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Photo-Manipulation

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

I did an essay on the idea of the trust in photography - whether it still has a value considering how easy it now is to change photographs.


This is of course an issue that has plagued photography since its outset. Initially it (photography) was advocated as a means to perfectly represent the world in pictorial form. In many respects photographic evidence is still considered an ideal corroboration. It is rarely disputed and the idea that it could be fabricated entirely seems never to be considered.


Yet I would never consider displaying an unedited image whether it was analogue or digital. I will always tweak it to match my expectations, to what I intend to portray. Whether that is then perceived by the viewer is another question but I do my bit to create an image that I want to be seen.


A before and after - one of my edited images.


Not every photographer will do this, many amateur or hobby photographers will aim to get what they want straight from the camera. And contemporary digital cameras are very good at this. Yet even the camera is playing its part in a deception. Nearly every camera will have the option to produce a Jpeg image. While higher end cameras will virtually always give the option of RAW (that produces a file with all the recorded information of the image) choosing the Jpeg option will produce a compressed image file. A RAW file is a large file but visually quite dull. The colours are just what the cameras sensor can perceive. Even then there is a deception because the sensor can actually only detect black and white and colours are computer generated after they are calculated on what permeates through a Bayer filter.


So unless you want dull, lifeless images (beginning to sound like a shampoo advert!) you have a choice of editing (and RAW files are very flexible when it comes to editing) or converting to a Jpeg. Using a Jpeg straight out of camera will in itself not only produce the above mentioned compressed image but also an ‘improved’ image. By improved read “changed to appear more like an idealised version of a photo”.


Colours will be enhanced, highlights and blacks will be managed to fit into certain parameters, a little contrast might be added and a tweak of vibrance included. It is the equivalent of what boots used to do with my photos when I was young, they didn’t know I was trying to be ‘creative’ so their developing machines tried to normalise and brighten the overall exposure and colour tone. That was fine if you had taken pictures of your aunts 75th birthday party in a dull room because it would give you a brighter ‘happier’ image. If you were trying to take what you hoped to be high contrast, low light images of a prostrate electricity pylon to represent a quasi death of modernity it wasn’t so good. In fact it shook my faith in photography for some time. I only had a cheap camera at the time (this was some years ago) and no knowledge of self developing or self printing. Regardless, I would never have been able to afford or find space for developing or printing.


So in many respects the advent of digital was a massive bonus for me. At least it was once I got to the stage of being able to afford Photoshop. Early efforts to get creative results straight out of camera were also frustrated on the grounds that I only had a basic camera and no editing software. It wasn’t until about 7 years ago that I signed up to Photoshop and had any idea how to use it and only when I started my degree course that I had any real understanding of what I was doing.


Creatively, being at least competent at Photoshop is a massive positive. As to whether it ‘does’ or ‘should’ diminish the trust or value of Photography is another matter. Images that are obviously art I have no issue with them being manipulated - they are the creation of the artists mind and are designed to convey something, hopefully something meaningful and ‘worthy’, they are not intended as visually accurate depictions of the real world.


Issues come more to the fore when documentary photos are edited and it is important to consider the harms that may be caused by the manipulation of social media images and advertising/magazine images that set unrealistic ideals of beauty or even normality.


I just had a quick look on the Apple App Store for ‘Photo’ apps and I lost count after 200. Sadly I also checked my phone and found I had 46 photo and video apps! (And a further 19 scanner/camera remote/printer control/camera download apps.)

Obviously some of those are not necessarily for manipulation but it is kind of a prerequisite now that photo based apps have really quick or automatic ability to ‘improve’ images.


The use of manipulation is more or less a constant on social media, it seems quite rare to see an image, of a person especially, that has not been enhanced. There seems a constant need to disguise the true likeness whether it is simply brightening the image, adding cartoon animal facial features, reducing age or smoothing skin, adding a different background or including sparkly highlights. The list is long and ever changing.


My thoughts have considered the reason behind the need to ‘enhance’ images, especially of oneself and I came across a video about the artist Irina Werning. She takes childhood images and works with the subject, who is now much older, to reproduce the image with the person as they are now. The results are often poignant and very engaging.













Images by Irina Werning

https://irinawerning.com/back-to-the-future/



During the video she was talking about this project called ‘Back to the Future’ and stated “.....it’s not perfect, and I like it like that because if it were perfect it would be advertising”.


In many ways this is perhaps what bothers me about instagram style and social media images - they aren’t created for the purposes of Art, they are created for the purpose of self promotion and when I am working I have to keep this in mind so as not to fall into the trap of thinking I need to create a ‘perfect’ image.


That's all for now,



Ian

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