Truth in Darkroom and Digital Photography
Around the era of America’s Civil War, photography’s popularity really shone through as a means of documentation. First gen photojournalists would travel with the armies and send their photos back home to newspapers to have them published. It was also around this time that the average American could afford a portrait of themselves. What you saw in the photograph was an accurate and faithful representation of reality. This way of thinking soon changed as artists and news publishers exploited photography’s potential.
According to Philip Gefter’s essay in the New York Times, an excellent example of exploitation is noted to first come from Robert Capa, “the great war photographer.” Capa’s iconic “Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, Cerro Muriano, Córdoba Front, Spain, September 5, 1936” or better known as “The Falling Soldier,” taken during the Spanish Civil War, has been controversial among critics and scholars for the possibility that it has been staged. Evidence has shown that Capa incorrectly stated the location. The setting was moved and shot away from the original battlefield in order to achieve an ideal composition. Another instance of a framed scenario in war photography- “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg, 1863” by Alexander Gardner has the corpse of a soldier lain in perfect, dramatic arrangement. This case would be noted as nature having run its course, an instance Gardner happened upon if it weren’t for another photograph by himself with the same subject now facing away from the camera and the gun propped in a different position. Lewis Hine followed suit with his “Power House Mechanic Working on Steam Pump” opting for a staged composition to achieve the perfect frame. He was however still credited for realism. Is this manipulation of vision and truth to achieve personal narrative wrong? There is no single answer to this question as what must stay moral and honest relies on context.
In a perfect world, news photography should remain ethical and stay true to its "happened upon" premise. There is guaranteeing that and never will be. It's simply too easy to create a compelling story selling out what the human psyche wants. As art form however, the idea of "image making" seems perfectly reasonable. If photography can serve as another medium projecting one's vision, then why not. Sparking this was the advent of digital cameras. The convenience of easily converting what the lens sees into data has brought with it a new era of photography. And since then I believe digital processing has further encouraged the manipulation of images with how accessible editing software is.