Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ethics of Manipulation - A Can of Worms?

I have thought long and hard about my own opinions towards digital manipulation and carried out some research into how others perceive its use. This website made for very interesting reading and I found myself agreeing with the responses being given by Tracy Ann Walsh, a freelance photographer, on her blog.What makes the difference between a positive use of photo manipulation and an abuse of it? Take for example the manipulation of the 1994  O.J. Simpson mug shot on the cover of Time magazine, was it just to create a more "artful" image or was the intention more sinister?

There is a difference between deliberate manipulation to deceive and innocent enhancements. As I stated in my previous post an image which is altered to deceive, especially if to promote a commercial product where the consumer would perceive it to be reality is wrong. An example I can think of that had to have a disclaimer on it which originally did not (although not photographic manipulation) was Cheryl Cole advertising shampoo with long shiny hair that was extensions....

Taking into consideration additions and subtraction, again I think it all depends on the extent of these alterations and why they were done. If in a wedding photo there was something distracting in the background, for example a sign on a wall or a litter bin, I can see no harm in it being cloned out, it has no bearing on the main subject and does not alter the intention of the photograph. However if the image was for a holiday brochure and the hotel had a nuclear power station in the background which was replaced by rolling hills then that I would consider misleading and unethical.

As far as portraiture is concerned I would remove blemishes/spots as they are not permanent features and everyone wishes to look their best, I would only consider removing moles etc if a request was made by the client. With the increasing popularity of digital photography people have become more sceptical about the images they see in everyday life.

Whilst understanding why this occurs, due to the ease of which digital images can be altered, I find it comical as photographic manipulation has been around since photographs have been made, the most famous example I can think of is the portrait of president Lincoln, which is actually a composite of Lincoln's head and John Calhoun's body. Some of the most spectacular photographs of World War I aerial combat were only recently exposed as fakes.Subsequent to that Stalin, Hitler and Chairman Mao frequently had enemies air-brushed from group photographs.

I am not mentioning these to condone them merely to indicate that photographic manipulation has been around longer than digital photography.The manipulation of photographs  is not new...

"It is rather amusing, this tendency of the wise to regard a print which has been locally manipulated as irrational photography – this tendency which finds an esthetic tone of expression in the word faked. A MANIPULATED print may be not a photograph. The personal intervention between the action of the light and the print itself may be a blemish on the purity of photography. But, whether this intervention consists merely of marking, shading and tinting in a direct print, or of stippling, painting and scratching on the negative, or of using glycerine, brush and mop on a print, faking has set in, and the results must always depend upon the photographer, upon his personality, his technical ability and his feeling. BUT long before this stage of conscious manipulation has been begun, faking has already set in. In the very beginning, when the operator controls and regulates his time of exposure, when in dark-room the developer is mixed for detail, breadth, flatness or contrast, faking has been resorted to. In fact, every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible. When all is said, it still remains entirely a matter of degree and ability. - Edward Steichen - Camera Work 1, 1903. [cited in: Alfred Stieglitz “Camera Work (The Complete Illustrations 1903 – 1917)”, Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, Köln, 1997, p. 107]

Photographers manipulate a scene from the moment they decide to frame the shot omitting certain elements or even the depth of field to obscure the background.

Many photographs are made for artistic purposes. As an art form these images should be be subject to the freedoms that the description implies. Artists, including painters and sculptors, routinely create a representation that differs from reality. These artists think nothing of adding, subtracting or enhancing elements from the original scene, in my opinion the artistic photographers such as Erik Johansson and Joan Charmant should be allowed the same freedoms. Advertising/artistic manipulationcan also be successfully combined as Jon Compson proves.

When it comes to news or documentary photography ethics become a totally different issue. I would personally not consider altering any image that the intention was to accurately and honestly portray a person, place or event.The National Press Photographers Association agrees with this point of view; part of their Code of Ethics ...

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:
  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
John Long the Ethics Co-Chair and Past President NPPA Sept 1999 wrote an article on Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography which covers some of the issues highlighted in this post.

The recent student riots has provoked many a debate; The media hunting pack | Green Wedge, notice how these published images have all cropped out the semi circle of photographers apparent in the original? Telegraph . The importance of fair reporting and the fairnesswith the associated photography to back up these stories is of paramount importance.

In quite recent times many photo journalists have been stripped of prizes or dismissed from publications due to faked or manipulated images. The degree of manipulation varies so where would you draw the line?

Robert Capa's photograph entitled Fallen Republican Soldier, Spain 1936 — Alistair Scott's PhotoZone

World Press Photo Disqualifies Winner

Altered Images - FamousPicturesMagazine

Toledo Blade Discovers Dozens Of Doctored Detrich Photos

In conclusion I feel that asking questions can actually raise more, and some that cannot be easily answered. My own personal opinion is that within certain areas and within the boundaries of Art or personal 'gratification' maniupulation is not a bad thing and can produce some stunning images. However for the purposes of documentary, news reporting or images purporting to represent reality, enhancements should be kept to the minimum.

for light relief....

Photo Fun - Real or Fake Image Game - LIFE
Beauty, Fashion and Portrait Retouching by Gry Garness
Retouching by Gry Garness: Digital Colour & Photoshop Color Retouched

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