Digital Imaging Essay, Research Paper
Digital imaging inevitably undermines photography’s status as an essentially truthful medium. Discuss.
Until recently, at least, it was possible to define photography as a process involving optics, light sensitive material and the chemical processing of this material to produce prints or slides. Today though, that definition is subject to change. Technological innovations…are shifting photography from its original chemical basis towards electronics… It is not overstating it to say that the advent of this new technology is changing the very nature of photography, as we have known it. (Bode and Wombell 1991)
In the last decade computer technology has been introduced to photography yet again challenging the meaning of photography. This relatively new digital technology allows the photographic image to be easily manipulated or modified. The pace of change in how images can be produced, circulated and consumed has been rapid causing a tidal wave of journalistic and critical attention. It is viewed that the manipulation of the photographic image may lead to a profound undermining of photography’s status as a truthful form of displaying images. The photograph does no longer necessarily show the truth or the true image. Once digitised a photograph can be altered in many ways, the texture, tone, form and colour can be changed pixel by pixel, the focus can be sharpened, things can be taken out or replicated or the original image can be combined with another. It is also far more difficult to detect changes made with computerised alterations where as older methods of alterations are far easier to detect. With the increasing accessibility and use of digital imaging technology, anyone possessing suitably, reasonably well priced equipment, i.e. – a pc, relevant software and a scanner can make these alterations and radically alter the content and appearance of a photograph as well as create seamless interweaving of separate images.
In 1991 an exhibition called photo video: Photography in the age of the computer was held at The Photographers Gallery, London. In the exhibition and the book of the same title the authors sketched out the implications of encoding photographs as ‘units of electronic information’:
1) A shift in the location of photographic production; from the chemical darkroom to the ‘electronic darkroom’ of the computer
2) The outputting of single photographic originals in an expanded range of ways, from ‘hardcopy’ through transparencies and varying forms of print, to the TV screen.
3) An unprecedented ease, sophistication and invisibility of enhancing and manipulating photographic images.
4) The entry of photographic images into a global information and communications system as they become instantaneously transmissible in the form of electronic pulses passing along telephone lines and via satellite links.
5) The high-speed transmission of news images which are no longer containable within territorial and political boundaries.
6) The conversion of existing photographs and historical archives into digital storage banks, which can be accessed at the screens of remote computer terminals.
7) The potential of the new information and image networks for greatly extending the practises of military and civil surveillance.
8) The unprecedented convergence of the still photographic image with other, previously distinct, media: digital audio, video, graphics, animation and other kinds of data in new forms of interactive multi media.
However as the authors stressed, probably more significant than the change in how images are produced, distributed and used, are the ideas to which the changes are giving rise and how digital imaging is challenging and changing traditional ways of seeing and thinking. It seems that our traditional belief that ‘the camera never lies’ has been brought into question. It also appears important to consider who stands to lose when the truth of the photographic image stops being accepted. It is apparent that public opinion is divided and that there is both worry and excitement surrounding the developments.
For many people and types of businesses digital technology has many advantages and is extremely useful. It has been especially advantageous to people such as press photographers, artists and advertising designers. This method of virtually undetectable computerised alterations has allowed photojournalists and newspaper editors to manipulate images in order to create more sensational pictures and stories and as a result sell more papers. One example of this is where a daily newspaper altered a photograph of princess Diana and Dodi Alfied. In the original picture the couple were merely sitting next to one another talking but in the false image the position of Dodi’s head was altered to give the impression that they were kissing. This kind of manipulation brings to light the moral and ethical problems involved now that photography has moved into an age of computers. It is now all to easy for the press to not only invade people’s privacy but for them to show bias and give false information in images. This sort of false information can greatly affect a person’s life and the views of the general public in regards to a person in the public eye. There have been movements however to control this misleading use of image and one such campaign was started by the NUJ (National Union of Journalists). The campaign was started to ensure that every time a newspaper or magazine manipulate a photograph a little symbol should appear in the picture to state so. As well as controlling the misleading use of digital imaging it could help us identify ‘truth’ within photographs and also help maintain the credibility of news photography.
Another disadvantage of digital technology which is once again concerned with the fact that the photograph is no longer a reliable pictorial form is that photographs are no longer such valuable pieces of evidence in the law courts. Even though they are still used they are no longer such a reliable source of evidence as they may have easily been tampered with. If used as evidence in court photographs now have to undergo a variety of tests to prove their validity.
Digital photography is also being used by magazines. An example of this is where photographs of models have been enhanced and altered to make the model appear flawless or thinner and more beautiful. This once again illustrates how digital imaging undermines photography’s status as a truthful medium. This particular use of digital imaging also has its own set of problems as it is thought that the displaying of these false images of women etc makes many people feel inferior. In extreme cases these types of images have been partially blamed for such conditions as anorexia, bulimia and dysmophobia, mainly in adolescent females.
For many people however the combining of digital technology and photography has been extremely advantageous even if it does take the truth out of it. These advantages have been felt mainly by artists and advertising designers. There are fewer problems with morals and ethics in these fields as art is not about showing truthful images and neither art nor advertising ever claimed to be unmanipulated. Artists now have a wider range of tools and effects they can use to create innovative and interesting images. Graphic designers have also benefited as they can now take a single photograph of something and digitally place it into a different photographic scene. It is also possible for designers to change things like the size, colour and shape of the subject in the photograph they are working with.
Digital technology is affecting photography and the photographic image in many different ways. There have been both advantages and disadvantages to be seen. It is apparent that the photograph is being thought of as less reliable but at the same time more interesting and artistic. After weighing everything up it is my view that digital technology has contributed in making photography a more powerful medium and that we stand to gain a great deal from it.