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?


Author: Jim

A sixty something living in the Hawkesbury Valley on the edge of Sydney Australia.

2 thoughts on “Keeping It Real”

  1. Hi Jim

    Some good points you made there. Reminds me of the way the Russians (I think) used to wipe people out of some photos during WWII, or so I have read.

    There seem to be three issues:

    1. How much can you alter a picture and still have it accepted for judgment in a camera club or other competition?
    2. How do we recognise, in the future, scenes that have had major alterations?
    3. What value do we put on documentary photography?

    I don’t know what the answers are. I know that I prefer a documentary style, that’s just my personal preference. I look at all the documentary pictures from the masters of the past and am in awe of how good they are. And I do not have the artistry to go wild with photo-manipulation to create these so-called artistic works.

    I guess we are going to have to be very careful when examining an image from the past, seek other images to confirm content maybe.

    Interesting post. Hope you are well, cheers, Adam

  2. Hi Adam

    Not only the Russians, I have heard of families doing it to former partners after divorce too.

    1. is something I hadn’t considered although now you mention it I was aware that for some categories images can’t be changed. I have noticed magazines that ask for submissions also often ask for the original unedited file although this may have more to do with quality issues than accuracy.

    2. This is the real problem for future historians I fear.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    I’ve been busy but well, hope things are good with you.


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