Exercise: the real and the digital (page 44)

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth?

What is the truth exactly? Would a home fan see the same game as an away fan? Would a wife have the same version of the truth as her husband in a divorce case? Everyone sees the truth differently; just like the ‘truth’ in a photograph is only one version of any given situation.


There is no doubt that photo editing software has changed how we produce images.  As Liz Wells states we have the ‘ability to create, manipulate and edit images’ (Wells, 2009, p73). and as a result we question what is ‘real’. How many hundreds of times have we heard someone say ‘it’s been photoshopped’? I was so convinced that the term would be an accepted new verb that I looked it up in the dictionary; but, no not yet. The ease by which images can be altered has resulted in a sense of mistrust. Subjects are shown in places they have never been to, with people they have never met, in situations they have never been in. Their heads are put on someone else’s body and they are airbrushed out. In photojournalism we expect the truth but cases of deceit have been evident even within that ‘more real’ genre. So, why would photography ever be reliably seen as the ‘truth’ when there is the ability, and the results that prove to us that images can be purely constructs.


A photograph, just by virtue of being a two dimensional image, can only ever be a representation of the truth and cannot capture the whole story. It is a viewpoint dependent on who took the image and why, when it was taken and what was happening outside the frame. In that respect film photography, prior to digital, was subject to the same sort of subjectivity so it is not necessarily digital technology that changes how we see photography as truth.

There have always been manipulated photographs so digital is no different to film, all that has happened is that manipulation has become quicker and easier and available to more people. Often there is an assumption by the viewer when looking as say, magazine articles, billboards, adverts and so on, that the image has been altered so if we are not expecting the truth then how we see photography as truth just lives up to our (low) expectations.

It depends

When I see fashion and model images I expect them to have been manipulated so no, it doesn’t effect how I see the truth, largely because I am not expecting the truth in the first place. As Wells says ‘it is clear that images with all the appearance of ‘real’ photographs may have been created from scratch on a computer’ (Wells, 2019)

However, when I see a newspaper image of a current event then I do not expect lies to the same extent. I expect some resemblance to the truth and for the image to be ‘more real that other kinds of images’ (Wells, 2009). However,  I am aware that most images will have at least some minor tweaks.


I had a few thought surrounding this topic

  • As practice, I took an image of the ruins of a castle recently. Do you think that after a full day at work I could be bothered to go out at sunset to take this image or did I just alter it in Photoshop? Well, both. I did go out at sunset but the sky wasn’t as colourful as I had hoped so yes, I did warm it up a little afterwards.


  • I  started to consider the Moon landing in 1969. It had to be true as there are photographs to prove it, but . . .  really?

Image in the public domain


  • There have been recent images of Donald Trump signing an abortion related order in the Oval Office, surrounded by men with the awful implication that men are making decisions about women’s bodies. They probably are, but can we be sure? There is plenty of space in the images for women to have been airbrushed out. Who knows?



Wells, L.(2009). Photography: A Critical introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge


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