All photographers manipulate the pictures they make in some shape or form. The question is, what is and isn't fair game when it comes to the final image?
Manipulation in photography is nothing new. Right from the very beginning, photographers have been altering the pictures they make. From dodging and burning in the darkroom to crudely compositing images together and passing them off as one. Fast forward to today, and many of these techniques are still being used to change the image in some way. What degree of manipulation is acceptable in an image varies wildly from photographer-to-photographer and also which genre you work in. You only have to read the comments fellow photographers will make on other people's edited pictures to see how different people's views are on this matter. This week, photographer Nick Carver delves deep into this very subject in his latest video. Carver starts his conversation by talking about the expectations of the viewer and how the component of deception will change how the work and the photographer are perceived. I think we've all been there when we've fallen in love with an image to find out it isn't quite what we thought it was. It is strange to think about how dramatically it can alter our perceptions, and in some extreme cases, be a PR disaster for a photographer's career.
The video goes on to show some famous photographs and we are asked how we feel about the degree of manipulation in each. Carver also talks about his own red lines which he will not cross when it comes to interfering with a picture before, during, or after the image-making process. This subject is something I haven't thought much about before but it really did get me thinking about my own practice. For things like fine art, I do feel like it's fair game to manipulate the image in the same way a painter will create exactly what they want to see on the canvas. When it comes to other areas like news reporting and documentary, manipulation can often be dangerous and really should be off-limits. We only have to look at the "fake news" era we find ourselves in to see the negative implications that can come from being deceptive.
This hot topic is not going away anytime soon and as technology improves, it's going to become increasingly more difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. This video is an important conversation we should all be having with ourselves about what we think are acceptable manipulations in our work. I think many of us have never sat down and really thought about the exact position of those red lines. I do think it's a worthy exercise we should all be doing from time-to-time.