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How Truthful Are Our Photographs?
Did you really photograph exactly what you saw?
My photo’s will be as I create them, modify them and warp whatever limited reality I choose to. Whether it be colours, tones, crops, and minor corrections to dust spots or a pesky fly. But what they won’t be is a computer generated, falsified image of something that never occurred. Or is it really my choice to begin with?
One of the biggest subjects in photography today is the use of A.I. in creating images. Though the topic of image manipulation is not new, the fact that we can virtually create something with just a conceptual thought and have a computer generate a near perfect image for us is staggering. Prior to this, it took skill and knowledge of photoshop techniques to create something that could fool the human eye. And even before that, it took skill in a darkroom to dodge and burn an image to where you wanted it. Now all it seems to take is one’s knowledge in how to use the right A.I. software. Soon enough, it will be near impossible to determine the veracity of an image.
But don’t our cameras already do something like that? When we use presets and software to make small corrections, are we not modifying what was truly in front of us? Mind you, our eyes can capture much more dynamic range than a camera can. We are able to render colours, light and shadow so much more accurately than even the most advanced cameras. When I look into a dark corner of a room, I am able to see enough details in the shadows without my eyes blowing out any sort of highlights. With a camera, the detail in those shadows come at the cost of the highlights. But we seem to be OK with that limitation. We are OK with that level of manipulation because it doesn’t falsify what we saw, it is simply a limitation of what our devices can achieve. What about presets? These are quite popular, even I use them quite frequently. Am I falsifying what I am seeing? The rabbit hole runs much deeper than you think.
How deep does one want to go? Some manipulation is within our control and some are not. I choose not to create a false narrative (or at least something with as little manipulation to a scene as possible).
Could I erase that tree in Photoshop? Yes, but I don’t want to. Could I change the sky into something more dramatic? Of course, but that wouldn’t be portraying what was actually there. What about that pesky fly or dust spot. Sure (in my opinion). But there will come a point where I even keep those. Why? Because the truth in photography is what we need to achieve.
Will I keep using a preset or changing a photo to black and white? Sure. There is some element of art in my photography. I’m not out there as a photojournalist to ensure that the truth and only the truth is shown. But I’m also not out there to deceive and to make something from virtually nothing. Creative leeway, yes. Straight deception, no.
A.I. is not going away any time soon. People will use it to falsify a narrative, or to enhance their art. They will use it to manipulate a situation in their favour or to discredit some form of the truth. It is inevitable because we all do it to some extent. In our photography and in our written or spoken work.
If we are truthful with how we are portraying our work, then I think we can achieve some balance of creativity and real life. But that really depends on the individual. It depends on how much we are willing to trust ourselves or others to do the same.
“Never tell the truth when a lie will do…”
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