Exercise – Project 5 – The manipulated image : The Real and the Digital (Wells, 2009)
“Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography:
A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75. You’ll find this
on the student website.”
“Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both
sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.”
It is important to note some history before moving on to answer the question asked. Photography has historically been used to officially document and record events as they happen. The images would have typically appeared as printed images in newspapers which was the main media outlet for news/photographs over the last two centuries and it was these printed images that people perceived as truth. Photographic film, although it could be and was manipulated in the dark room, and the printed image was generally taken at face value and ‘truth’.
With the advent of new technologies, news is increasingly not delivered by newspapers and instead most people now get their news via the internet. This means photography has had to follow the technological shift and has had to adapt to providing images digitally rather than in print. So the argument as to whether digital technology has changed how truthful we perceive photography to be, the move to digital was never in photography’s control it was something it had to adapt to and keep up with.
There is an argument (which I agree with) that all photography is subjective and it is the photographer who is in control of what we see in an image (with the potential for the most rudimentary manipulation of the photographer only showing one side of a story) remains unchanged regardless of whether the image is/has been reproduced in print or digital and as a result eliminates this argument from the answer around digital technology changing how we see photography as truth.
Yes, digital technology does change how we see photography as truth.
Well’s states that as technology has advanced it is now possible to create an image from scratch using computer software, also from many different sources, montaged, altered or transformed. Any change or manipulation to an image suggests a lack of truth/reality, so digital technology has by association and in practice undermined truth in photography.
We are now so used to seeing images of events (there is an expectation) that, for example, when during the Gulf war no photographers were granted access ‘Jean Baudrillard famously remarked that “the Gulf war did not take place.”‘ (Wells, 2009 : 74) Digital technology gives an expectation that we will see the images of events so we expect to see them, without them we question the truth of the situation.
As a result of manipulation software, the ability to change images even after they have been distributed (to redistribute ‘doctored’) and technology providing an expectation that all events will be photographed to provide proof the event happened does change how we see photography as truth.
No, digital technology does not change how we see photography as truth.
Citizen journalism with improved access to online media streams and social media now reinforces ‘truth’ in real life situations by providing instant feedback and real-time reports during an event. These images are more likely to be real due to the instant nature of their delivery to social media platforms.
David Campany points out “almost a third of all news “photographs” are frame grabs from video or digital sources” (Wells, 2009 : 75) which are less likely to have been manipulated as they are produced as an immediate front-line response.
As a result of Citizen Journalism, real-time instant reporting via social media and frame grabs the use of digital technology in these examples supports the argument that digital technology does not change how we see photography as truth.
Wells, L (2009) ‘The Real and the Digital’, in Wells, L (ed.) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 73 – 75.
I have the 5th edition version of the book which has had the text expanded somewhat to that shown in the 4th edition, as a result I have made comment on the 4th edition text, as provided and instructed.