The subtitle of this post comes from a message I once read in the forum of a Flickr group called something like "NO POST PROCESSING!" Someone started a thread saying: "when i take photos on my camera i'm shooting in RAW. is it ok if i change the temperature and stuff before i post to this group?" There was some back and forth, and a few people approached the question philosophically, but my favorite answer was this quieter one: "no such thing as no post :)"
On to the mail, which was in response to this recent analog vs digital post:
I tend to belong to the "pro-digital" camp but my main argument on the matter is that if any of these big film or vinyl people existed today, they would totally avail themselves of modern technology. You don't think a Man Ray or a Bresson would be using Photoshop? Anyways, I have definitely thought about the subject a lot and that's not to say that I don't understand the value of analog photography or music or whatever. But it drives me crazy when people cling to some idealized past.
To make it clear, I don't hate technology, and I definitely don't think that the existence of the Adobe program Photoshop heralds the death of "photography." Speaking as someone who claims to love film, I currently scan all my negatives myself so that I can edit them on the computer. That's not very romantic! I don't develop my own film either, which probably makes me a bad person in some militant photo-camps I don't even know.
I'm terrible at using Photoshop, but I recognize how useful it is to everything that I'm doing right now. I agree that there's no need to idealize the past. It's not like people were actually helped by their technical limitations, they just found creative ways to work with what they had. A hundred years from today, photographers will no doubt wonder how we, the godforsaken people of 2008, ever produced anything worth looking at using such a primitive tool as Photoshop. (But they will only think to say this while looking at our images!)
To answer the good question posed here, I am sure that Man Ray wouldn't be so foolish as to ignore Photoshop. He'd probably use it well, too, because I think Man Ray was on point. That's just a guess, though. Hey, everyone knows that Star Wars Episode 4 was so great because George Lucas' shoestring budget made him work hard for his visual effects. Everyone also knows that Star Wars Episode 1 was so wretched because it was a just plain terrible idea, which happened to have millions of dollars' worth of technology thrown at it. This does not mean that lots of technology makes for bad results, or that "bad" technology makes for good ones. Better ideas make for better results, so in terms of photography, the bottom line should always be the image. The way that it's produced should be secondary.
By the way, the only meaning of my Star Wars example is that George Lucas is a hack.