Before digital imaging, although photograph still has manipulations during their creation through framing or posing, photo manipulation is not that serious because fake photos are usually easily detected. Nowadays, digital imaging has made manipulation much more easily and harder to be detected. But, there are different degrees of alterations. From removing a hair from the forehead to removing a person in news photo, we can see the potential of digital manipulation. People start arguing on the matter of what to be considered as truth and falsehood; it is all because of the presence of fluidity of truth.
1. 2 Concept of Fluidity of Truth Generally, we are used to the truth-versus-falsehood nature. However, with the potential of how digital imaging can be changed in different degrees of alterations, it is not always easy to identify a point where truth is lost and we cannot set a clear line separate truth from falsehood. This is the concept of fluidity of truth. In the following, I will explain how digital imaging clarified fluidity of truth, with 2 altered images examples with different intentions and degree of alterations. Digital imaging and the powerful techniques of manipulation distort the truth.
Photographers manipulate photos mainly in 4 ways: bad intention with large alteration, bad intention with little alteration, good intention with large alteration and good intention with little alteration. 1. 3 Example of manipulated photo with bad intention Take the award-winning photo about Tibetan Railroad in 2006 as example (see figure 2. 1). The photographer combined two separate photographs together to make a photo of a group of antelopes running below the Tibetan Railroad, showing a state of harmony between railroad technology and animals.
At that time, environmental protection groups were aware that the construction of railroad had destroyed the ecosystem. With this combined photo, it is proved and people believed that construction did not affect the animals at all. The Government used this photo as a proof to persuade the Environmental Protection groups who object to the construction of the railroad. This photo, for sure, should be considered as falsehood, covering the truth, because of its bad intention. Figure 2. 1: Photo of Tibetan railroad, Liu Weiqiang, 2006. (10 News photos 2009) 1. 4 Example of manipulated photo with good intention
Another example is about National Geographic (see Figure 2. 2). In 1982, it was accused of altering a photo of Egyptian pyramids, squeezing them closer together, in order to fit into the cover vertically. In this case, the photographer did not have any bad intention. He just wanted to fit his original horizontal photo into the magazines vertical cover. He did not alter the photo a lot either with the fact that if he went farer and took the photograph, the resulting image would have been the same as the altered image. Regarding this case, pyramid was still there and nothing was added nor removed. Truth was not lost at all.
Should this photo be considered as falsehood? It is difficult to set a clear point to discern between truth and falsehood. Figure 2. 2: Photo of National Geographic, February 1982. (10 News photos 2009) 1. 5 Different perception of heavy alteration As shown above, it is difficult to discern manipulated digital images to truth or falsehood depend on the intention. So can we identify them in accordance with degree of alteration? For instance, photos with large alteration should be considered as falsehood. The answer is probably not because everyone can have distinct perspective towards what is more and what is less.
Take Klavs Bo Christensens photo of Haiti in 2009 as example, his photo has been processed in terms of the color tone and sent to a Danish photo contest (see Figure 2. 3). Retouching made the photo stunning and contrasting in color tone. At the end, the judges disqualified the photo since they thought the photo were too extreme and unacceptable. Christensen, the photograph, admitted the retouching but insisted that the result image was within his limit. In this case, we can see that different people have different perception of heavy alteration.
Neither did Christensen remove a person nor combine two separate photos. All he did was toning the color. It is difficult to identify a clear line to tell what is truth and what is falsehood. Figure 2. 3: Photo taken by Klavs Bo Christensen, April 2009. (10 News photos 2009) 1. 6 Ironic photography and retouching techniques in products In postcards and photos of residence catalogs, most of them have been processed and are taken in certain angle in order to make the place look spectacular. These beautified photos are to attract people to visit there, expanding number of possible customers.
People are always disappointed when they really get there and realize the difference between the real place and the process one. Not only these two products, most, if not all, advertisement also retouch the photos to make the subject look perfect. For instance, in the advertisement selling skincare products, the skin of the model always looks silky and perfectly smooth. Again, this is the result image of retouching. However, we never criticize these photos as falsehood or lying even though they are also under the same kind of retouching technique and manipulations as the mentioned examples above.
It is all because we have fluidity of truth. There is no absolute truth or falsehood. 1. 7 Inevitability of digital manipulation Indeed, media do need certain extent of digital manipulations, such as lightening or darkening a photograph just for better reproduction quality (Newton P. 11). Truth is not lost at all. In these cases, should we consider these manipulated photos as falsehood? It is always hard to judge because of the fluidity of truth where the line between truth and falsehood is ambiguous. 1. 8 Conclusion It is always hard to define what is real.
With the potential of how people can digitally manipulate photos in totally different ways and with different intentions, fluidity of truth has been clarified, where not every photograph can fit into the truth-versus-falsehood nature. We can have people doing alterations with good intention or simply just for better reproduction quality, while we can also have people using photo manipulation for controlling and creating a scene that has never happened. At the same time, we have advertisements under retouching technique without being criticized.
All these suggest that digital imaging, with numerous ways of manipulations, has clarified the fluidity of truth. A clear line or point to discern between truth and falsehood does not exist. We may not be able to determine absolute truth. Instead we can determine a reasonable truth, depending on our maturation of perception of reality (Newton 2007). Reference List 10 News photos that took retouching too far, 2009. Available from: . [20 October 2012]. Newton, JH 2007, Digital media: transformations in human communication, Peter Land Publishing, Inc. , New York.