As you maybe have picked up, I am quite a serious photographer at times and have work exhibited in art galleries and various locations. What I have noticed is that with more photographers being adept at using Photoshop and other editing software, there’s a point reached where I wonder if a photograph is still a photograph. Handled well, PS and other tools can definitely improve (or at least change) an image – sharpen the edges, increase the contrast, etc., and I am a fan of Photoshop as well. I’m not that much of a Luddite with regard to photographic work, so I was wondering…
At what point does a photo stop being a photo and start being something else – a digitally altered medium, perhaps? There are lots of good (and even great) photographers out there and so I’m curious – in exhibitions and competitive events, should altered and non-altered photographs be judged in the same category? And if not, how does one decide when one becomes the other? Is it something that can be measured or should it be up to the judge or juror’s own discretion? Is it a question of degree and who should decide that? Is the point of a photographic exhibition to judge the camera skills (composition etc.) or to judge the Photoshop skills?
And then, on the flip side, how should the photographers making the edits measure their changes if they had to? Should it be the honor system for artists? (And what to do with artists who don’t follow the rules?) If there were two categories: “Altered Art” and “Unaltered Art” — how much “altering” does it take to cross from one class to the next? Does increasing exposure push your photograph into the same category of a photo that has been altered so much that it looks like media of another kind (not a photo any more)?
If you want to relate it to the literary world, a similar question could be raised for narrative non-fiction/creative non-fiction and straight non-fiction. There’s straight non-fiction where authors report the facts with little extra added and few assumptions made, and then there is the narrative (or creative) non-fiction where perhaps a story is based on an event and the author takes liberties and makes assumptions about what the characters were thinking or feeling even if there is no measure to support that.
So – at what point does a piece of creative non-fiction become fiction? As with the photography, how should this be measured (if it can be measured), who should decide the scale and then who should follow it? Should publishing houses decide the scale or the authors? Should there be a scale in the first place (or continuum) used by academia to determine when a book has crossed the line and how would the standard be held in place? Honor system?
For me, if I choose to read non-fiction, I will expect a strong factually-based document of some kind. I get irked when I am reading what’s supposed to be “non-fiction” and the author starts leaping around making assumptions about how characters “must have felt” when this event happened or after hearing that particular news. “It must have seemed devastating and they would have gone to the neighbor’s house…” Why say that if you’re not sure if it’s true and if you’re categorizing your document as NF? Again, it’s that question of degree.
I don’t know that there is an answer to this, and it might be one of those things that gets sorted out in five years or so when things are not quite so new and fuzzy. I’ll be interested to see what (if anything) happens.
What do you think? When does a photo stop being a photo with regards to digital altering? What pushes a book from non-fiction to fiction (or vice versa)? Can this even be measured in the first place? Should we?