PROJECT: DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY AND ‘TRUTH’

“… One of the revolutions wrought by digital photography has been that you, the photographer, are fully responsible for everything to do with the image, from capture (as you frame the shot and release the shutter) right up to producing the finished image.  In particular, the recording of images as digital files means that you have full access to every pixel.  It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of this.  Unlike film photography, in which at some point the image becomes physically locked into the emulsion, a digital image is at all times available for adjustment…” OCA Course Material

It has been more then twenty years since digital photography became popular and this popularity has governed changes in all forms of this media.  WELLS (2009 p.313) states that:

We have witnessed a number of convergences: between photography and computer-generated imaging (CGI), between photographic archives and electronic databases, and between the camera, the Internet and personal mobile media, notably the mobile telephone.

Therefore, it is not only the way that we capture an image that has changed, but also the way we process, archive and share our photographs with the outside world.

Since the onset and popularity of digital photography, there has been much outcry and debate into the authenticity of capturing digital images.  Reading through the first few paragraphs of WELLS’ chapter on Photography in the age of electronic imaging, in those early years of digital photography, academia seemed concerned with the ethical issues, as well as the ease of digital manipulation.

Ritchen (1990a) feared:

A world in which images would no longer be trusted to reliably inform us about the wilder world.

Mitchel (1992) proclaimed that:

Digital image technologies would bring a 150-year period of ‘false innocence’ to an end; a false innocence belonging to the period during which chemical photographs provided us with images that we could comfortably regard as ‘casually generated truthful reports about things in the real world’.

Therefore, like me, they were not overly worried about the onset of digital photography, but more at the ease in which these digital images can be manipulate.  However, there has always been a certain amount of manipulation within photography; I saw this at the recent Blumenfeld Studio, New York 1941 – 1960 exhibition I viewed, and in Ritchen’s publication he states:

Because of the difficult and limited nature of the processes involved, traditional manipulations of chemical photographs had somehow been held in ethical check and were usually undertaken without ‘damaging the image’s integrity’.

So there we have it, it has always been there, and the world had always known about it, but because it was more difficult to manipulate images in a chemical darkroom, any changes made were classed as okay, but suddenly that thought process changed and because of the ease of manipulation, digital photography was thought of as immoral!

Being completely naive, when I got my first digital camera and came across digital manipulation, I was under the impression that manipulation never occurred in analogue photographs.  It was not until I attended the Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea exhibition earlier this year that I realised just how much manipulation went on in chemical dark rooms – again, how naïve was I?

I have always been an advocate of the truth behind an image, and have mentioned my convictions surrounding this repeatedly throughout my blog and college work.  Although, it is only now that I am realising what can actually be classed as manipulation; in some cases just opening a RAW image into any digital software can been seen as manipulation.  All those times I have cropped, or deleted dust spots and hair from within the frame – yep, that can be seen as manipulation too; so for all my saying that I never do it, and it should not be acceptable, I have fallen pray to manipulation too.

Of course, this type of manipulation is only really tarting an image, and making it acceptable to publish.  However, there are more and more instances where deliberate and effective manipulations have been published, and this is when I think back to those early ponderings and have to agree with the worry that the innocence of photography is being cast aside for more aesthetically pleasing editorials.

Whether it is to make small alterations to our work, or to completely falsify a scene by adding (or subtracting) details, there is no clarity or dividing lines between what is and is not acceptable within the industry.  The BJP published an article today, just as I was starting to write this entry, about the on going controversy surrounding the winning image of the World Press Photo 2013 Photo Contest and whether the tonal alteration of Paul Hansen’s photo was ethical and whether it is classed as manipulation.  Not so long ago, I would have cried ‘fake’ and agreed that the image should be disqualified as it does not represent a ‘as seen’ image, but now I am not so sure.

Now that I understand the workings of RAW and how my camera captures and stores unprocessed data, I can see that there may be cause for a few tweaks to be made here and there; especially if these tweaks make the image a better representation of what I saw at the time of capturing the shot.  After all, as stated in the opening paragraph here, it is down to me as a photographer to be responsible for my images and to produce an ethical representation of my work.  I now understand that there are times when manipulation is needed, but we should still strive to get the best image we can in camera, before we release the shutter, and those photographers who state that ‘shoot in RAW and alter your images post-processing’ make me cringe – it is these guys that give digital photography a bad name.

My issue here truly lies in fakery and the misinterpretation of the world around us; where changes are obvious, and the author shows no regard for the truth. I do agree that photographers should disqualified from competition for taking out a plastic bag, or making someone look a little thinner, whiter or taller then they actually are, this is ethically wrong and a misinterpretation of both the scene and of the world around us.

During this Processing the Image module, we have looked at basic functionality and techniques for optimisation, we have even looked at Black-and-White imagery, which in todays digital world can be seen as basic manipulation, as we only see the world in colour, and we manipulate to convert our work into monochromic tones.  For this final segment of DPP we will be looking at reality and intervention and will look at areas concerning correction, improvement and addition – to name a few – this will definitely provide further food-for-thought!

Source:

Reference:

Mitchell, W.J.  (1992) The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in Post-photographic Era, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.  Cited in Wells, L, (ed.).  (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction.  4th Edition.  Oxon: Routledge, p.316

Ritchen, F.  (1990a) In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography.  Cited in Wells, L, (ed.).  (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction.  4th Edition.  Oxon: Routledge, p.317

Wells, L, (ed.).  (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction.  4th Edition.  Oxon: Routledge

Bibliography:

Cliffe, S.  (2013) Interview with disqualified winner of National Geographic Photo Contest [online article].  Available at: http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2013/02/23/interview-with-disqualified-winner-of-national-geographic-photo-contest/ [Accessed 6 September 2013].

Laurent, O.  (2013) Minority retouch: Digital post-producers stand by their practice [online article].  Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/feature/2285860/minority-retouch-digital-postproducers-stand-by-their-practice [Accessed 6 September 2013].

Wells, L, (ed.).  (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction.  4th Edition.  Oxon: Routledge

World Press Photo, (2013) 2013 Photo Contest[online].  World Press Photo.  Available at: http://www.worldpressphoto.org/2013-photo-contest [Accessed 6 September 2013].

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