Photo manipulation is the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create an illusion or deception (in contrast to mere enhancement or correction), through analog or digital means.
There are many differing opinions about photo manipulation in general. There are extremists that think it should not be done at all, or others that think it is acceptable in all cases. Others think that photo manipulation should be allowed depending on the situation. I am one to believe that there are times when photo manipulation is appropriate and other times when it is not.
The earliest recorded case of photo manipulation was in the 1800s with Abraham Lincoln’s head John Calhoun’s body. Before we had computers, people would use to use techniques such as ink, paint, scratching or manipulation while in the darkroom. There are also some people think manipulations in darkrooms are more acceptable than digital manipulations.
The majority of people think that using photo manipulation in journalism is not acceptable. There have been many controversial cases where photo manipulation was used and it changed the photo in such a way where it depicted a visual lie or “exaggerated” the photo. The National Press Photographers Association have actually written a Code of Ethics and one of the points are:
Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
I agree with this for journalism. I used to think minor edits were okay if you just changed the brightness, contrast and colours. I was surprised to find that just changing those small details can really “change” the photo and the mood and tone expressed as well. There’s a very blurry line as to what is just fixing the photo and going too far.
Now if we switch over to advertisement, it’s a whole different world. If you look through a magazine, chances are you won’t find a single picture that hasn’t been manipulated. This seems to be accepted now, and should it be?
The image above is a photo of Keira Knightley before and after photo manipulation. It still looks like her, but note the changes. They added volume to her hair, changed the colours of the image and increased the size of her bust. The background is more exciting and they’ve added marks on her face and arms.In my personal opinion, I think it takes it too far when we change how the person actually looks. Even Keira Knightley herself stated that she didn’t want this.
I do believe that photo manipulation can be an art. I’ve seen fantastic pieces where a photo has been changed to depict the impossible and I think it can be lovely. I also think that in some advertisements, it is implemented so well as a display of creativity that it really does work towards advertising their product. I think as long as the artist in question makes it very clear that they are using manipulation to place a statement or idea, then it’s fine. The picture below is creating a concept that would otherwise be very difficult to reproduce in real life. It’s not trying to make you think that you are actually seeing what you are seeing. I think it’s done so well and it would be a shame if this person was not allowed or discouraged to use photo manipulation for this art.