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Manipulating With Photos (and Photoshop)

In the early passages of Norman Hollyn’s The Lean Forward Moment, describes the primary role of a filmmaker is to manipulate the audience.

You need to do that because that is the number one job of a filmmaker: to help the audience feel what you want them to feel. Everything we do as filmmakers is based upon an understanding of how our audience will react to what we show them.

I would argue that this is the same role a photographer plays. Whether you’re a photojournalist, a commercial or fine-art photographer you specifically include and exclude elements in the scene to convey a specific message. This type of manipulation is generally accepted without much argument.

The discussion becomes more sticky when one introduces digital manipulation, specifically Photoshop, into the equation. The NY Times in March reported on the French Government’s desire to force magazines to disclose the amount of digital manipulation applied to photos.

Earlier this year, a Danish photographer’s photos were booted from the Pictures of the Year Competition because the judges felt the photos had been too heavily manipulated in Photoshop.

Do photos need to come with a Fiction or Non-Fiction designation?

If the role of a visual artist is to manipulate their audience, is it right to legislate against artists using the tools available to them? In my opinion, the mere fact that this topic has created such heated discussion is a validation of the power still photography holds over us. A fact that should not be forgotten both by the photographer and the general public. Even though we’ve learned to “read between the lines” of text, perhaps our visual literacy isn’t such that we can perceive the bias of the creator (or retoucher) in a still photo.


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