Photoshopping Reality

13th Dec 2012

©Chris Crisman, USA, Open entry, Nature & Wildlife, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards

Photoshop and photography: a seemingly endless discussion. While many argue technology may detract from the art of photography itself, a new wave of photographers are using digital enhancement to define their art.

A key indicator of the persisting divide between photoshop supporters and traditionalists came following last week’s release of a select grouping of Open Competition entries to the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. The ‘Butterfly Girl’ photograph by entrant Chris Crisman sparked debate on the UK’s Daily Mail over the use of digital manipulation both in crafting images as well as their recognition in photography competitions.

So what role does photoshop play in photography today? WPO asked several photographers for their take on why they’ve chosen to enhance their imagery.

“I personally think that a photo, captured either with digital or analogue camera, is meant to achieve the same result,” Hungarian photographer Flora Borsi says. “It can be used as self-expression, a touching memory, but it also has other goals: to live furthermore, stop time, inspire others, delight your senses and feel what the photographer had felt at that moment when the picture was taken.”

Flora Borsi
© Flora Borsi, "I'm a Perfect Wife"

In the days of analogue, photographers still found ways to manipulate images in the darkroom. Photos were retouched using brushes to produce an ideal final image; Borsi says this concept has simply been taken to a new level in the digital age. What’s more, she says digital manipulation offers photographers ways to achieve goals they may not accomplish otherwise.

“I don’t have the time, power and money for it,” she says of her ideal studio. “But what I have is photoshop. The point is to make your idea come true.”

“The one thing that I don’t think people realise is that, for me, my role as a photographer is not a historian. I am an artist,” 2012 Sony World Photography Awards 3D Winner Nick Saglimbeni says. “Therefore I don’t see anything wrong with altering an image.”

Nick Saglimbeni
© Nick Saglimbeni, USA, Winner, 3D, 2012 Sony World Photography Awards

Saglimbeni is known for his large scale productions and says his images are often accused of being “too photoshopped.”

“As an artist, you have the artistic liberty to make the image look however you want,” he says. “When it comes to the altering of people, that’s when you get into the aesthetics versus ethics debate of what you want to project.”

In a blog post regarding his submitted image, Chris Crisman remarked, “photoshop is just one tool in my arsenal used to help illustrate my personal vision. But the greatest tool is my mind, followed by my camera.”

Like Borsi and Saglimbeni, Crisman’s photos are a reflection of his artistic goals; photoshop is the means by which he achieves his goal. “There are some images that just can’t be captured through the means of traditional photography,” he said. “If any one piece of mine is better classified as illustration that’s fine my me.”

While many photographers who utilise photoshop agree that photographic manipulation is not a new concept and it only aids in producing their artistic aims, many also agree it can be taken too far.

“Erasing these signs of individuality results in a complete loss of uniqueness, and we all become Barbies and Kens,” she warns. “Some cosmetic and fashion companies make advertisements so unreal that I just can’t bare to look at them.”

This idea eventually developed into her latest project: Photoshop in Real Life.

Flora Borsi

Flora Borsi
Above images © Flora Borsi, "Photoshop in Real Life"

“I wrote it down as an idea for later. It was at that time when a Hungarian blog published my photoset "I'm a perfect wife", and there was this guy writing only negative comments, like 'You are not able to make a good photo without photoshop!'" she shares. "Well to be honest, that was the trigger for making this set.” 

The resulting project introduces familiar digital tools into a morning mirror scene to depict how photoshop is used by many to meet unattainable standards.

“And of course, by doing this set, I've made a joke out of myself as well,” she says. “And that's the hardest thing to do for many people: to laugh on themselves! But everything for the good photos.”

What are your views on photoshop and photography? Join the discussion by posting below.