photoshop: before and after

Capa's Falling Soldier

Capa's Falling Soldier

Aperture recently released a lovely little book of essays by Philip Gefter called Photography After Frank. It takes a look at modern photography since Robert Frank’s iconic book The Americans made its debut in 1959 here in the States. Gefter, who writes about photography for the New York Times and Aperture magazine,  meditates on the work of Nan Goldin, Stephen Shore and Jack Pierson to name a few.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a traveling exhibition of Frank’s work going around the country, which is currently in San Francisco and will be heading to New York in the fall. If you want to read more on Frank, you can check out the pieces I wrote on the exhibition (here) and the book (here) at PLANET’s site.

One of Gefter’s essays that really stuck with me is entitled “Photographic Icons: Fact, Fiction, or Metaphor.” He begins this piece with the words “Truth-telling is the promise of a photograph,” which prompts a discussion of all the famous photographs that have been staged over the years. I never knew that Doisneau’s famous photo Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville was staged! He hired two actors to kiss in front of that Paris cafe back in 1950. What a letdown. Just a few weeks ago, it was revealed that Robert Capa’s famous photo “Falling Soldier” (pictured above) from the Spanish Civil War was staged as well. No bullet came flying out of a fascist’s gun to knock that man down (which is fortunate for him).

Should we believe what we see? Probably not. Especially nowadays with digital technology, the possibilities for altering photographs are endless. I feel like some of the images I see in magazines aren’t really human…I mean they’ve been so photoshopped that they only vaguely resemble a human being. Is there a connection between the ubiquity of digitally retouched photographs and the mainstream popularity of plastic surgery? It seems like there must be a correlation.

Back in April, French Elle caused a stir by putting several glamorous ladies  (like Monica Bellucci and Eva Herzigova) on a series of magazine covers without makeup and without any retouching. France is considering passing legislation that would require magazines to disclose how much images have been retouched.  It’s sort of like forcing companies to put nutritional information on the candy packages.

Where does editing end and manipulation begin? What are the ethical responsibilities of a photograph? I’m not sure.  I’ll end this post with the last few sentences from Gefter’s essay:

The invention of photography, around 1839, provided a revolutionary method of replicating reality in accurate visual terms. What a great tool for artists and painters to construct images with greater perceptual facility. The history of art is a continuum of constructed images that depict reality as it was truly, or else as it was imagined in ideal terms. Photography did not change that continuum; it only made the difference between perception and reality more difficult to determine.

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~ by Valerie Palmer on July 31, 2009.

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