Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More On Digital 'Editing'

Well, talking about manipulation got a few people 'hot under the collar'. Seems like people have strong feelings about the subject but that opinions vary from "how dare you" to "right on, brother".

Nothing wrong with a bit of controversy. I would like to raise a few points for you to ponder though.

If the end result doesn't look manipulated, how is anyone to tell?

If you can't tell, how are you going to "police" the "editing"?

Even if we were to issue a "guaranteed not manipulated" certificate, how are you going to detect cheaters?

Exactly how would you define cheating anyway?

If you can't define something, then you can't legislate against it - see diff. with obscenity laws?

Is there really a difference between removing an errant twig and a scratch on the negative - the same tools are used?

Do you really believe that the radical alterations in images that people like Bruce Barnbaum do with their dodging, burning, local contrast adjustment with multigrade papers and filters and especially with bleaching, producing a result that is radically different from the original; is somehow different from what we do in Photoshop?

Perhaps the real difference is: It's one thing to manipulate the hell out of a pixel, it's another to create the pixel de novo.

It's often helpful to take things to extremes to see how arguments hold up, so I offer the following scenario.

A talented imaginative Photoshoper starts with a completely blank "canvas" and produced an image which no one can tell from a real photograph. Of course, the entire image comes from the imagination of the artist. He submits said image for a show of photographs and is selected and the image is hung in a gallery along with all the other "real" photographs.

Why does that upset some people"

Can we not admire the fellow's Photoshop skills and more importantly his imagination to produce something from nothing?

Is it not harder to start with nothing?

Why this obcession in some photographers for fidelity to the original scene. Does this also preclude tying back some errant branches so you can get a clear view, perhaps removing a dead blade of grass in front of a burned stump you are photographing, or removing that Pepsi can that is spoiling the scene?

What is the difference between removing the Pepsi can before hand and after?

What if the Pepsi can were in a position to which you cannot get - so removing it beforehand isn't an option?

Is the Pepsi can really natural - after all, one good rain and it will be gone?

Should we differentiate between minor manipulation and wholesale alteration?

If so, how would you define it - perhaps an upper limit of "created pixels - say 1%?

But is an image with 1.1% created pixels fundamentally different?

Do you even care?

Have a nice day.

3 comments:

Jakub said...

As I stated in previous entry I have nothing against edited graphics - it can even be a 3d rendering and I will appreciate it.
I am also against any policy preventing people editing images. In fact I like images painted by Zdzisław Beksiński.
The problem begins when someone tries to show me his recorde experience, and it turns out to be created and not real.

"If the end result doesn't look manipulated, how is anyone to tell?"
For me it's simple - I use the same rule as with story telling. Sometimes I could give a story a better ending, to make it more funny, or to make me look better. I don't do it because of honesty. I just consider lying as an insult to listeners.
Another situation is when I am telling "fairy tales" or fake stories. I feel obligated to inform the listeners about that. In other way the will consider me a liar.
Remember that manipulating a story is even easier than a photography. We should use the same rules for pictures. A good fairy tale can be appreciated, but it is not a reportage.

I think that morality is enough of policy.

The guarantee are only necessary in situations involving law and I consider it a topic for lawyers.

I define cheating by showing a situation which wasn't there. Arguments like "I could remove that coca-cola can" are like "I could pick up that good looking girl there" in brag stories.
Maybe You could, maybe You couldn't. The truth is You didn't and that's what counts.

Removing a scratch is like removing hot pixels - a way of healing the material. Editing aut a twig is changing a scene.

Official law is not the only codex people should use. There are some things that are not legally forbidden, but are not moral.

I consider dodging, burning and similar practices a way to get the maximum from used materials or focus attention on selected element, like an accent in stories. To make things clear I also don't care if it was done in darkroom or in photoshop. Tools are only tools. What is important is what we do with them.

As I have written before a work painted from scratch in photoshop can be really good. Please just not call it "photography". I don't deny modern artists a tools which photoshop is, let just name it "painting" as it should.
It doesn't upset me at all.

And yes there is a difference in picking up that girl before, and doing it after - in tale.

If You can't remove something in reality that is another reason not to remove it in photo.

"Should we differentiate between minor manipulation and wholesale alteration?"
Tricky question for me. It depends on what You mean by that terms. I don't consider a manipulation burning, but I do removing or adding objects. The first is just a presentation form, the second is a content.
For photography the content should be real; good presentation is desirable. If we start changing content we enter a world of painting, which is an art no less, but something different.

"If so, how would you define it - perhaps an upper limit of 'created pixels' - say 1%?"
I make a division between content and presentation. Obviously such an mathematical limit is an absurd.

Yes, I care.

George Barr said...

Excellent response by Jacub - I don't agree with him, but that doesn't mean I don't respect his opinion and comments and his contribution to the discussion are very much valued.

Scott Jones said...

At first my knee jerk answer was to George's question was, "no I don't care", but then I heard a local photographer in my town explain how he was discouraged that the images of a classical music group never showed all the members active at once. He solved this by melding "active" images of each musician into a whole image and then these were published as promotional pictures for the professional classical group. I must admit I felt that I was being duped because these images were being presented as "real" without any indication that they were really fantasies. I would assume as the viewer that these were reportage. So clearly in this instance I am being fooled on purpose.

Anyway, I did feel somewhat abused even though previously I would have told you that I don't give a rip. So maybe it all boils down to whether something is offered as "art" in which case there are no holds barred or "reportage" in which no significant scene element alteration should take place.

It was interesting to see my own raction change somewhat with this experience. It was less an intellectual experience and more a gut level reaction. My gut seems more important to me right now...