I was slightly stung by a comment on one of my reviews on Life after Photoshop:
“Photographs do not lie , unless they are retouched.”
I don’t know who posted it, or why, or whether it was the random output of some spambot – but it made me think.
Why are some people so preoccupied by this idea that any kind of photo manipulation produces a ‘lie’?
It’s a naive assumption at best. It assumes that photographers who retouch or otherwise edit or enhance images are cynically manipulating the innocent minds of their audiences.
What rot. You might just as well say that Bronte, Hemingway, Proust or Plath were ‘lying’ about the world. Of course they weren’t. In producing fictional renditions of the world they opened up our minds to universal truths, tragedies and ideas in a condensed, powerful way that we seldom experience in the ordinary world.
I’m willing to bet that for most of us our most formative ideas and experiences came from works of fiction – or from works of art, which are themselves a kind of fiction. As a photographer, I’m not in the same creative class as these literary giants, but I think we are all entitled to try to create our own ‘fictions’ to show other people how we and they might see the world.
So the photograph I’ve used to go with this post is far from a literal rendition of the scene. It’s a ‘fictionalised’ (i.e. edited) version that tries to capture the sense of empty, oppressive stillness of the weather on that day.
This is, in my opinion, what most photographers are trying to achieve when they manipulate their images. They don’t want to deceive anyone. Instead, they want to present what they see as important in the world in a focused, concentrated, archetypal form. It might not be ‘reality’ in a literal sense, but it can represent our ideas about things and our feelings about them in a much more powerful and engaging way.
So please excuse me if I get cross about this issue, but image enhancement does not automatically equate to lying, any more than a work of fiction is ‘lying’. Great literature, art and sculpture is an idealisation of the world, a concentrated representation of an idea, and its all the more valuable for that – and I don’t see why we should regard photography any differently.
If your sole aim is to record reality exactly and precisely with your camera, then good luck to you. I’m afraid it’s not enough for me.
OK, that’s me done. I just had to get that out there.