The author, Rob Haggart, a former photo editor at Outside, makes the argument that manipulated photographs "devalue the work of photographers with the skills and patience to capture awing images in real time. Even worse, modern photo manipulation is seriously screwing up our concept of reality and our willingness to believe what we see in magazines like Outside." He quotes natural history photographer Kevin Schafer as saying that manipulation "waters down the power of real documentary photography."
As a deeply committed photo manipulator, you would expect me to take exception to these arguments – but I don't. I think they're entirely valid. Photo manipulation IS seriously screwing up our notion of what reality looks like. In fact, that's its intent. Any photographer who opens up Photoshop is doing so with the express purpose of lying, cheating and stealing. That's what the program does – that's what it exists for.
So – is that bad? Are we manipulators morally bankrupt? In the interests of honesty, respect for "real" photographers and everybody's healthy relationship with reality, should we pack up our computers and slink off shame-facedly into the night? Should we be the first artists in history forced give up the use of a technology for moral purposes? That's like asking car manufacturers to stop production because cars are screwing up our concept of distance and speed and watering down our relationship with horses. Might be so, but it ain't gonna happen.
Rob Haggart thinks that we – I assume by that by "we" he means everybody on the entire planet, simultaneously – we are "finally getting fed up with all the tampering." He says that digital creations are "bad for photography" – which is sort of like saying the Beatles were "bad" for rock 'n' roll. As if there's some inherent "goodness" to straight photography. As if you could not listen to and appreciate "Maybelline" and the "Sgt. Pepper" at the same sitting. Rob thinks "there's a growing hunger for truth." Nonsense. There's a growing hunger for even bigger lies that we can use as role models.
Because that's what idealized imagery serves as - something to aspire to. Fifty years ago, nobody looked like Superman in real life - now every gym is full of Superman lookalikes. Fifty years ago, extreme sports were the stuff of cartoons - now they're everyday, real life events. Rocket ships to the moon existed in films a long time before they existed in real life. Manipulated photography, like comic strips and and movies back then, creates fantasies that are a leading light in our evolution. We need more manipulated photography – not less – to open us up to new possibilities and inspire us for the permanent state of future shock we all must learn to survive in.
What there DOES need to be, however, is a clear distinction between what we photo manipulators do – work that is increasingly an art of the imagination – and the work of documentarians and photo journalists, who record life with a straight, sober and hopefully, not too creative an eye. I'm sure they don't want to be confused with me, and frankly, I don't want to be confused with them, either.
Here's the picture Outside Magazine published under the heading "This Photo Is Lying to You" –
And here's the original, unmanipulated version; not such a big lie after all – just took out a couple of extraneous bodies, made the waves a bit bigger, added a few rocks and some more waves in the background, darkened the sky a bit – a lot of my other surfing pictures are MUCH bigger lies!