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Digital Technology And Manipulation Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2734 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The first device invented that could digitise or make analog photographs available in a digital format was a scanner made by Russell Kirsh in 1957 (Terras, 2008). The scanner functioned by looking at the variations in tone within photographs and assigning a digital value to represent a tone band. Instead of creating a new photograph this scanner copied an existing photograph and recorded it digitally. Because photographs can be scanned to a digital format, the initial analog negative can now be manipulated digitally and the truth value held by analog photographs can now be challenged.

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During the 1960s digital imaging technologies was still only used by large institutions such as NASA and the American government. It was not until the 1980s that the media began to use digital imaging technologies. Digital technology could be employed to enhance the clearness of television broadcasts and speed up the time in which photojournalists were able to send pictures to the media.

In 1982, National Geographic published a photograph of the pyramids at Giza on the front cover of the magazine, see Figure 6. The photograph has been manipulated to fit a horizontal photograph of the pyramids onto the portrait cover of the magazine to make the front cover more captivating (Terras, 2008). It is important to note that this instance of manipulation was one of the first by a recognised organisation. National Geographic’s editor, Fred Ritchen who decided to compress the pyramids felt he had achieved “a new point of view by the retroactive repositioning of the photographer a few feet to one side” (White, 1999). Ritchen’s defence to accusations of manipulating the photograph was that if the photographer had moved and taken the photograph at a different time of the day then the photograph would be the same. However the fact remains that this photograph was not the one that was made. The fact that the photograph was manipulated was not broadcast. It was admitted to have been manipulated when other journalists questioned the photograph. Howard Chapnick (1982) argued that the words “Credibility” and “Responsibility” allow photographers to call photography a profession due to ethical considerations rather than a business (p.40). Chapnick goes on to argue that not maintaining these ethics will damage journalistic impact and photography as a language. Lastly, he maintains the threat to credibility is permanent if people begin to disbelieve the news photograph (p.41).

In 1985 digital cameras became widely used by professional photographers. Companies also marketed digital imaging camera to the public for domestic use. During this time the processing capabilities of computers was also advancing and provided a way for individuals to load image manipulation software and manipulate photographs. In 1991 the American government and the media used digital photography as a technology for the first time in a war environment. Not only was digital photography used to photograph the war but was used in weapon systems by America (Floridi, 1999).

A much more recent current use of digital imaging technology is live electronic manipulation. Manipulating a live feed allows the editing of satellite image feeds. On the fly image editing may be used in sports programming to show lines on pitches or by governments to hide classified buildings from satellite imagery that is available to the public such as Google Maps. News television channels and can also employ technology to sow text feeds beneath news anchors. Delta Tre supply FIFA with sports data services and on screen graphics (Bevir, 2012). In 2012, the union of European Football Associations placed recorded footage of a fan crying at the opening of the game and played it after one of the teams had won the game to make for more compelling television. Amato (2000) argues that as this technology becomes more widespread and available the credibility of video media will be damaged permanently. In some ways this is similar to National Geographic’s manipulated Pyramid in that both representations existed but were manipulated to give heightened sensation.

The abilities that digital imaging technology have provided have been used by Walt Disney Imagineering Studio to take existing photographs and film of aged or dead celebrities made in the past to be used in new programmes or films (Amato, 2000). This use of technology to manipulate media evidences how analog photographs and films are susceptible to these processes and also asks the question of what is the final product? Is it simply a manipulated piece of video footage or a new creation entirely? Mitchell (1992 p.192) argues that it is a new creation entirely. Mitchell (1992 p.192) also argues that photography in recent times has entered a phase which he terms “pseudophotography” meaning that digital photography is not photography. Though the two methods are comparable, they possess different manipulation potentials which are examined in the next section.

Manipulation Since Digital photography

Savedoff (1997, p.19) argues that “technologies alter rather than simply add to the resources of art”. This means that photography as an art form has been altered by added manipulation potential. This new digital imaging practice should possess ethical consideration for the manipulation of photographs. However, this has not happened due to the inability to differentiate between the digital or analog photograph when printed creating difficulty for imposing a different standard for each method. Photography’s relationship with reality as previously outlined is apparent in a digital photograph that has been printed, however the relationship created by the light reaction will not be present in a digital photograph. In an analog photograph created through a chemical process there is room for argument that the relationship with light remains intact. Although this “trace” looks to be evident in a photograph created by digital means, the trace is not a chemical reaction but a digital representation of reality. Additionally, digital photography is limitless in the number of alterations or manipulations that can be applied. These manipulations leave little or no evidence of themselves.

Modern digital camera allow the photographer to review the image made and thus allows them such benefits of changing the composition until they are satisfied with the result. Images are manipulated by using computers and image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, along with scanners to digitise analog images. Therefore, photographs made before digital photography are vulnerable to manipulation just like the aforementioned case of Disney outlined earlier (Bouse, 2002). The presence of digital imaging technology has changed photography and its relationship with veracity permanently. This lends evidence to Bouse’s argument that old photographs may be more widely trusted and that digital photography makes readers of images aware not only of current manipulations but of those in the past also. The reader of a photograph, although aware that the photograph was made before the invention of digital technologies is aware that the photograph might have been manipulated and nonetheless changes the way the reader interprets all photographs, manipulated or not (Savedoff, 1997). This means that digital technology has decreased the veracity of photography due to readers now questions all photographs. Lastly, it is very difficult for the average reader to distinguish between manipulated and non-manipulated photographs.

Michelle Henning (2007) argues that digital imaging technologies have enabled limited new ways of manipulating a photograph. Henning continues that digital technologies have only made the manipulation of photographs more available. Henning also argues that the public was previously unaware of image manipulation techniques before the invention of digital imaging technology. Digital manipulation has made the public more aware of photo manipulation and maybe even increased how often images are manipulated.

Digital vs Analog

Photography has been changing since its birth in the 1800’s and many of the changes have been driven by technology but were always based on chemical reactions to light. In the 1820’s Joseph Niepce found a method to permanently fix a photograph using lavender oil and bitumen. Niepce swiftly developed this method further into heliographs made by using silver nitrate. Eduard Daguerre was also looking for a way to photographically record subjects and contacted Niepce to work with each other. After Niepce died, Daguerre found that mercury could fix images much more permanently and created the Daguerreotype which Daguerre believed at the time “serves to draw nature” and gives nature “the power to reproduce herself” (Hirsh 2000). Since photography’s invention the idea of a device that could create unmediated representations of reality was widely believed yet now we begin to see photography may not deserve the verisimilitude it has been ascribed. At the same time Henry Fox Talbot worked on a photographic method using paper print. Like the creation of photography and the creation of digital photography these changes and advances were driven simultaneously by several individuals at once. The daguerreotype became the most popular and was widely used to make very simple portraits. Later though, interest was given to the Calotype created by Talbot. The Calotype was less reliable but allowed for prints to be reproduced much more easily and allowed greater detail with the print at least initially. During the mid-1800’s negatives were made from glass and coated with albumen paper. These proved much more reproducible and gave more detailed and sharper results than earlier methods. With regard to digital methods, has digital photography made reproducing images easier due to the fact that digital images when stored on a computer can be duplicated instantly and without cost? Being able to reproduce a photograph has always been desirable and this is shown by the demand for the Calotype. Bearing in mind that digital imaging technology has helped progress the abilities of cameras, it has done this in a way that has divided the two types of photography causing great debates among them.

Mark Amerika, digital artist and writer, in an interview talks about the differences between digital and analog photography. Amerika claims that images and how they are read is influenced by the way they are captured, meaning that as technology changes so does out interpretation of photographs (Jacobs 2006). Because photography is much more easily manipulated with digital photography the objectivity of the photograph is lost and it is futile to pursue objectivity (Jacobs 2006). It would seem true that manipulation is more common since the advent of digital photography, which could argue that the making of an image is only a small portion of the final product like in the aforementioned case of Rejalnder.

Both Mitchell and Savedoff claim that digital photography and the manipulation of it cannot be compared to analog photography because it is a new medium (Savedoff, 1997). Both continue to argue that because with digital photographs the image is created with a digital sensor digital capture is a separate process to analog capture.

Digital photographs receive their authority because they are almost identical to analog photographs and this authority is passed to the digital photograph. However, if this passing of authority is stopped, digital photography may be criticised for its lack of authority. News reporting currently accomplished by digital photography may no longer be an acceptable medium for those purposes. Oddly, as already outlined, if digital photographs obtains its authority from its similarity to analog photographs, analog photographs may lose its authority because of this relationship.

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It is important to note that photo manipulation was possible before digital technologies; it took place much less and needed much more time, effort and dexterity (Savedoff, 1997). Savedoff and Mitchell contend that the increase in frequency of digital manipulations is enough to show the conceptualisation of digital photography as a new medium. When an analog photograph was manipulated evidence of this procedure could be found on the negative and would more than likely mean the negative would be permanently modified. Yet with digital photography this does not apply (Savedoff, 1997). The digital file makes it very difficult to ascertain whether the file has been manipulated and also difficult to determine which file is the original, if one exists.

Because analog manipulations needed expertise and dexterity it means that they were the exception to the norm as they were costly to accomplish. The refined abilities of digital technology that allow image manipulation to be completed with ease have made manipulated photographs become the ordinary. Savedoff (1997) claims that the power of the reportage photograph has lessened. Savedoff (1997) also contends that before digital photography there were well known standards regarding what was and what was not acceptable manipulation of an image. However, with digital technologies these standards have become irrelevant. This new trend of manipulation gives much less regard to what it means to manipulate an image.

Amerika (XXX) furthers Savedoffs claims and he believes that instead of digital photography being a new entity it simply does not exist (Jacobs). Amerika argues that digital photography is just the processing of information and to print a digital image is no different to printing a text document from a computer. Amerika believes digital photography is not about photography but about binary code or “manipulation ones and zeroes” (Jacobs). However, if this school of thought is accepted then surely analog photographs are about chemistry and the reaction of light to a light sensitive medium.

A third argument exists which opposes both Amerika and Savedoff. Michelle Henning (2007) makes the case that digital photography has changed or “remediated” the landscape of photography. Keeping in mind that digital photography is used somewhat differently to analog photography, but to greater extent is experienced and interpreted in similar ways. The design of digital cameras imitate analog cameras and feature the same vocabulary such as ASA/ISO standards which relate to film speed and are not necessary for digital cameras (Amerika/Jacobs). Maybe these imitations create a bridge between the two technologies that allows the inherent veracity of analog photography to be inherited by digital cameras (Henning, 2007). Henning (2007) asks why digital cameras try to imitate analog cameras when the potential of digital imaging is greater than analog capabilities. It is important to state that although many companies manufacture cameras it is the larger companies such as Canon and Nikon and Sony that market digital cameras aggressively. Henning’s idea that digital photography has remediated analog forms of photo making is not because of the abilities afforded by digital photography but because of the way it has been aggressively marketed by the companies that manufacture them (2007). Henning (2007, p.59) summarises in saying that digital imaging is not “less photographic than chemical analog is” and that it is a different process but ends up as the same result.

The final analysis of the differences between digital photography and analog photography outlined by Mitchell (1992) is to see digital and analog photography as similar to painting. Rather than painting no longer being used as many feared it would with the birth of photography, its purpose simply changed. A change similar to this may also be experienced by analog photography, finding its niche somewhere between analog photography and painting. Digital photography however possesses the realism of analog photography but is more easily manipulated, putting it next to the two art forms (Mitchell, 1992).


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