Truth and Pictures or Chop and Crop

There has always been a question of fakery and manipulation in photography. Many of my students wonder to what limits they should go to manipulate their photographs in Photoshop. Some believe that whatever comes out of the camera should be left as is without any regard to how the machines process the picture in the first place. Is JPEG with all the camera's algorithms a real representation of the image or is RAW which left up to the image maker to decide it's color, sharpness, etc? I am an old film guy and I explain to new digital photographers that some sort of photo manipulation has been going on since the beginning of photography.
Photo by Ansel Adams
I cannot remember how many different black and white films in concert with dozens of developer choices I used to create a particular look. (Soft grain, high contrast, D-76, Acufine, Diafine, Rodinal, etc.) Then there were also all the different developing paper choices to choose from. I ask my students to consider all the manipulation that Ansel Adams  did to his negatives and prints to create a version of his particular vision. Another great, W. Eugene Smith spent weeks in the darkroom manipulating his photographs.

Black and white photography is an abstraction in itself.

Photo by W. Eugene Smith

Certainly with Photoshop and Lightroom there are unlimited ways to screw up a picture. But there are also many ways that the developing software can allow the photographer to express a particular vision. But many images can be abused using the software if left in the wrong hands. Here is a list.  

Ed Freeman is one person that has used digital software to his advantage creating images that suit his vision. However, he has been criticized by some who believe his photos are a misrepresentation of "reality". Outside Magazine recently published an article about Ed Freeman and the truth of photography. A Photo Editor has also written about this. "My first interview for the piece was with Art Wolfe who way back in 1994 ignited a firestorm when he published a wildlife book entitled Migrations where a third of the images were fakes. Art was careful to point out that he didn’t misrepresent natural history and he called the pictures photo-illustrations."

There has always been the question how much a photojournalist can develop (or manipulate) a photo before it leads the viewer into questioning if the news is creditable or not. Paul Martin Lester in his book Picture Manipulations goes into detail about the ethics of photojournalism.

When I worked at newspapers I used to hear the classic story about the newspaper photographer who would carry an old doll in the trunk of the car so he could throw it under the tire at a car accident scene.

Brian Walski, a 20 year veteran staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times was fired immediately after his editors discovered that he combined two images shot while in Iraq.

Editors have been notoriously bad in regard to manipulating picture USE. There is fantastic book, Underexposed, Pictures can Lie and Liars use Pictures that explores this whole topic of how images are used to misinform and as propaganda. It explores such issues censorship in news pictures. Photojournalist Paul Watson photographed a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1991. Time Magazine retouched out the genitals in an otherwise very graphic scene. It is telling when something portrayed as sexually offensive is censored but the outrageous violence against a corpse was not. Watson won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo. But the photograph continued to haunt Watson for years.  Photo by Paul Watson                                                                                                                                                                              

A very recent case of changing the meaning of a photograph involves former Vice President Dick Cheney and photographer David Hume Kennerly. Newsweek Magazine cropped a very innocent photo and turned it into something sinister.                         Photos by David Hume Kennerly