How believable are photos? And how accurate should we expect them to be?
Photo manipulation is as old as photography itself. With the advent of digital photography and the increasingly accessibility of photo manipulation software, it is much easier and quicker to edit and manipulate photographs than ever before.
Is that such a bad thing?
It really depends on the context of the photo and what it is being used for. In the documentary photography and photojournalism world, photo editing and manipulation is very much frowned upon. There is an expectation that photos need to represent what is going on in the world, however unpleasant it may be.
However, there is always a dilemma about how graphic images can be in the news and many images are probably not taken or published because they cross social and moral mores and taste.
Even the most objective photographs are edited on a more subtle level on how they are framed. The meaning of a photograph can often be altered by what included, or even left out, of a photograph.
Glossy magazines have been increasingly criticised for manipulating images they include in their publications, particularly on the front cover, particularly when models or celebrities are slimmed down and freed from blemishes.
It touches a nerve because it raises moral issues around body image, beauty and self esteem in women and girls, and increasingly with men and boys. In many cases, what is being represented is unattainable for many people.
Even in the courts, photographs are used as evidence.
On the other side of the coin, artists like Gilbert and George have embraced the digital age and the new digital imaging / editing software for their artwork. For them, it has helped them in their creative process in their artwork. And within this context, society seems much more accepting of photo manipulation.
However, Photo manipulation is a double edge sword. While there have been criticisms in some areas, society, in many ways, has become to expect photos, in many instances, to be edited. It would be equally shocking not to have the front cover of a glossy magazine manipulated in some way. Or even professional photos taken at weddings or school photos, for instances, to be airbrushed. Our vanity hopes that someone would take our blemishes away.
Photo editing isn’t going away, particularly in the digital age. In many ways, society hash become to expect it. However, there is a need to be much more honest about the photographs and images we produce as well as being much more critical of what we look at.