Here’s my response:
Regarding your article on 25 Feb 2010 (Photoshop and Photography: When Is It Real?), I’d like to offer some comments.
I coauthored a book with photographer Dan Moughamian titled Real World Compositing with Photoshop CS4 (Peachpit/Adobe Press, 2009). As you may have guessed, the book is entirely focused on creating composite images, or the colloquial ‘Photoshop jobs’, as you put it. While it is fair to ask whether an image is real, it may also be fair to ask viewers to apply a little critical thinking and context to images they see. Further, to really delve into this question, one should categorize the intent of a given image before judging whether there is any deception.
You correctly point out that photography has this odd melange of capturing reality and being creative fiction, whether in staging a shot or heavily manipulating it after the fact. And both approaches have a long, rich history. Look at examples where Stalin had ‘ex-people’ removed, or the posed images of Civil War battles. So, I submit that when a person tries to record an image, they are trying to tell a story. Some wish to record true events, but even this is difficult given the restrictions on capturing the world by seeing only one tiny slice. Photojournalists, even the amazingly ethical ones, are making decisions about events in front of them, choosing what story to tell by their point of view, focus, timing, etc. Creative shooters are trying to tell a story as well, but may be more abstract and artificial as they get to control more elements in the scene. And Photoshop artists are taking that beyond controlling the environment to simply manufacturing what they wish to convey.
Of course, the discussion must include advertising and political images where deceit is almost the rule. Or rather than call it deceit, one may say ‘careful portrayal’. These categories have as their demesne the need to get across very specific messages and emotional reactions, and they are very good at it. But much of this relies on the viewer’s willingness to accept the deceit. Modeling agencies portray women with impossible figures not because they are evil, but because the public gives the client money to promote exactly that image. When we see these women, people with a healthy sense of self and reality look past the size -1 hips and instead focus on the product. People without such a grounding may be swayed into thinking they must appear like the woman in the ad, and some develop psychological disorders.
The upshot of that is some people want to create laws to disclose when photos have been manipulated, and they are not limiting this to advertising, nor to some particular level of enhancement or change. In my opinion, that is absurd – the responsibility should lie with consumers to educate themselves and vote with their dollars. If we as a consuming public choose not to give money to companies who promote these images, they will stop using them. But the fact is, we want to be deceived.
In competitions such as the one at Popular Photography, there can be rules for determining categories of manipulation. But I feel those categories should be based on intent. Do I as a shooter want to convey a particular story or emotion? Is part of the story convincing a viewer that I was actually there, witnessing this event? If so, do I present an idealized view of how I felt at the time, or just hope the viewer ‘gets it’? It’s not enough to ask whether some pixels were moved or painted over.
All elements of photography take skill to master. Our book emphasizes preplanning, visualization and mastery in the photographic process long before Photoshop is even opened. The next iteration will go into great detail about the steps to take in Photoshop itself to produce images both artistic and realistic. One of our core principles in writing was producing images that blur the line. As Pablo Casals noted, “the most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all.”
As a final note, I humbly request that you help the Photoshop community by using the correct terms for various manipulations: ‘compositing’ for bringing elements of different images together; ‘retouching’ for significant changes such as in glamour photography; and ‘enhancement’ for simple changes like color correction, cropping and dust removal. While I’m sure that Adobe sees the verb form of ‘Photoshop’ as a mixed blessing, the fact is that the public now believes all ‘Photoshopping’ to be egregious manipulations and deception.
Kind thanks for your time,