Like cosmetic surgery, denials of manipulation in photography are vain anyone with half an eye can spot them
Say cheese! Spear’s arts editor Anthony Haden-Guest writes about photography in this issue, how it became a legitimate art form and a profitable sector of the art market. It’s a tour d’horizon of the snapper’s art, taking in everyone from Man Ray to man-eater Pamela Anderson.
Our acquaintance with painting and sculpture has led us to expect depictions not wholly true to nature — who believes that patrons of artists are as handsome as their portraits? Landscapes have long taken imaginary Arcadian scenes as their basis, while Impressionism led into the 20th century’s abandonment and abuse of figuration. But photography, more than most other art forms, stakes an immediate claim to reality. After all, our credulous nature tends to assume that a photo of some clouds in a blue sky is just that.
Manipulation has, however, been an integral part of photography, from Muybridge lifting clouds from one frame to another to Robert Capa staging The Falling Soldier, where the soldier is shot and the photographer shoots, and now it is a standard part of the photographic artist’s toolkit. Whether retouching photos for a fashion campaign (where we all expect the body beautiful) or producing acclaimed pieces like David LaChapelle’s erotic, glossy scenes, the reworking is inescapable, acknowledged and unashamed. The veil of reality has been drawn back and (especially with LaChapelle’s fondness for nudity) we view nature’s bounty, enhanced.
It is the honesty that is key, of course. Like cosmetic surgery, denials of manipulation are vain — anyone with half an eye can spot them. Better to embrace what technology can offer and decline the pretence.
Perhaps photography can teach us to extend this line of thought to other areas of our lives — work, money, romance. Are we facing reality — or are we Photoshopping it?