Is trust in photography declining?

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At the advent of photography, most people didn’t believe it was possible for a photograph to be manipulated. Thus, when they saw visual “proof” in a photograph, it would bypass their normal filters for determining what is or is not believable.

As people have become more familiar with how much photographs can be manipulated, and as the tools for doing that manipulation have become more powerful and accessible, that special status that photography once enjoyed has faded away. It isn’t that photographs are inherently distrusted, but just that they’re no longer inherently trusted. Today, I would guess that a photograph carries only slightly more inherent trust than the written word—and then only because people know it is still much harder to convincingly fabricate a photo than it is to fabricate a story.

via Photo Forensics Software Blog.

There Are 14 Comments On This Article.

  1. What is eroding the confidence in photography far more than the ability to manipulate an image, is the sheer overload of images. I have no statistics, but the average person sees so many images every day, that they have become quite meaningless. With the tools and technologies available today an average photographer can produce spectacular images‚ yet given the amount of spectacular images we see every day, we don’t even turn our head anymore, much less retain the memory. It used to be said that an image could say more than a 1000 words, but when we see a 1000 images, we simply experience sensory overload and shut information out.

    • True. It would take a lot more for people to notice a photo. It has to really stand out from among the bunch of photos taken everyday. What with so many people, even kids, carrying around their DSLRs. It can be too much for anyone to digest each photo that they have come across.

  2. Sure, trust in photography is declining. Everyone knows it’s easier to drop a velociraptor in the frame than make an aging Hollywood star cover ready. There’s nothing we can do about that.

    I think news magazines use to spend so much on photography not to find the best image, but to find the best image that fit the words they were printing. The idea being that if the image supported the words, the words must be true.

    I think that’s one of the reasons everything is so opinion based these days. Nobody has much faith in the words or pictures anymore, so why not just drop the pretense?

    I think there’s a great opportunity for publications to start printing “real” photography again, instead of photo-illustrations. Barring that, it will come down to the individual photographer’s reputation for trying to be as truthful as possible (while at the same time having a point of view).

    Twenty or thirty years from now much of the editorial work created today will be worthless, because there’s nothing to discover. If you pick up an old copy of LIFE magazine, even if the photos aren’t very good, there’s still value in what they captured (either on purpose or by accident).

    Where’s the lasting value in a photo-illustration pieced together from several elements from different photographs, which is then polished and manipulated to be “perfect”? There isn’t any.

  3. Immensely dull subject. I though the photography vs truth argument ended in the 70’s – or was it decades before that?

  4. As a litigator we are always on the lookout for “evidence” submitted by our adversaries which we can detect has been PhotoShopped and/or altered. Many times the lawyer offering such images doesn’t even know that their client or someone else has altered the image. We routinely request inspections of hard drives, names of photo editors who handled the offered images and so on.

    In the past proving the authenticity of an image shot on film required little effort. Now, the opposite is often the case. Few jurors or judges accept blindly what appears in a given photo. Most of them have used PhotoShop or an equivalent and see special effects created by their children on home laptops. Note the current TV commercial where a young girl “flies”.

    Bottom line – moderately sophisticated people now require proof that the photo is “real”.

  5. Personally I believe that all the ‘behind the scenes’ images that are constantly being pushed out to stoke-up interest in ‘the shoot’ whatever that shoot may be is more damaging than anything else.

    I mean who is going to give a rats about the campaign when they have seen a pile of badly composed and edited BTS shots already.

    At least in fashion photography its all about suspension of disbelief; fantasy; the moment you let the bad shots out of the box and onto the net you shoot yourself and the campaign in the foot. All over red rover!

  6. Some kinds of photography are declining, some others don’t.

    There are many perspectives of that, and I like this one:

    Beauty is not just in the details, but in imperfection.

  7. When “A Train Arrives” was screened, people jumped out of their seats in panic in order to not be crushed by that train they took for the real thing. That was the first movie screening in history. Does it mean film has become less impressive just because we don’t jump for cover when the bad guy shoots? Do we have to be ignorant and naive to enjoy something?

    Photo manipulation has been around for almost 100 years. Lenin had Trotsky removed from all official photographs. That was in the 1920’s.

    We have a hunger for good images. Nothing has declined. On the contrary: we are getting more sophisticated than ever in imagery, and more hungry for more and better images. If something is tired, then it’s cultural pessimism.

    And, finally, taking a photograph is a manipulation of reality in itself. It’s choosing the point of view, it’s choosing what we photograph, and what we include and exclude in the frame. We decide about the precise moment of the capture, how we light it, and how we set the color.

    What’s more, a good photograph has to be manipulative. It takes a stand. The notion of photography as a “true recording device” is not only boring, it’s been outdated many years before Photoshop even arrived at version 1.0.

  8. i wish that people would have lost all trust in photographs a long time ago. then the pictures would become meaningful again because people would enjoy/love/hate/ignore pictures for what they are.. pictures.

  9. If you get down to the heart of it, photograph literally means drawing with light. Maybe we should coin a new word for processed images as pixel-augmented-o-graphs

  10. scott Rex Ely

    Water from a sewer is water from a sewer. It’s the “inherent” trust in the sources of the images that are open for inspection not necessarily the image itself.
    Think news, Fox News, The NY Post or the NY Times. same story, different stream of origin.