Part I: Perceptions
It started with Scitex and commercial photography retouching. Digital enhancement of news, documentary and even forensic photographs for more than a decade has been seen as an ethical challenge by journalism theoreticians (see the precient Photographs That Lie by J.D. Lassica from 1988), the professional photographic community, consumers of news and art critics. Yes, art critics. I’d like to weigh in on this topic because I think the root of the controversy is that photography itself continues to be misunderstood, even by photographers.
One perception, summed up by the addage "photographs never lie" is actually a lie, started most likely by a con man or lawyer. Okay, we can split symantic hairs and say, "photographs don’t lie, people do" but that is not very useful. I think by definition a photograph is always an abstraction of reality, where 3D is shoehorned into 2D, the 10,000,000:1 dynamic range of natural light compressed to at best 256:1, color space compressed or left to grayscale, etc. It still is not technically possible to capture with a camera exactly what the eye sees, so if a photograph is not a lie, it is never the truth, either.
Next time I’ll chat about the history of documentary photography.