• Ruta Kalmane Saksens

AFTER PHOTOGRAPHY

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

Digital photography and the many post-processing programs developed especially for photographic enhancement offer the possibility to manipulate images. To what extent they are changed, enhanced, manipulated and transformed is a personal choice of taste of every photographer.

Fig. 1: Brady 1864. No title [photograph]

Fig. 2: Ritchie 1852. No title [engraving]

Fig. 3: Hicks c.1865. No title [edited print]


Manipulation in photography started not so long after the invention of photography itself. It simply got more advanced as the technology developed. An astonishing manipulation for the time when it happened was a print created by Thomas Hicks after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It’s an engraving of John Calhoun by A.H. Ritchie (in 1852) and a photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Mathew Brady (in 1864) for a five-dollar bill combined in a single image. Lincoln’s actual appearance was considered grotesque by the society and Brady often made small alterations to Lincoln’s appearance in photographs to show him as a more pleasing human being in the eyes of the public (Waters 2017).

Fig. 4: RALPH LAUREN 2009. Filippa Hamilton [print advertisement]


Kristin Czerminski (2013) distinguishes between two sorts of manipulation – techniqual retouching (Fig. 4) and creative retouching (Fig. 5). She refers to techniqual retouching as a basic enhancement of a photographic image, meaning that the overall look of the image is slightly fixed for better results (exposure, saturation, shadows, etc.). Creative retouching is any other manipulation in a photograph, more harmful to the representation of the reality, from deleting or adding body parts (smaller hips, bigger eyes) to producing abstract and combined collage images, basically everything that is far away from the reality. For example, during a Ralph Lauren advertisement campaign in 2009, an advertisement was produced that included a heavily manipulated photograph of Filippa Hamilton’s body (figure 4 - left side as opposed to her normal look on the right side).

"Because of Photoshop, those who work in the advertisement industry must be very careful how they photograph their products, and edit those photographs. Should they be honest with their photographs? Or should they enhance their photos to make their products look the best they can? This is an ethical challenge the advertising industry faces." (Czerminski 2013)

Furthermore, Czerminski emphasizes that

"Photoshop has ended up changing the photography industry & advertisement industry forever. The history of photography will never be the same." (Czerminski 2013)

Fig. 5: Saksens 2021. Before-after techniqual retouching [digital photographic images]


When it comes to techniqual retouching, it’s quite a philosophical question to ask oneself whether enhancing a taken digital photographic image should be done at all. I think at the end it’s all about the supply and demand relationship. People nowadays have become very critical about what they would like to receive from a photographer. Customers expect something from photographic images taken by a professional that they themselves are not be able to produce. Post-processing is quite an important part for dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Perhaps there’s no harm in such a minimal enhancement of photographic images in comparison to what is happening in the field of advertising and fashion photography where photographic images are being heavily manipulated with one goal in mind – to persuade a potential customer to buy a certain product by exposing the customer to an unrealistic image, creating a false association that the product will actually achieve a similar result if purchased. Techniqual retouching is certainly a part of what I do in my practice, however, up to a certain line, which I am not willing to cross in my everyday photography, unless the goal in mind is meant to be an abstract outcome, but otherwise I don’t consider that changing the body index of the animals or my clients is appropriate.

Czerminski (2013) explains that

"being able to drastically change body parts, has led to a whole list of psychological health issues. The misconception, created by manipulating photographs, has caused some people to develop eating disorders. It has led others to become depressed or extremely anxious. It has also caused a lot of people to have low self-esteem and search for surgical treatments and implants for a more permanent change."

Fig. 6: Rankin 2019. No title [digital photographic image]


To illustrate to what extent creative retouching can be damaging and to what effect social media has left on teenagers, John Rankin Waddell created a series ‘Selfie Harm’. He asked teenagers to make alterations to their own photographs until they were pleased with how they looked. The alterations that the teenagers did to their photographs in Rankin’s project remind me of game avatars. It looks like the people are so dissatisfied with their own self that they would be happy to become an entirely different person, one that lacks the normal qualities of a regular Homo Sapiens. It’s the result of the huge pressure that the advertising field and social media has put on a human being combined with living in the digital era.

Hillen (2019) points out that

"the average person has more access than ever to tools for transforming their own digital appearance."

I’m not against striving to be the best, the most beautiful, the most successful, but I’m feeling sorry for the people not realising that their energy has been put in the wrong direction. The humanity, the society in general sooner or later has to come to a conclusion, to the understanding that going back to the basics, back to the ‘average’, ‘normal’, ‘regular’ is the only road that leads to true beauty. Moreover, the concept of photography as means of helping people to keep and cherish the memories of a certain moment, of their families and of themselves, has been jeopardized by the overuse of photographic retouching. If a photograph is heavily altered, it has lost it’s possibility to serve as a memory keeper of a true life moment. Over time the truth gets forgotten, a person no longer is able to remember how he looked like if the person is constantly exposed to a photograph that is heavily manipulated. Even worse, the person starts to believe that what he sees was once true.

Fig. 7: Saksens 2021. Creative retouching [audible photographic image]


In my practice I have used creative retouching to achieve audible photographic image collages. I consider it to be an artistic expression and a way to reveal individual stories of dogs. I am looking at lives of dogs from three perspectives – my point of view, a dog’s point of view and the owner’s point of view. As a part of this dog related research I attempt to combine three realities into one kind of surrealistic audible photographic image. The collage consists of a digital photographic image taken by me, digital photographic images taken by a dog (from a pet camera) and images taken by the owner of the dog by means of a disposable analogue camera, and complemented by an audio file that can be listen to by scanning the QR code at the top left corner of the collage. The final image result is a true story of a dog's life.


Perhaps the digital era arrived too fast for the humanity, in the speed of the light, overwhelming us with limitless possibilities, and we are just trying to chew an enormously huge piece of a cookie all in once and too fast. Digital enhancement is certainly valuable, very useful in many occasions, especially in restricting partly lost old photographs. However, one should be very critical to photography manipulation to the point that it becomes repulsive and indigestible for the eyes to look at it, taking into the consideration the moral damage it is doing to the viewers.



LIST OF REFERENCES

CZERMINSKI, Kristin. 2013. Photo Manipulation: The Impact On Society & The Advertising Industry. WordPress [online]. Available at: https://kristinczerminski.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/photo-manipulation-the-impact-on-society-the-advertising-industry/ [accessed 20 April 2021].

HILLEN, Brittany. 2019. Photography project 'Selfie Harm' tasked teens with editing their portraits for social media. Digital Photography Review [online]. Available at: https://www.dpreview.com/news/0793785273/photography-project-selfie-harm-tasked-teens-with-editing-their-portraits-for-social-media [accessed 20 April 2021].

WATERS, Michael. 2017. The Great Length Taken To Make Abraham Lincoln Look Good in Portraits. Atlas Obscura [online]. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/abraham-lincoln-photos-edited [accessed 20 April 2021].


LIST OF FIGURES

Fig. 1: BRADY, Mathew. 1864. No title [photograph].From Michael Waters. 2017. The Great Length Taken To Make Abraham Lincoln Look Good in Portraits. Atlas Obscura [online]. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/abraham-lincoln-photos-edited [accessed 20 April 2021].

Fig. 2: RITCHIE, A.H. 1852. No title [engraving]. From Michael Waters. 2017. The Great Length Taken To Make Abraham Lincoln Look Good in Portraits. Atlas Obscura [online]. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/abraham-lincoln-photos-edited [accessed 20 April 2021].

Fig. 3: HICKS, Thomas. c.1865. No title [edited print]. From Michael Waters. 2017. The Great Length Taken To Make Abraham Lincoln Look Good in Portraits. Atlas Obscura [online]. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/abraham-lincoln-photos-edited [accessed 20 April 2021].

Fig. 4: RALPH LAUREN. 2009. Filippa Hamilton [print advertisement]. From CZERMINSKI, Kristin. 2013. Photo Manipulation: The Impact On Society & The Advertising Industry. WordPress [online]. Available at: https://kristinczerminski.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/photo-manipulation-the-impact-on-society-the-advertising-industry/ [accessed 20 April 2021].

Fig. 5: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Before-after techniqual retouching [digital photographic images]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Fig. 6: RANKIN, John W. 2019. No title [digital photographic image]. From HILLEN, Brittany. 2019. Photography project 'Selfie Harm' tasked teens with editing their portraits for social media. Digital Photography Review [online]. Available at: https://www.dpreview.com/news/0793785273/photography-project-selfie-harm-tasked-teens-with-editing-their-portraits-for-social-media [accessed 20 April 2021].

Fig. 7: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Creative retouching [audible photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens

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