Saturday, September 3, 2016

Photoshop and the Ethics of Reverse Manipulation


At this point we are all inundated with obviously and not so obviously faked images that have passed through a photoshop session.  What would Facebook be without a suitably cropped and modified photograph per day with some obnoxious political agenda attached? Even so, although our news media outlets are notorious for manipulating the news and evidence, there are some of us who would like to think that they keep it to a minimum and unconscious level.

But what happens when we have a news story with an attached photograph that is almost certainly, obviously modified?  Should it be used anyway, or modified, faked if you will, to be less apparently false?

Is lying allowed if it increases the likelihood that an otherwise true story will be believed?

We have a particularly egregious example in the photograph used in the Reuters article about a recently convicted arsonist, see German Man Convicted of Setting Dozens of Fires in Los Angeles.

Oh, those fiery eyes! 

This is an entertaining example of a photograph that looks faked for editorial purposes even if, by some strange chance, it turns out not to be faked  How likely is it that the alleged (and now convicted) arsonist should happen to get "red eye" in this circumstance?

Anyone looking at it, though, might reasonably think it had been modified, and therefore, perhaps it should have been modified, possibly for a second time, to make it appear less manipulated even if by doing so it was in reality more manipulated.  Or would this be even worse, hiding from the public as it were the evidence of the original modification?

For those of you interested in the history of manipulating photographs for evidence or political purposes and are unaware that it has a long tradition, you could do worse than start by reading David King's acclaimed book “The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia” which you may find on that great evader of Austrian sausage taxes,

Believe it or else, this is an important topic in the aesthetics and practice of visual effects.  In visual effects we often have the problem that something  that is correct (either in real life or because our simulation says it is correct) looks wrong.  And in visual effects, something that looks wrong will not achieve its purpose with the audience and will call attention to itself in an undesirable manner.

Now on the other hand, if our purpose was to show our convicted arsonist had been possessed by the Devil, then this photograph, modified or not, would have been just fine.

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