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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What Makes a Real Photographer?

An interesting situation came up during my class for photographers recently. One photographer was showing her new work to the group, and we all loved one of her photos in particular. Then she admitted that she had Photoshopped the exact part we all loved so much.

It occurred to me that since Photoshop has become ubiquitous in our industry no one thinks twice about tweaking his or her images. If it’s contrast or sharpness I suppose that’s a minor thing, but when actual composition is changed with technology shouldn’t there be a disclaimer to that effect?

If I was a photo editor looking at a portfolio with several Photoshopped images (assuming I either couldn’t tell, or wasn’t savvy enough to realize it), and I assigned that photographer, how would I deal with the final untouched product, as it would not reflect the work I had seen?

Since magazines usually want raw files (they do their own retouching, and don’t want anything major done to a photographer’s files without prior approval), there would be no way to hide the difference. Anyone with technical prowess can now create a fantastic portfolio that has no basis in reality. So anyone can be a fantastic photographer.

What happens to reality then?

If every photo you take is tweaked (facial blemishes erased, awkward backgrounds changed, etc.) how can we trust not only what we are seeing, but also the ability of the photographer themselves?

It is supposedly common knowledge that in photojournalism, in news photography, one never works on their image. But then how do we explain the most recent incidents at the Toledo Blade, The New York Times and People magazine, where images were altered by either the photographer, or in the case of People, the director of photography. If this happens in the realm of sacred news reporting, why can’t magazine photographers (portraitists, still life shooters, etc.) feel they can make any changes they want to their own images?

Again I ask, what happens to reality?

We know by now that magazines alter images all the time—they clean up faces, make celebrities thinner, change clothing color, silhouette backgrounds, etc. But if individual photographers are now doing these things in order to present their work in what they think is it’s best light, there is no reality. Everyone will be made to look “perfect,” every moment will be cleaned up (after all, reality is messy and unpredictable), and we will continue to speed towards a time where no one sees themselves in the world anymore, because real people and real situations are never perfect.

What makes a true photographer is the ability to solve the creative problem of making an image compelling. If you can be a lousy shooter, figuring it can all be fixed in Photoshop, then who really is a photographer anymore? Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter