Monday, December 10, 2007

Digital Manipulation

Start a conversation about digital manipulation and you are likely to get any number of people 'hot under the collar'. Personally I quite often use digital manipulation. I lean forward and remove a blade of grass just in front of the lens, or reposition an errant twig by hand (digital) and sometimes with my industrial photographs I completely arrange the objects in the image as one would do for a stil life. Gardeners use digital manipulation when they weed and prune. A car afficionado who take armour-all to his tires isn't returning the car to new condition - it didn't look like that new either. A woman applying makup is digitally manipulating, so lets not get silly over this whole process.

All that's happened is that post image recording type manipulation has been made a whole lot easier so many more people are doing it.

If someone takes a sunset picture and shows it to you - he could be saying, see, nice picture, or he could be saying, see, I got luckier than you, or see what you missed or I want you to acknowledge that I had to hike miles, wait hours and suffer to get this image, aren't you impressed.

Frankly, in each case the photograph serves different purposes. If the intent is to impress about the remarkable conditions, then any manipulation could certainly be seen as cheating, though had the photographer loaded the camera with Velvia, then arguably he was cheating from the start. The only scenario I have the remotest interest in is the one in which the photographer wants to show you a nice photograph - he isn't inviting you to go visit the spot with him, he isn't bragging about his efforts and the image isn't functioning as a reminder of a good time had.

If someone shows me a sunset image and the colours look unnatural - this could have been due to freak weather conditions, but if they look "artificial" to me, it doesn't matter that the photographer swears this was what he saw. On the other hand if the colours look natural but were in fact manipulated, does it really matter?

Frankly, anyone who makes the claim to not do any kind of manipulation should be called a Recordist, not an artist. At best you might think of them as a craftsman. Does the world really need "I was here and this is what I saw" kind of photography?

Art is about interpretation. There has to be something of the self in the image for it to mean anything.


Jakub said...

I don't like the term 'recordist', I prefer 'reporter' and yes, that's what I need. I ejoy looking at pictures of others to see what does the places I have never been, or people I have never meet, look like not what he has painted. If someone wants to make a digital manipulation it doesn't make sense for him even to get out of home.
I don't really care about color saturation - the scene can be even B&W, but lets leave it for another topic.
He can paint it in photoshop from samples and the result will be similar.
The makeup is something real, so that example wasn't good.
I have nothing against graphics painted in photoshop, I enjoy it the same as 3d rendering or oil pianting. It is an art, but not a photography, because it was not "painted by the light". I like some of its results, but calling it photography is cheating on me.

Jack said...

I saw the title and without reading a word got "hot under the collar". I despise the word "manipulation". It is inherently loaded with negative implications: trickery, conniving, wily, fooling poor simpletons, and so on. I have never once heard of "manipulation" in photos that came from a darkroom. Adams, Weston, Meyerowitz -- didn't they, don't they, manipulate?

And while I was waiting for the comments page to load, I saw your final paragraph. Now I will go back and read the whole thing. But could we please banish the word "manipulate"? I use "process" myself. What do the darkroom folk use -- "develop"? Maybe I'll start saying I've developed some pictures.

Jarrad Kevin said...

Very well said. I couldn't agree more.

Tim Gray said...

I was on a semainar with Jay Maisel a couple of weeks ago - Jay is pretty well as anti photoshop as anyone, but I did try to understand his position in a way I could relate to.

I think the issue is one of executing an intent. If I frame a shot in the field, and know at that time that I am going to crop or clone something out, or execute a particular color emphasis, or postprocessing technique, I don't think there is any issue. The problem comes when you get back to the editing station and see "stuff" in the shot that you didn't see in the field. Jay's valid point is that we should be doing our seeing in the field, not in front of a PC. Once you start to edit, you are only going to see what you caught, you not going to see what you missed when you were in the field. So his point is you should learn to see before you learn to edit. And I agree.