Chapter one : 500-1000 words

by am109145

What is photo manipulation?

The term photo manipulation can be broken down into two separate parts. According to the oxford dictionary the term ‘photo’ is short for ‘photograph’ this can be defined as:A picture made using a camera, in which an image is focused onto film or other light-senstive material and then made visible and permanent’. The term ‘manipulation’ in the Oxford dictionary is defined as ‘To handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc..) typically in a skilful manner. If both of these dictionary definitions are put together photo manipulation can be defined as ‘A image that has been handled or controlled in a skillful manner when light has been exposed to a material’. A more rounded definition of photo manipulation would be the application of editing techniques on an image; before, during or after production. Photo manipulation is used to transform an image to depict something that somebody wants to convey or connote rather than what the camera lens or eye would have originally captured or seen. It is important to understand that there is no such a thing as a ‘natural’ or ‘un-manipulated’ image, the notion of photographic truth can be questioned in every image that has been produced by a technical camera lens, this is due to the fact that camera lenses are not as advanced as our human eye and can not operate in the same manner.


In the past few decades it has become apparent that the development of digital technology and software has had a large impact on the extent to which a photo or image is manipulated, however it is important to address that photo manipulation is not just a post-digital act, photo manipulation has been used since the birth of photography and analogue, chemical dark-room development. Soon after Joseph Nicephere Nieple created the first permanent photograph in 1814 a portrait of the US President Abraham Lincoln had been later discovered in 1860 to be manipulated, the image itself is a composite of Abraham Lincoln’s head and Southern politician John Calhoun’s body (fig 1.). It was soon identified that the image had been manipulated during the lithography printing process, whereby images a re developed using water and oil. Shortly after in 1964 a photograph of General Ulysses S. Grant standing in front of his troops in the American Civil War was found by the Library of Congress to actually be a composite of three different images, the first being the head of General Grant taken from a portrait, the second being the horse and body of General Alexander McCook and the third being the background of a handful of Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher Hill (fig. 2.). Both examples above show that photo manipulation has been presents since the birth of photography in the 1800’s, moving into the 1900’s specially the 1930’s photo manipulation became more apparent and aware to the audience, Joseph Stalin was synonymously known for airbrushing his enemies out of his photographs when having a political dispute and falling out with them. In the image (fig.3) Stalin has removed the commissar that is standing next to him through a technique in airbrushing called hand brushing, this manipulative technique was commonly used in the dark room during the development process to alter images. Looking at photo manipulation from a more contemporary perspective in the latter parts of the 1900’s specially in 1994 when digital software such as Adobe Photoshop had recently been discovered, it is identifiable that photo manipulation was had entered a new and more accessible era. The renown-darkened mugshot of OJ Simpson on the cover of Times Magazine in June 1994 (fig 4.) is a prime example of how the digital revolution and software had started to contribute towards photo manipulation and post-production editing. The image itself shows alterations to the colour tone of OJ Simpsons skin tone and predominant down lighting, which brought up the issue of creating an animalistic nature to the photograph, further raising concern of racial discrimination. In the past decade the use of Adobe Photoshop has excelled dramatically, it is apparent that food advertisers (fig 5.) and cosmetic advertiser (fig 6.) both use editing techniques during production with digital SLR cameras and artificial lighting, along with post-editing techniques such as retouching to remove blemishes or imperfections.


Why do people manipulate photographed images?

The extent to which photo manipulation is used within photography Is ultimately down to a practitioners perspective, Looking at photography in accordance to art and technology it is arguable that photo manipulation has had a negative impact on the truth of photography after the digital revolution, the development of technology could largely be the stimulator of this. ‘In its early years photography was celebrated for its putative ability to produce accurate images of what was in front of its lens (Liz Wells)’, Wells makes a good point as to that in the past photography itself was regarded as a tool to freeze frame the raw state of a scene and to show this in a accurate manner as possible through a image, instead of portraying what the lens would have seen photo manipulation disguises reality and instead delivers us a painting that has a photographic foundation essentially ‘digital technology serves to amplify photography’s experience’ (Dawn Mercedes, 1996). Essentially the alteration and manipulation ‘could undermine the confidence in the photographic image’ (Cohen, 1992) thus leading to one abusing technology to create a glamourised painting of the true aesthetic. However the validity of a accurate image has changed over the period of many years due to the fact that photography as medium was being considered to be ‘Falling outside the realm of art’ (Liz Wells, 2006). It is arguable that we could almost blame art for the way in which photography is manipulated and used today especially within the advertising industry. One could argue that an image is manipulated to qualify as a piece of art in the form of an advertisement, to induce a consumer into buying the product that is behind the advert and photograph. According to Liz Wells observation it was the pressure put on the practice in historic times (nineteenth century) that lead to there wanting to be a desire to pursue and add creativity into a photograph, in order for it to qualify as a piece of art, this has ultimately moulded the way in which we capture, produce and manipulate images in the current day. Consumer behaviours in the form of self-actualizing play a role in excessive and continuous increase photo manipulation? If self-actualization is about achieving self-fulfilment ‘It is the desire to become all that one can be, to achieve everything of which one is capable’ (Maslow). Ones desires lead to an increase in expectation from society and in specific from advertisers. If a person can work they way up Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of need and achieve self-actualization it is possible that once this has been achieved a individual could want more and expect more from there life and society and the things that they consume. A increase in expectation of consumer products can lead to a increase in pressure from consumers to create ingenious and more advanced products and services- the only way that they can sell these products to these consumers who have high expectations is to embellish and glamourise there advertisements (images) in order to sell to the consumer. Using new technology new software and the power of Photoshop this can easily lead to the use of CGI and also photo editing and manipulation, ‘A lot of images for cosmetic and fashion ads are so airbrushed that the people look like CG graphics rather than real human beings’ (Anna Hill). Looking at photo manipulation from a more contemporary perspective when in interview with Californian photographer and practitioner Anna Hill her perspective on photo manipulation differed form the opinions above. ‘I think it is a amazing tool, that makes it easier to achieve visuals that you could not achieve in real life’, instead of looking at photo manipulation from the perspective of it reflecting real life Hill states that the act of manipulating images should be looked at as a form of art and visual exploration, in a similar manner to the way that painters base there idea upon real life objects however eventually produce a painting that is a enhanced and modified version of the original subject.

My response

 I feel as though the use of photo manipulation boils down to the extent of its use and the context of the situation that it is used in. From a advertising point of view it can be ‘overused’ and ‘misleading’, however in other contexts where there are no signs of a product or service being sold through the use of the image it can be argued that the use of manipulation is acceptable. It can be argued that an altered image is visual exploration of fantasied world something that cannot be achieved in reality however has no prior-intentions on manipulation an audience.


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