Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The M Word

Cliff erosion: a wartime pillbox, built on the clifftop, rests on the beach at Cromer, UK

Manipulation is a word that many photographers try to avoid using. The word represents a process that photographers, especially documentary snappers and photojournalists, do not recognise as being in their photography. The definition of manipulation varies depending on who you ask. Some image makers can be very purist and take these pure thoughts to extremes, like always producing images without any cropping. Full frame or nothing at all. I just about fit into the full frame category of photographer, although I'm not particularly a die hard enthusiast. I do crop images now and again, and have no qualms in doing so. What a photographer does to a photograph is down to the individual's ideals about image purity. Some barely touch a photo and others hack into the photo using the darkroom or Photoshop as yet another creative layer.

The photography grapevine today brought the news of the disqualification of a World Press Photo runner up who had removed elements from one of his photographs. Photojournalism prides itself on being as truthful as possible so the photo was dumped. Rightly so. For a few years, the World Press Photo competition had 'Eyewitness' as a subheading. Photographers working on photo stories are exactly that - eyewitnesses for the world telling the story they see - they are there because we can't be. Photojournalists rely on being trusted and the 'truth' of a photograph needs to be upheld at all costs. Manipulation is there though, even if it's just in small amounts. Photography itself, is a manipulation of a scene, like it or not, into a photograph. Unless you're invisible, your presence is bound to have an impact of one sort or another. Photoshop has taken this process to a new stage where images can be easily altered to the point where reality bares little resemblance to the fiction contained in the photo. Think celebrity photographs.

Lens choice, camera choice, film choice, colour or b&w, lighting, filters, viewpoint angles, personal viewpoints, emotions and politics - all of these things can play their part in any photograph taken. I have never believed in a neutral photographic viewpoint. Something always resides behind it. Photographers are people and, as such, are complicated individuals full of their own stories, emotions and opinions. My own manipulation using Photoshop is very low level. It stems from my documentary photography background. I use Photoshop like a digital darkroom -dodge, burn and retouching mostly, but then how could you tell if I was lying or not? The image above could have been tweaked substantially and who would know apart from me. You have to trust me, as the creator of the photo, that the image is 'real'. Well you do trust me don't ya???

1 comment:

~MEGULA~ said...

Eloquently stated!

I think that in some cases manipulation methods make the photo complete - certain shots "seem right" only with sepia, black & white, cropping, or other adjustments.

Of course, this is all relative and at the discretion of the photographer, but I have found in my experience that some photos were made to be manipulated and just aren't the same without those modifications :)