Manipulation - digital or otherwise

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by david b, May 23, 2006.

  1. david b

    david b Member

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  2. DBP

    DBP Member

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    It depends on the context, of course, but I would hold photojournalists to a pretty high standard - no added objects, no merging of scenes, etc. Really anything other than correcting artifacts of the photographic process should be taboo. This is not a new issue, but goes back at least as far as photojournalism. There are allegations that Mathew Brady reposed corpses for some of his more famous shots. On a more mundane note, when my mother worked for the "Women's" section of the local paper back in the 70s, her editor insisted that all cleavage be airbrushed out of any published photos.

    For art, I think anything goes, but there is some degree of disclosure that should be performed.
     
  3. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    g'day Dave, tough call

    i think we should all draw our own line, and promise ourselves not to cross it

    i have some doubts in regard to the article - the Smith example is a little tenous, Smith double printed a wood saw handle into an environmental portrait that already told the viewer the great humanitarian was involved in building a wooden structure, this 'manipulation' didn't change the meaning of the image, it just strengthened it's 'artfulness'
    from my, perhaps limited, knowledge of the work of W. Eugene Smith, he did not 'overly' or regularly use manipulations as this article may infer

    the example image shown - i doubt it is the same image manipulated, more likely a cut and paste job of several images taken at the same time, with the same content
    question is, does the 'manipulation' change the meaning of the image?
     
  4. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    All photography is manipulated, in the nature of things, even 'real' B+W. We choose where to point the camera, when to release the shutter. Then we crop, dodge, burn... That's before you consider the possibility of staged pictures.

    I have shot propaganda for the Tibetan Government in Exile -- they need all the help they can get until the Chinese get out of Tibet -- and while everything I shot really happened, I obviously shot to show the Tibetans in the best light.

    A lot depends on the captions, too, and the Chinese are masters of flatly dishonest captions. You know the sort of thing: 'So and so is starving because of the greedy oppressive lamas' whereas they're starving because Chinese immigrants are getting all the food.

    My own inclination is to treat ALL photographs as propaganda, making due allowance for the source (right-wing newspaper, left-wing newspaper, newspaper afraid of offending advertisers...) and to use one's own pictures the same way. Then it becomes a question of how far you trust (or want to believe) the photographer as well as the journal in which his pictures appear.

    But I'd still draw the line at 'comping' pictures together or similar heavy digital manipulation: to use Terry Pratchett's words, that's pissing in the fountain of truth.

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com)
     
  5. reub2000

    reub2000 Member

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    I don't see what's wrong with altering photos in ways that doesn't alter the content. After all your eyes do it. See a white piece of paper illuminated by an incandescent bulb? The light it's reflecting into your eye isn't actually white, but your brain edits it to appear white.
     
  6. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    If this was a news photo, I'd be damned. But for tabloid magazines, it looks like this is a common practice, and I have no problem with it. :D
     
  7. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    I think in the past, journalism was generally held to a higher standard, but today, with the rampant yellow journalism and blantant presentation of misinformation, anything goes. Journalism has, in my mind, has sacrificed its credibility for ratings. A fine example is the altering of the image used in the article. This alteration changed the entire message: the soldier no longer appears passive, but aggressive, the people appear not to be being observed, but rather warned. An image that did not happen was presented as fact - in effect, a lie. Even if it happened, and the photographer was not there to catch the moment, what is presented is their interpretation of what might have happened.

    In the artistic world, it is up to the us, the artists, to decide how present the ideas we wish to present to our audience. In journalism it is the responsibility of the reporter to present the facts as best they can be presented without bias or interpretation. Yes, I understand that everyone interprets what they see through the filter of their own life experiences, and that cannot be helped, but photographs offer the ability to present the scene, as it happened, to the viewer so that they can make those judgements. While the photographer can choose which images to capture and which to present, in effect choosing how to present the event, they still are presenting a scene that happened. Dodging and burning are one thing, they do not change the content - cutting and pasting, either on the computer or in the darkroom, are completely different, they change the content of what is presented into something that was not there.

    As Firecracker stated above, tabloids have no credibility, they are assumed to be fiction, but news outlets are the only source of information for most people of the happenings outside their personal experience, and therefore need to be as credible as possible. They have the responsibility to present as unbiased a product as they can, and the people recording events, be it in words or images, have the responsibility to capture the essence of the event without editing what happened any more than absolutely required.

    Sorry for the rant, but journalistic integrity is something I feel strongly about.

    - Randy
     
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  8. Lachlan Young

    Lachlan Young Member

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    Analogue may not be entirely accurate but it is a damn sight closer to the truth than digital!

    Lachlan
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There's a very good article on W. Eugene Smith's use of creative darkroom techniques in special issue #11 of _Photo Techniques_--_Mastering the Black and White Fine Print_. Many other good articles in that issue as well.
     
  10. Lopaka

    Lopaka Member

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    I agree - that's where I got my start. But yellow journalism is nothing new. William Randolph Hearst built an empire on it and some of his misleading stuff actually found its way into some history texts. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders' charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War is a prime example. They arrived in Cuba without most of their horses since they couldn't arrange transport so their 'charge' was on foot - right behind the 9th and 10th Cavalry. But it was more fashionable (and better newspaper sales) to tout the adventures of a poorly trained bunch of civilians to the embarrassment of the US Army than to tell the truth about the success of all black army units.

    In journalism, pictures are tools to tell a story - they can be used to enhance the telling of the facts or they can be used to tell lies.

    Bob
     
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  11. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Much classical photo-journalism has been done in black & white. This is quite a change from the way our eyes see the world.

    I guess that I really do not care too much if the meaning of the photo is not changed.

    One of the photo manipulations that bothered me in the past was the photo taken by Arnold Newman of Krupp for a book cover where he used lighting to give Krupp a very sinister look. This would be OK with me if he has first said to Krupp "I am going to make you look sinister". The Krupp family has much to be ashamed of in their WWII behavior. I feel no kinship with them.
     
  12. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    My thoughts on the issue are similar to those expressed by Roger - keep the water in the fountain of truth clean. In an ideal world, the photojournalist will take a series of photos, and then select one that accurately summarizes the event. That, however, is an editorial process, and subject to the editorial slant (aka propaganda motivations) of the publication.

    Being able to honestly say, "No" to the question of whether an image is a composite goes a long way in my book. It's up to the photojournalist's skills to get the "right" picture.
     
  13. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    The manipulation of an image to alter its perceived editorial content is as old as photography. The problem today is it is so easy to do. Anyone with a computer and a small amount of photoshop smarts can edit people or objects in and out of scenes.

    The flip side to that I think as more photographers or "journalists" try to get away with it, the more they will be caught and the more the public will view all images with a healthy amount of skepticisim as to the validity of the content.

    I think the public is pretty sophisticated and understands that you must be very carefull regarding any content, print or image.

    I remember back in the 80s when NBC news revealed that it used pyrotechnic devices the help support a story of Chevrolet pickup trucks being prone to catching fire in a certain situation. After learning that I have have had zero trust in investigative stories by a news organization. I think people will simply extend that level of trust to photographs as well.
     
  14. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    The main sticking point here seems to me to be 'accurately' or 'objectively'. An example I've used elsewhere is photographs of politicians looking foolish. Depending on the politician or the photographer or the person seeing the photograph, the picture can be perceived as cruel or funny or a sad confirmation of what we all knew all the time.

    ALL news journalism is campaigning journalism. Some campaign for one side; some campaign for the other; and those who campaign for 'objectivity' are campaigning for their subjective interpretation of it. I campaign for silver halide photography!

    Learning to guess/spot the bias is essential, and should be taught in school. That's why, when I was at school, the VIth form common room at my house subscribed (at my suggestion) to the North Vietnam Peace News and the British Union of Fascists newsletter. You'd be amazed at how many elderly fascists were reported as being murdered by the evil Jews -- at 85, the weapon of choice being a heart attack...

    Perhaps the heart of the debate is really this: what are the limits of legitimacy in campaigning?

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com)
     
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  15. DBP

    DBP Member

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    The best thing about film photography in a news context, in my view, is that it is possible to verify that the image is accurate by checking the negative. But the need for speed moved almost all photjournalists to digital quite some time ago and, knowing the need to meet deadline, I can't blame them. As noted in some other thread, time pressures are part of why newspapers stuck with large format for so long.
     
  16. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I think the keyword here is "convention." What kind of manipulations does the audience conventionally accept? In other words, if you effect a specific choice at any moment in your picture chain, is it assumed that your audience will have some awareness of it to "reverse engineer" that manipulation and get the point you're trying to make without believing that they're seeing something that isn't there.

    Example #1: Removing red-eyes. Most people know what red-eyes are, and some even know why they exist. When you are removing them, it is assumed that you are removing an unnecessary photographic artifact.

    Example #2: Black and white photojournalism. We all know that the world is in color (sorry for excluding daltonians here). Therefore, when we see a b&w story, we can infer that there is no intent to present a reality that sticks photon by photon to the picture. We know what to take and what to leave out.

    Example #3: Explicitely reconstructing a scene. If, unlike NBC, you would have told your viewers that you are using pyrotechnics to recreate the explosion of a gas tank by adding a mention to this effect, you allow people to see past the "forgery" to get to your point, without deceiving them. If you do not, then you are flaunting that convention, and therefore misleading your audience.

    There are many more thorny examples. I'm sticking to simple ones to illustrate my point, but the idea is that what is acceptable manipulation is not stipulated by a code, but rather by a convention which is shared by an audience and picture-makers.
     
  17. lkorell

    lkorell Member

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    Photography is a form of communication as is all art. Every communication, no matter how "close" to reality it may be, is manipulated in some fashion.
    Art makes a point. Yes it reflects on occasion a real situation but a story is always told from a point of view. Even the angle from which you shoot an image plays a part in how the image is perceived. You can shoot an actual portrait without altering the person but if you shoot from four different angles you can give four different perceptions of what that person is all about.

    No matter how realistic we attempt to be, all photography is communicated with a point of view...and perceived by someone else's view.

    When a photojournalist shoots a news item, any manipulation of the actual event to make it look like something else is no longer photojournalism.
    But, if a photo is color corrected or cropped to dramatize the moment, that's still a journalistic approach. Cropping has always been a technique of manipulating the subject in a photograph. It doesn't need to be analog or digital specifically to use that technique.

    If we are thinking that analog is more real than digital, we are under a great misconception. Perception is reality.


    Lou
     
  18. Daniel_OB

    Daniel_OB Member

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    Documentary and honest film photographs are not manipulation. They are the biggest truth human ever investigated. Different view point make truth from different view points and they can represent one 3D object in different way and all can be truth, as 3+1=4 and also 6-2=4 both are truth.

    What is manipulation is how we use photograph and what we see and what we want other to see in them. This is not manipulated photograph this is manipulation WITH photograph.

    If someting is manipulated, away from truth, it is a lie. So all of you that beleive all photograph are manipulated are just liers for it is you practice.

    Or lets redifine what is a meaning of "manipulation".