Accomplished New York photographer, Dario (often published in these pages) and I have been having a rather vigorous email debate about the legitimacy of photographs that have been so heavily manipulated they bear little resemblance to what was originally in front of the lens. I have coined the term “Digitography” for this increasingly pervasive phenomenon. Here is my last email to him:

“It is true that photographers like Man Ray among others used photography to create very surrealistic images that conveyed a certain mood or perception. I (we) still do this to this day by using slow shutter speeds to photograph movement, low light to enhance grain, DOF to blur the background, etc. The problem of course is that these manipulations are pretty transparent, i.e. the viewer can see what is being done to convey the perception.

Digitography on the other hand, creates images that “appear” to be straight photographs of real places and situations, but they are in fact bogus. You have no way of knowing if that place or situation ever existed in front of the camera. In effect you are creating false, or most charitably, disingenuous perceptions and feelings in your viewer. When I look at a painting, I can tell it is a painting…I know what the painter was doing. When I look at a straight photo, I know that what I see was actually in front of the camera at some point and place. When I see a photo that has been “played” with through DOF, speeds, etc., I can see the manipulation.

But when I see a “photograph” that is a cleverly manipulated Photoshop product but looks like a real straight image, that to me, is fraud. It is NOT Art. Art, even when it manipulates, is true to itself. A sculpture does not try to look like a photo. A painting does not pretend to be a sculpture (unless it is intentional in order to make a point). But something that appears as a straight photo but actually is a composite of multiple images, with manipulated colors, darkened clouds that were not even there in the first place…..this is pure bullshit because it lacks authenticity. It reminds me of those old-time tabloids that wrote all kinds of lies in order to see just how many people they could fool (“Man trapped in revolving door of abandoned department store for 20 years…..lives by drinking own urine and eating own feces” – real headline I remember as a kid).”

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