Assignment 8 – Photography

I think that there will always be an “implicit faith in the truth of the photographic record” but this does not necessarily mean that people are unaware of the misrepresentations that go into making a photograph. It’s really a paradox because as many times that you can be told that pictures in magazines are retouched or altered, there is still always that instinctive belief that it is a mirror of reality because the basis of the art of photography is an exact image of the world.  Newhall makes a reference to this when he says that we have been shown over an over that we can’t believe photographs, “Subjects can be misrepresented, distorted, faked,” yet we still believe that they are accurate (71). It is interesting that he gives the example of wartime photographs; he talks about how Homer’s sketch of a sharpshooter in a tree is accurate but not necessarily believable, while Gardner’s photograph of a dead sharpshooter is real, not imagined, that there is a psychological difference between the two (70).  This psychological difference is exactly what leads to the paradox of readily believing photographs because we are inclined to think this way because we think of photos as “proof” of the existence of something – when really it might be the case that Homer was sketching a real person in a tree and Gardner had a living person dress as a soldier and pose as if he was dead, here is no way to actually know. This is the same with photographs today and the development of Photoshop, just like in the photo gallery that exposes how magazines retouch celebrities and advertisements to inhuman proportions. Sontag addresses this paradox of reality when he compares written word to photographs, “What is written about a person or event is frankly an interpretation… Photographed images do not seem to be statements of the world so much ad pieces from it, miniatures of reality” (4). But again, the reality of the photograph is only that reality that the artist wants us to believe, not the objective reality we instinctively thinks it represents. –Megan

The generalization still holds true that even in the age of Photoshop, most people still have an “implicit faith in truth of the photographic record.” It’s almost an act of collective and/or societal cognitive dissidence in which we know images can be altered and have been many times yet we continue to be surprised when they are altered, how they are altered and for what purpose.

We know how fashion magazines alter women’s bodies, we know politicians spin photo ops to their favor, and that Fox News has questionable journalistic ethics. We are still taken back by how and to what extent these women’s bodies are altered, we gasp at a politician inserting and rearranging members of a crowd for political PR, and we cringe when  Fox and Friends caricature people with oppositional views.

Sontag acknowledges “photographs, which fiddle with the scale of the world, themselves get reduced, blown up, cropped, retouched, doctored, tricked out.” (Sontag, 4) These photographic distortions when backed up by or produced by media institutions are easier to be mistaken for reality because the audience trusts the sources. It is not until pictures are debunked as altered and these distortions are revealed, like in the examples, do we openly acknowledge that our perception of reality can be manipulated.  These altered images when not caught and debunked can move to historic records undetected which can later have unintended consequences and compromise our understand history. –Cheryl

In 1937, Beaumont Newhall argued that photography is the most realistic and powerful graphic art, even if it is distorted or edited some way. He explained that photos create “the perfect illusion.” Then, in 1977 Sontag argued again that, despite possibilities of distortion, photography is the truest art form because it is still proof that something once existed – unlike paintings or sculptures, photos will always be based on a real moment in time and not just representation of that moment. Being that both of these arguments accept the fact that photos can be edited and that this can become misleading, I believe that they still apply to photos today in the age of Photoshop.

In Newsweek’s article “Unattainable Beauty,” they criticize airbrushed images of women in the media as altering their appearance to an unethical degree. Weight, age and skin color are the most popular alterations within this batch. Yet, such airbrushing epitomizes Newhall’s concept of “the perfect illusion,” and it still works with images that capture real people in real moments in time. An airbrushed photo is still more realistic than a painting, which can portray anything from a near carbon copy to an abstract, caricature.

Greater than the problem of Photoshopping itself is the fact that many people are unaware or only mildly aware of the extent to which Photoshop is used in the media. I work for a newspaper and often use Photoshop myself, and even I tend to forget that the images I see everyday are only illusions that could be overly airbrushed or include false additives (as in the Romanoff Senate campaign photo). People do still seem to have “an implicit faith in the truth of the photograph;” however it is this implicit faith that concerns me. –Erin

Newhall and Sontag, while generally pointing out that photographs provide the public with “an implicit faith in the truth of the photographic record” also write about the theatricality and distortion of the photograph. Newhall wrote about Napoleon Sarony, who produced publicity photos for actors, and his ability to bring out “their histrionic powers (57).” This implies his point that photography largely depends upon the intention of the photographer. Further, Sontag wrote, in the context of the Great Depression-era photographers, “…the precise expression on the subject’s face…supported [the photographers] own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry (6).” Thus, the two author’s themselves do not believe that photography is a direct record of reality, rather that individuals without knowledge of the craft are unable to recognize the subjectivity of a photograph. In relation to the Newsweek feature, while many Americans may not question the reality of magazine images of celebrities, there is a consciousness amongst many about the digital manipulation of photographs. The mere fact that these articles exist and are published by widespread sources like Newsweek suggest a general knowledge of the manipulation of images in the media. I would also argue that through these very manipulations the public gains a more truthful understanding of modern American ideals of beauty. While their subject may be distorted from “reality,” these images themselves still hold truths about the individuals who manipulate and publish them. -Bailey

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