The Impossible Truth of Digital Photography

impossible flower It is amazing how much technology has progressed over the years, so much so that we almost can’t believe the things that we see before our very own eyes. Images are manipulated and altered to become completely different than what they are.

Initially, the beauty of photography was the fact that it was able to capture reality with precision and detail, better than any other form of art. It was for this reason that we became accustomed to trusting what we see in photographs to be an actual portrayal of reality.

Visual Fiction in Today’s World

Shortly after the advent of photography came the development of visual fiction. Think of visual fiction as a fictional story, which can quickly develop out of a once non-fictional, or true, story. So too can we change photographs from something that was once entirely true into a work of fiction.

A good example of visual fiction is the Cottingley Fairies famous photo. For years, viewers were led to believe that this photo was real; however it was ultimately found that this photo was actually a fake. But, because this photograph was so widely recognized and publicized, can we truly say that it matters that it wasn’t real?

The general public, in response to visual fiction, has now begun changing their visual approach to photography; especially because they know that literally anything can be changed in a given image. We have now begun to understand that taking a photograph is no longer a perfect replication of reality, but rather an interpretation of it.

Computers aren’t the only way that photographs can be altered, changing their interpretation. The photographers themselves interpret the images they see, which essentially eliminates the objectivity of the image. Not only do photographers use editorial judgments when they take the photograph, but their prejudices, philosophies, intentions and personal preferences all affect the final image that is captured.

When Does Visual Fiction Cross the Line?

Because we have come to somewhat accept visual fiction, we have to ask ourselves when does visual fiction cross the line into too much fiction? Is there any artistic integrity in photography anymore? The truth is that the ethics of photography are still important, but so too are aesthetics.

Some would argue that depending on the message to be shared, in some cases aesthetics will trump ethics. For instance, if there is a documentary aspect to a photograph, perhaps ethics and maintaining the integrity of the photo would be important. However, if highlighting beauty is the message to convey, perhaps alterations and aesthetics are warranted.

Think about it, if you take a picture of the Grand Canyon and highlight certain features to make the image stand out – is there really an issue since everyone knows what the Grand Canyon is? So long as the main feature of the image is recognizable, adjustments to a photo can be done, right?

But, if you are truly searching to create a piece of fictional photography then the amount of changes and alterations to your photograph shouldn’t be of question, so long as the motives of the photographer are clearly portrayed to viewers. Only when photographers present their work with the blatant desire to deceive should their professional and artistic integrity be called into question, as well as their ethics.

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