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Sunday, January 1, 2006

Truth And Reality

Photography isn't automatically an accurate way to capture reality even though it looks like it should be

Truth And Reality

Several things have come across my desk recently that tell me that the transition to digital technology is still in the troubled adolescent period. There has become such a fear of digital manipulation in photography that it reminds me of media health scares. Some very real issues are being forgotten, as certain publications that should know better and some photographers have taken extreme positions that claim they're after truth, but actually they're favoring traditional technologies over photographers.

A good example from a fine nature photography book by an excellent photographer includes this note from the photographer: "Nature is reality and truth. My goal in photography is a true and honest documentation of nature; none of my images have been digitally altered or otherwise manipulated." Now, besides this being a divisive and unnecessary statement, it's also quite misleading. Nature may be reality and truth, but photography, in itself, is not.

To say otherwise is to deny the very dualistic nature of photography—a combination of art and technology. Neither can exist without the other. To ensure that the camera (film or digital) better captures the reality of nature, we use many technological aids and gadgets, such as graduated neutral-density filters, to balance tones that we can see, but that the camera cannot. We use flash to highlight things in a scene that the camera wouldn't highlight or to balance a bright background. We use different focal lengths of lenses to change how perspective is seen. These are all manipulations of the scene to make a better and truer photograph.

I find it odd, however, that an arbitrary line has now been drawn. Technological manipulations of the scene done at the time of the photograph are "okay," yet technology used after the photograph was taken in service of making a more truthful image aren't, according to a number of conservative photographers and publications. It's almost as if they can understand the technology and it has been around a long time, it's okay, but new stuff that they don't understand is strictly taboo.



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