Faux-tography: What is real any more and how should journalists deal with it?

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to borrow a cliche, the “beholder” today might be your camera’s AI set up.

Here are two interesting articles on what one writer deemed “faux-tography,” which is really the degree to which an image no longer represents the color, texture, vibe and feel of its original subject. As far as an artistic eye is concerned, I have absolutely none, so this isn’t even close to my field. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife how many times we get into arguments when she asks for a “blue” sweater and I end up picking out about nine of them that are in no way what normal people would consider blue.

Still, the idea fascinates me in the broader sense of journalism and reality. The concept of manipulation isn’t new, in that photographers and editors have merged images to create tension, moved pyramids to make photos more compelling and even changed how we view moments of historical importance. In most cases, it was the human being behind the camera or in the darkroom or at the keyboard making those choices actively and deciding to live with the consequences.

What is and is not allowable isn’t always that clear. Professionals who were around during the transition from wet labs to digital media used to argue that you shouldn’t do any more with PhotoShop than you can in the darkroom. Of course, a legendary photo manipulation from photo titan Matthew Brady occurred in the Civil War era, so there is that… Even more, we often note that toning, cropping, lightening or darkening images is completely fine, but then you run into things like this and like this so it’s not always so clear cut.

A good place to start any discussion of photo manipulation is the NPPA’s code of ethics, which you can find here. Another good thing to ponder is the degree to which you are actively making choices in what you shoot, frame, crop and tone. Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it matters a great deal, but it also helps to know that the HAL-9000 isn’t putting its interest ahead of yours.

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