Who Writes History?

Altering this image was quick and easy; unless you were there, how would you know how it should actually appear?
Altering this image was quick and easy; unless you were there, how would you know how it should actually appear?

Since the introduction of Adobe Photoshop and similar software programs in the early 1990s, photography has changed in some very fundamental ways. Since Adobe developed Photoshop in large measure to aid advertising entities in creating more effective ads by manipulating and retouching reality, it inherently aids in retouching everything that passes through it. Recent iterations of Photoshop, which include a feature called “content aware fill” that is specifically designed to make altering images easy and fast, create an environment in which original photographs are only the beginning building blocks of a final image.

Every step toward making it easier to create altered photographs is a blow to the integrity of photography. I’m not talking about photography as entertainment or art, but as a means of recording the human, historical and natural worlds around us. How will we know in 50 years if the photo we see is a record of history or an excellent fake? Some people in my line of work, photojournalism, have lost their jobs because they faked content. But suppose in ten years, when Photoshop 1000 is out, it’s completely impossible to tell if an image has been manipulated? Who writes history then?

Another relevant issue we face today is the decline of the newspaper industry. The way in which it is declining is, in my estimation, a threat to free societies throughout the world: newspapers aren’t being replaced by latter-day electronic news agencies, they are being replaced by bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers, “e-reporters”, and an increasingly less-qualified cadre of people who supposedly “report” the news simply because they have access to technology. Their biggest deficiency is not that they lack credibility, which they do, but that they lack accountability. Who do you sue if you are slandered by some anonymous guy who took your picture with an iPhone and posted it somewhere? What stops him from claiming you are stalking grade-schoolers?

I don’t know how to stop the slide from genuinely representing the world around us to a world that is represented by fakes, except to say that I myself will always maintain the integrity of my imaging.

1 Comment

  1. “except to say that I myself…”

    And that’s really all that any of us can do, from the production end.

    However, I tend to believe that accountability comes from (in the end) the viewer/reader. Throughout history, when even newspapers were shown to be less than credible, they were eventually caught out, usually by other news agencies.

    I *hope* it will be the same for Average Joe who reports the “news,” and we can already see examples of this. When someone’s not telling the truth, if the story is big enough, someone will call them out on it.

    As for Photoshop (etc.):

    I think you and I are part of a dying breed: photographers who want to record “what I saw at the time” and have their images reflect that as accurately as possible.

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