We live in an age where digital technology has affected most aspects of our lives. We now shop online, control our heating from our phones and our cars park themselves, it seems there isn’t one aspect of life that hasn’t been changed by digital technology. The world of photography is no exception. Where film cameras are no longer the most popular medium, digital cameras are ‘cheap as chips!’ Most of us have a digital camera in one form or another especially with the widespread use of mobile phones.
Aside from hardware there’s plenty of post production editing software readily available and anyone can get a form of this for free. It’s little wonder that most of the photographs we see have been manipulated in some way but what impact has this had on the way we view photographs? Do we still view them as documented facts or has the reality been taken away?
I carried out some research on the internet and found an article in The Guardian Newspaper (Jones, 2004) where David Hockney, the English painter and photographer talks about the ‘truth’ in photography.
Hockney states that ‘Everyone used to assume photographs of war were “true” in a way photography can’t be. Then, goes on to say ‘[the] digital age has made such a conception of photography obsolete. You can change any image now in any way you want’. What Hockney is talking about here is that the photograph is an interpretation of what the photographer wants you to see. A different angle may tell a very different story.
He also once saw what a famous LA photographer’s portrait of Elton John looked like before it was retouched. The difference, he says, was “hilarious”. And now everyone can do this. Again a reference to how ‘reality’ can be manipulated. Here we have two very different outcomes, one to make a situation look worse and another to make a person look better, either way how can we trust what the photograph shows.
This brings to mind the unattainable results we see in magazines that many of our teenage generation are literally killing themselves to achieve, which is due to the encumbrance of the photojournalistic community. A clear example of where there is little truth in that genre of photography. On the flip side and quite perversely if you want to look good you need to use the photo editing techniques that photojournalists are killing our confidence with.
I read an extract from Liz Wells, Photography, a critical introduction, in The real and the digital section, where she puts forward and argument about the consequence of digital technology:
‘One significant consequence of this has been a new merging and lack of definition between photographic genres.’
This is something I’ve been thinking about, especially when I’ve researched and challenged a classification of a photograph. It can be a confusing subject and sometimes what started out as documentary in the camera can end up as photojournalistic in print. In a previous post I talked about Paul Seawright’s interview regarding his style of documentary and he stated that ‘if it’s [documentary] too explicit, it becomes photojournalistic’. Seawright is referring to the manipulation in his photographic process without the use of digital technology.
So where wells is saying a consequence of digital technology is a merging of the genres, Seawright is saying that this can be obtained with thought and technique.
In conclusion, digital technology hasn’t caused us to distrust the photograph, manipulation has been around almost as long as photography itself. What it has done is give us the ability to be more creative with digital imagery. There is no difference between a photograph that has been manipulated through the camera than one thats been altered through digital process, we can be fooled by both. When post production moves into a fantasy or unrealistic realm then its a deliberate manipulation thats obvious to all.
Jones, J. (2004) ‘Disposable Cameras’. In: The Guardian (online) At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/mar/04/photography (Accessed 17 February 2017).
Wells, L (2009) ‘The real and the digital’ Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: routledge, p73-75.