Keeping It Real
I was reading an article in a magazine recently and it talked about the issue of editing photographic images. Of course this has always happened but with the advent of powerful computers and editing software it is far more common than in the days of darkrooms. The article discussed the problem of changing the image and therefore changing recorded history.
One of the most powerful research tools for the history of the last hundred or so years is the photograph. It shows what words cannot describe. Just look at the impact the photos of the Vietnam War had and still have and on a more personal basis I have recently found and scanned some photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents. It was rather moving to see the faces of those who had previously just been names in the family history. If we change our images are we changing the way future generations will see us?
The other side of the argument is the freedom of artists to show the world as they see it. We cannot deny them the chance to produce images that give a personal view.
So how can we reconcile the two sides? While it is obvious that many artistic images are not and could never be interpreted as factual it is not so obvious with images that have received minor tweaking. If you change the colour of a building or car are you changing history? If you remove modern television antennae from an historic building does it make your image less real?
Let’s agree that some things are acceptable, correcting colours to remove colour casts for example. There is nothing wrong with fixing the effects of poor exposure. I have removed litter from the foreground of an image and don’t think it changed it too much. But what is too much?
What can be done? Digital images include metadata, the information that the camera records when it processes the image, often called EXIF or IPTC. The metadata is editable with software. It includes sections for image information, captions and artist for example. I strongly recommend adding caption information as it will ease the burden of future viewers, but that is another subject we will look at some other time. Maybe notes should be added to indicate when images are not historically accurate including what changes have been made.
What do you think? Do you change the content of your images? Have you considered the history perspective?