Friday, January 20, 2012

"Truthiness" of photography

"Truthiness" (as coined by Stephen Colbert) of photography is an interesting thought rolling through my head as an amateur photographer.  I don't have a history of film work and done little development of my digital craft in the past few years.  I'm someone who enjoys a great photo and occasionally get's lucky in capturing one himself, barely remembering the rule of thirds most of the time.

I, as I presume most everyone out there, felt that photographs capture a moment in time.  By capturing that single instant in time that can not be rewound, there implies a purity of the moment.

A little while ago, I started to see articles about digital manipulation (photoshopping) of photographs.  Of note was one famous wildlife photographer who was lauded for capturing photos of rare species, when it turned out he had inserted the animals into his photos.  I then happened to see a program on TV that documented digital artists who take photos then digitally manipulate them into the perfect photo artwork.  This had me choked.  How could someone take a photograph and manipulate it into something different from what was there at that moment?

The betrayal of my trust in what I saw was offensive.

This made me think, how much can I trust the images that I see today?

Has digital destroyed the purity of photography?  The sacrilege of misrepresenting the truth of the moment for an appealing and evocative image.

Then I thought some more…

Was film any 'truthier' than digital?  Of course it is.  The permanency of a photo on film is undeniable.  or is it… "airbrushed" photos are the origin of Photoshop.  Sure it took a lot more work to alter a photo captured on film but alterable it absolutely is.  There are some amazing works from years and years ago of film photographs that were touched up to create propaganda during war times.  So it is undeniable that film is no 'truthier' than digital photography.  Maybe only I would be so naive to think this.

Yet… take another step back, to an even more basic level.  Any unaltered photograph is the view of a moment in time by the PHOTOGRAPHER.  The angle, the light, the composition, all chosen by the photographer to convey the emotion and story the PHOTOGRAPHER wants to tell.

A good photographer will communicate exactly what they had in their heart and mind.

Therein lies the key.  To convey an emotion is not directly correlated the truthiness of an image.

The very act of composing the photo affects the truth of the moment of the photograph, let alone what post-processing is done.  To frame a photo is to exclude a world of information and context.  An image of a crying old women in Kenya may in fact be tears of joy if the camera were removed.

Photography is art in every way.  Digital photography has evolved the art and created new types of art based on photography.  The artist builds the image to convey a message and evoke an emotion everything else is trivial.

I'm sure this is much ado about nothing, however my journey to this realization was much like peeling back the layers of an onion.  Each layer not too different from the previous, yet, each was deeper down and was always there, you only had to make the effort and shed the tears to find it.

What of the truthiness?  It's not worth fretting over, just enjoy the photos and realize... the truth is out there.

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