Fauxtography back to Fenton April 8, 2010Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100, STV302 , trackback
I think my favourite new word is “fauxtography”. From wordspy.com:
(foh.TAWG.ruh.fee) n. The practice of creating faked photographs, usually by manipulating the images with software.
Of course, a more common slang for this is photoshop or photoshopping, to indicate digital image manipulation. It can be a verb, as in: “He photoshopped that picture on facebook” but at the root it is (or was) a noun. Adobe PhotoShop is one of the premier digital image editing applications, and has been for twenty years, which is probably why the word “photoshop” is nearing generic status (like Kleenex and Xerox and many others), despite Adobe’s wishes or trademarks. A recent video from Adobe touting an upcoming “content-aware automatic fill” feature in the next version of Photoshop is both jaw-dropping and likely to exacerbate the genericization of their trademark.
Photoshopping contests can be an amusing way to waste a few moments online, as is the occasional photoshop disaster but photo-manipulation is by no means new nor does it require the latest and greatest technology. It is as old as photography itself in both the preparation and post-processing of the actual shutter “click”. Photographs in the 19th century were often understood to be framed or staged and not at all “real”, contrary to any 20th century public notions of photographic “evidence” or verisimilitude, and more akin to a 21st century awareness that anything digital (including photographs) can be manipulated easily, cheaply, and perhaps undetectably (that’s not really Bill Gates!).
This post doesn’t even scratch the surface of photoshopping, photo-manipulation, or fauxtography, nor can it. It is a deep topic, with many social, technological, and philosophical issues. Should the public be able to trust news photographs? How has the transition from analog to digital photography changed the nature of manipulation? What, exactly, is real about any image and how much do we share?
If you want more than a scratch, consider catching up on Errol Morris’ blog for the New York Times. The Academy Award winning documentary film-maker has been contributing one fascinating essay after another about photographs, imagery, and truth for several years now. His three-part analysis of Roger Fenton’s famous Crimean War photograph “Valley of the Shadow of Death” with cannonballs on and off the road is what hooked me. What do you think? Which picture came first?