Don't get me wrong, a person can make many cute and clever images by cutting out somebody else's photographs and gluing them together in interesting new configurations. Several publications with generally excellent art direction use photo-illustrations frequently:
|New York Times|
By starting with pre-fabricated building blocks rather than the basic elements of line and color, we gain speed and economy but we lose some of the potential for charm, grace and creativity. Obviously, this loss matters more to some people than to others.
Here, a Photoshopped cover effectively conveys the childish antics of the US House of Representatives:
However, it is also devoid of the design or elegance or class that a stronger human aesthetic role might have contributed.
When illustrator Peter de Seve was asked years ago to illustrate the squabbling Congress for another magazine cover, the picture required more time and preparation (note his preliminary draft below) but the result was more visually interesting and the humor more layered and sophisticated.
When illustrator Bernie Fuchs died in 2009, Golf Digest published a touching tribute recognizing the "grandeur" that Fuchs' illustrations had brought to their pages over the years. Right next to that tribute, without the slightest hint of irony, was a cheap and crappy photo-illustration of the type that Golf Digest and so many others use today:
Perhaps grandeur is no longer in style, or perhaps grandeur costs too much. But I think we forget the true price of photo-illustration unless we compare it, every once in a while, with what it replaced.