Lies, damned lies and photoshop

PSThis series of images has been making its way through the blogosphere recently,  I thought it was rather clever actually (setting aside the moral issues of vandalism/graffiti).  In case it isn’t obviously what it is – some clever soul took decals made to look like various Photoshop panels/tools and pasted them over public posters of celebrities/starlets… Presumably to critique the “phony” image that these (presumably Photoshopped) images portray.

and it got me thinking about one of the endless debates that rages eternally in the photo world – right up there with Canon v. Nikon, film v. digital, etc…

The ethics of Photoshop.

The question of photoshop is really the old philosophical question of “truth in photography”.   Must an image be “true” to be a photograph?   If so, how much can it be manipulated/changed/edited before it ceases to become a “photograph” an becomes something else altogether.   This is a debate that has raged from the first time a enterprising photographer dodged/burned/cropped a photograph in the darkroom to bring it more in line with his (or her) artistic vision.   On the one hand if we trust a photograph to be a direct representation of reality, then manipulating that image to any degree violates that truth by distorting the portrayal of reality.  On the other hand, we can argue that a photograph is never a “true” representation of reality by it’s very essence – it is inherently subjective and thus up to the photographer to use whatever tools are available to bring the image as close to their “vision” of reality as possible.   Quite the conundrum!

In short here’s how I see it It depends on what the purpose of your photography is. For something like photojournalism, which is generally trusted as a direct, non-editorialized portrayal of reality, the “Truth” of the image is paramount, Hence the stringent regulations against *any* level of image manipulation in the journalistic world, and the severe penalties issues to those who violate said regulations.    Of course the counter argument to that is the fact that any photograph is inherently subjective – simply by choosing what to include or not include in the photo, the photographer editorialized and “manipulates” the truth to some degree.   In the end we must simply come to a point where we say “close enough”.

However, outside of the realm of journalism, I believe that photography is art and, like any other form of art, is an expression of the artist’s unique vision.  To that end, I believe that manipulation is not only acceptable, it is desirable – the more tools available to the artist, the more fully his or her vision can be realized.    Fundamentally I consider myself an artist, and as such I love the freedom of expression that digital manipulation brings to my work.   I am able to conceptualize an image, create the groundwork for it with a camera and then manipulate it to fully realize my vision.   It is merely another step in the process of  concept->product.

Now on the other hand, when dealing with the type of glamor and fashion images portrayed in the above ads, there is a whole ‘nother ethical issue to consider, namely the image that said advertisements are portraying to their clientele.   Of course answering this begins to delve into the realm of personal politics, which is strictly off limits for this blog 🙂

In the end, as with many philisophical questions there is really no “right” answer – so what do y’all think of said ads and their critique on image editing/manipulation?

One thought on “Lies, damned lies and photoshop”

  1. I think you’ve nailed it with purpose (though a photojournalism work sometimes get manipulated too… tsk tsk!).

    I think the moral grounds of this fits in with what you said about art, though. Ads are meant to convey a message (a vision), not portray truth. They are about selling, and using what you need to sell. The photo is just another graphic element of the ad and as such is not confined to realism.

    So, what about the regular photos of those celebrities? I’d argue that they are also selling a product, the performer.

    And in regular portrait work? I have no qualms about fixing physical features I know a person may be unhappy with, as long as I do it in a subtle way. While many people may say this is morally wrong, clients are usually the first to ask for such touchups.

    As for the critique, I think it’s important people sometimes draw attention to it… we tend to forget these images are digital creations and not realistic ideals we should try to attain.

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