Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Documentary Photography - III

Documentary Photography are imagery records of relevant issues of our society and are preserved for posterity. It is generally accepted that documentary photographs are not to be tampered/ doctored in any way ... which means these are ... [1] neither staged .... [2] nor technologically altered, which excludes even digital manipulation; which itself has become a very controversial issue ...

This write-up is more to explore the GRAY-AREA of documentary photography ....

[1] Although everyone accepts that cameras are imperfect instruments in capturing what the eyes sees … And some of these limitations can be corrected with post-processing … to bring out the details, calibrate the colors … But different people have different views on where is the line between proper "fixing” of a photo and a blatant “lie”. Unfortunately this is a very throny subjective issue. "At what exact point does an acceptable representation of reality changes into an unacceptable distortion of truth"??? .... this is an issue of ongoing discussion/ debate among photojournalists ….

[2] Then there is the issue of "credibility" or "public trust", which is the foundation of documentary photography ... “If manipulation of photographs is allowed in some images, then public would doubt the truthfulness of all images”. To me this argument carries a lot of weight. As I wrote earlier when I see images of 9/11 tragedy, crisis in Darfur or of war at Iraq, I would not like these images to be tampered in any way.

[3] An important fact to remember [especially in case of documentary photography] is that photos are not only to look good … photographs have the potential to incite people to take action. When presented with images of war, conflicts, riots, starvation, death … These images motivate people to support/protest against government policies … They lead people to riots, conflicts, wars, negotiations … so authenticity of documentary photographs is of utmost importance….

[4] As far as Photojournalists Awards goes, all of them have very strict rules against any tampering with photos … Looking at some of the arguments … especially issues of [a] public trust and [b] potential to ignite action from people I can understand the rationale behind such strict rules … though it is a matter of ongoing debate ...

[5] Now here’s an interesting point to ponder … Digital elimination of an object, like digitally removing a coke-can is not-acceptable … BUT cropping the frame to eliminate the can is acceptable. Now this caveat can be used to manipulate a situation … Say when a political figure is giving a speech, a close-crop can show too much crowd, whereas a wide-angle-shot with inclusion of a lot of empty space may make the crowd seem too thin ... So how far even a straight photograph tells the truth is very subjective issue ... But this is true with ALL news-realted issues, different coverage widely alters the perception different people have of the same event ... So we can draw parallels of this cotroversy with television news, biographies and so on ...

Throughout history we have been presented with images that are “controversial”.... Some are up in arms against such tampering, some don’t care ... I care enough to learn about the on-going debate surrounding some photos … However one thing I know for sure, if any day I’m mislead into taking action on basis of false/manipulated/tampered photos … I sure would be hurt ...

10 comments:

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