The photograph as document – Project 5: The manipulated image – Exercise 2

Exercise

Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73-75. You’ll find this on the student website.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.

If you were to ask this question to a student of photography, the simple answer may be “no”. We know full well that images have been manipulated since the advent of photography, and as far as we are concerned, the move to digital processing has only changed the way and ease in which images are manipuilated. For the layman, the non-photographer or the casual snapper who has little knowledge of the history of photography, the answer will probably be very different. For them, the advent of digital technologies and widely used applications such as Adobe Photoshop have created a sense of mistrust, particulaly given our image saturated culture. I actually read the above titled book when studying the Art of Photography, and my notes on the book as a whole can be found here.

The question above is not specific to digital photography, but to digital technology. With the widespread use of social media, and the rapid dissemination of transient snapshot images, I think that we (viewers) still largely regard the bulk of images as truth, due to the current digital visual culture. As David Campany points out: Almost a third of all news “photographs” are frame grabs from video or digital sources. These connote authenticity, particulallry when they are grainy or of low quality, which is often linked to “citizen journalism”.

Wells makes a point that “the authenticity of the photograph may be validated less by the nature of the image itself, than through the structure of the discursive, social and proffesional practices which constituted photography. Here, context comes into play. Where an image is published (in what newspaper or on what website) may influence how sceptical we are in believing what we see. The proffesional practices of forensic photographers is bound by strict rules which allow the images to be used as evidence. Despite the use of digital technology, can there be any doubt about how “real” these images are?

It doesn’t take much to damage a reputation. During Op TELIC (Gulf War 2), I rememeber the Daily Mirror publiushing photo’s of British Troops urinating on Iraqi prisoners. These images were not manipulated, but were staged in the UK, and proven to be fakes, which ultimately led to the editor (Piers Morgan) being sacked. This article describes how a photojournalist was fired after it emerged that his image had been a composite of 2 earlier images, taken only seconds apart. But is his manipulated image any less real in terms of meaning? The fact that it is well composed, lit and proffesional looking, has contributed to the current social distrust in proffesionally shot documentary images. This is also due, in part, to the fact that proffessional photographers also tend to be the ones with the skills and tools to manipulate images, hence the greater trust in citizen journalism.

If we look at social networking, and inparticular, Facebook, it is often joked that everyone is living an ideal/perfect life. We can upload large quatities of images quickly from any number of devices. We can edit /manipulate these photos on our phones using Apps, and we create a picture of our lives that we want others to see. Just like the family album, we often don’t document the strife, and even if we do, we don’t tend to share it with the world. This in itself affects the way that we view photography as truth. The individual photograpgh may be truth, but as a set, depicting our lifestyle, they are often far from it.

On the whole, yes, I think that digital technology has changed the way that we view photography as truth. It has made us more critical and sceptical, but this is not neccesarily a bad thing. sometimes it is good to question what we see on the “face of it” in order to uncover a deeper truth.

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