Seems the new picture editor for the New Statesman Magazine, Rebecca McClelland, has a hard line stance on digital manipulation. Simply stated she is insisting on “no gimmicks and no photoshop.” Really? Why? Oh yeah, it’s because people in the digital age just can’t control themselves to not muck up a photograph by over photoshopping the pictue into a surreal altered universe. Nuts. Manipulation of images in one sort or another has been going on since I first picked up a camera 30 plus years ago. Digital did not create the monster, people are the monster. It’s the same thing they say about guns — guns don’t kill, people do.
But banning Photoshop? To me, that’s ignorant. So, what it seems now is to stop people from over using the technology we should just stop using our digital darkrooms completely and hand in pictures straight out of camera. Hellllooooo, has anyone seen what digital images look like straight out of the box? Flat, dull, blah. And that’s putting it mildly. Images need to be processed to bring out the proper color, vibrancy, contrast and tone. Some areas of the photo need to be dodged and others burned. Maybe the contrast is too much so it needs to be reduced, maybe it’s too little and needs to be increased. These are things now outlawed, at least at McClelland’s magazine.
Yes, it’s true, people have overused the available technology. Back in the 70’s photographers would burn the corners of photos in the darkroom to absolute black. It was called “The Hand of God.” And yes, it looked as silly at times as the leisure suites of the day. It was not groovy. but it was the “technology” available at the time.
Skip up to the dawn of digital. Photographers scanned their film, usually color negative for the working class news photographer. Then we sent it off to the digital tech who employed a massive machine (Pre-Photoshop) to tweak the image. At that time it was a joke around the industry that some papers (who used color photos) always had bright blue skies. The Orange County Register in California was a chief culprit. Someone even coined a phrase for it, “Register Blue.” All was well in sunny Southern California until one day their was a situation — an accident with a car in a swimming pool was photographed and the well meaning digi tech made sure the sky AND the pool water was brilliant Register Blue. Only the pool wasn’t blue. Something was released in the water turning it bright red. With well meaning intent the digi tech severely altered the news value of the photograph by turning the actual red water to a “natural” blue. Oops. The public caught them with their hands squarely in the cookie jar and the world has never been the same.
It about control. Control over the tone, color, contrast to make the image stand on its own vs. self-control by the photographer / digital tech / art director / designer to keep from going too far into another realm — photo illustration. Photoshop makes it easy to do “just a little more” to enhance and elevate the image to something beyond it’s intended meaning. It’s easy to layer, add beams of light, spot light certain areas, darken sections, eliminate distracting elements, or add more elements than were present at the moment of exposure. Subject blinked? No problem, we’ll clone the eyes from another frame, or we’ll just chop off the heads and switch them around. Someone step into the frame? No problemo, swish, swish and they’re gong. Oh, you want someone else in the background to “add” to the meaning, again no problem, cut cut paste paste and whamo! instant background element added. Easy as pie.
At what point does honest enhancement become dishonest representation? That’s the five million dollar question. Some say if you could do it in the (wet) darkroom then it’s OK in the digital darkroom. Not so fast there, what about the work of Jerry Ulsmann? He does photo constructions seamlessly in the wet darkroom. If Ulsmann’s work wasn’t fantasy based you probably couldn’t tell it was altered. Guess that yardstick is broken.
My vote is, as it has always been, for common sense and honesty. If you are adding or subtracting elements to the image then stop, that’s dishonest. Bumping contrast, dodging or burning a little, fine. I really think everyone knows via common sense when it goes to far. Whether image handlers employ that most uncommon sense of common sense is a matter of character. Some, the dishonest ones, will always take it to the extreme to beat the competition or elevate their own skills as an image maker. Then again, some people will always use guns for wrongdoing, too. Photoshop doesn’t kill images, people do.
If you want to read the full article from the BBC you can find it here.