"> Performance Enhancing Photoshop

Performance Enhancing Photoshop

by · Posted in: digital alterations

Earlier this week the New York Times retracted a photo essay by Edgar Martins with the note:

A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on NYTimes.com entitled 'Ruins of the Second Gilded Age' showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, 'creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation.'

A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from NYTimes.com.

The illicit performance-enhancing drug of choice among photographers is made by Adobe.

At a press briefing on May 7 of this year Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had this to say about L.A. Dodger player Manny Ramirez's suspension after a positive drug test:

I think it's a tragedy. It's a shame. My sense is it's a great embarrassment on Major League Baseball. You hope that each time this happens that others will recognize if they are doing it and stop. But regrettably, it happens over and over again.

He could just have easily been speaking of photojournalism—the marketplace pressures are very similar. In the early stages a few realize a competitive advantage using techniques that amount to cheating, but as they become more commonplace the tide changes and rather than a few individuals bending the rules, cheating becomes commonplace and the audience develops unrealistic expectations. It seems normal to hit 800 home runs; it seems normal that every photograph has a perfect composition, light, and color without a single distracting element. The bar for entry to even begin to work competitively in the field is based on the performance of those who are not playing honestly. In the same way that performance enhancing drugs threaten to destroy sports, performance enhancing photoshop has the potential to suck the soul from photojournalism.

PDN has some examples of Martins' manipulations.

The lens blog at the New York Times has the beginnings of a dialog from Martins where he suggests that his blatant dishonesty will be healthy for photography:

In the meantime let the debate rage on… no doubt this will open up a healthy dialogue about Photography, its inexorable links to the real & its inadequacies. Or so I hope…

As much as he might like to turn this into a conversation about 'the real,' the real truth is that he has consistently maintained that he does not use darkroom or digital manipulations and has reaped the rewards from his audience's trust and expectations. In doing so, he has tarnished photojournalism and betrayed his audience, editors, and publishers who now have to backtrack on the praise heaped on his 'in-camera' captures. Here is a description from his book, Edgar Martins: Topologies. The text on the left is from Google's cache since someone at Aperture has apparently changed it to the version on the right to reflect Martins' newly revealed working methods.

Before and after