While working as a Media Education Intern in Brooklyn, New York, I came across various projects related to filmmaking and Photography. One of the earliest projects of these projects was street photography, in which I was provided with a task to take pictures of random places and random people (of course once they have given their consent). The whole idea of this project was that interns can get to know the town better, get comfortable in taking pictures of random people, and also learn how to deal with the idea of rejection (if someone does not give their consent for taking a picture). Once I have taken a specific amount of pictures, I was told to edit them (work on exposure, discard the blur ones, etc.), and then submit them to the supervisor. While I was editing, I came across a picture of the street, taken at Linden Blvd in Brownsville, Brooklyn. This picture had trash on the left side of the road and I just decided to crop it out of the picture. My supervisor asked me not to do so as I was purposely hiding something from the audience and portraying a place better than it is in reality. I realized that how easily a picture can be manipulated and be portrayed as what is not to an audience. Another aspect of this project made me realize that is it ethical to take all types of pictures of people in the public sphere. In the USA, it is perfectly legal to take pictures of anyone as long as the person is in a public place, but since some people did not allow me to take their picture, I began to think about the moral and ethical values I hold as a photographer.
To further expand on these two aspects of my project, this paper will dig in deep about how photography and ethics go hand in hand. This paper will show how images can be manipulated in accomplishing different objectives and why ethics play an important role in street photography. These two objectives are directly related to what I have experienced as Media Education Production Intern.
“There are a hundred reasons not to trust mass-media photography, and yet we do. Or at least we used to. Despite our knowing that cameras can lie, that some photos— even famous ones— were faked in one way or another, for more than a century we have nevertheless bestowed upon photography a remarkable measure of trustworthiness. Now, however, we are inundated with photorealistic yet patently false images. These imposters are so pervasive that authentic photos may soon be looked upon as the exceptions, mere throwbacks to a more naive, pre-cyber era.” (Wheeler, Thomas H. Wheeler. Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age, Routledge, 2002.)
Photo manipulation is basically the transformation of an image to convey what one wants rather than what the actual image actually is. In today’s world, with the development and advancement of technologies, an image can be easily altered in a matter of few clicks, to gain desirable results.
However, Photo manipulation has been around long before the rapid advancement of technology and media in the last two decades or so. All type of pictures has been believed in as long as they have had some sort of link to reality. “Rather a photography can be true in a way a sentence can be true. Viewers will believe in its truth as long as long as it corresponds in a meaningful way to reality”. Earlier photographers, main artists in the 19th century looked forward to photoing manipulation to depict different kinds of imaginary scenes and they did not want to deceive the audience. “In fact, documenting reality was the furthest thing from the minds of many early photographers. Some were interested in using the miraculous new process to conjure dreams, nightmares, erotic flights of fancy, idyllic utopias, or other imaginary scenes”. (Wheeler, Thomas H. Wheeler. Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age, Routledge, 2002.) The objective was not always to mislead people at the time. This is because no such thing as objective photojournalism existed at the time. “For example, John Moran’s remarkably detailed albumen print “The Wissahickon Creek near Philadelphia,” from about 1865, was delicately retouched to remove the corner of a building that had intruded upon the scene” (Wheeler, Thomas H. Wheeler. Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age, Routledge, 2002.) This can be mirrored with when I cropped out a portion of trash in the street, but in today’s world the notion of photojournalism exists and perhaps this act of manipulation is not anymore accepted as much as it was more than a century ago. Highly imposed pictures became more common with time and as we entered the 20th century the manipulation of pictures was sadly use to deceive people. For instance, dictators use altered photos to create propaganda. “Most or all of the 20th century’s political dictatorships faked photos for propaganda purposes, portraying leaders as more youthful, athletic, benevolent or popular than they really were, or eliminating officials who had fallen out of favor. For instance, Leon Trotsky and other principals in the Bolshevik Revolution were painted out of a November 1919 photo of Vladimir Lenin in Red Square”. (Wheeler, Thomas H. Wheeler. Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age, Routledge, 2002.) However, the dictatorship was not the only reason pictures were being manipulated so commonly in the 20th century. Tabloids, magazines, newspapers, and articles all emerged using photo manipulation in the last century for different purposes. Even Kodak’s 1996, famous slogan reads, the photograph is no longer a photograph, “it is whatever you want it to be” (Wheeler, Thomas H. Wheeler. Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age, Routledge, 2002.) With the ever-growing field of media and technology, the whole dynamic of photo manipulation has advanced, considerably.