It looks "normal" but its not. .....
In a 2001 retrospective, New York's Museum of Modern Art described the artist's work, "a sophisticated art of unembellished observation. It is thanks to the artfulness of Gursky's fictions that we recognize his world as our own." Gursky’s style is enigmatic and deadpan. There is little to no explanation or manipulation on the works. <His photography is straightforward>.
His photography is straightforward? But wait...
Camera position is the co-star of these pictures. Usually Gursky places his lens high above, far away, on cranes, or even on helicopters. His pictures often entail multiple views of the same subject, different subjects seamlessly spliced together, and digital manipulation.
Notice how little of this is explained in the catalog:
For more reading up on this, with explanations:
http://www.amazon.com/Why-Photography-Matters-Never-Before/d... [disregard the star rating]
Another Gursky that is more obviously mind-bending:
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