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The real and the digital

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth?

The answer to this question depends on one’s perception of film-based photography as truth, a this is the reference for the change.

Wells explains that we have always known photographs are manipulable but have been prepared to believe them as more real than other images. They would at least be based on some trace of reality. This coupled with information on the provenance of an image would give us a good indication of whether we should trust an image as representative of the real world. However, as a general rule we are wise to view even film-based images with some scepticism when they purport to represent a real life event – there is not just the possibility of manipulation in post-processing, but also in the photographer’s selection of the frame as a small piece of real life.

What digital technology changes is the possibility to create images from scratch on a computer screen, without the need to capture photos from real life using a camera. Or to relatively quickly and easily create invented images through digital compositing of disparate frames from reality. The speed and ease with which this can be done and the constructed images than shared digitally changes the way we see photography as truth. We need to view digital images with even greater scepticism than film-based photos because the technology is so readily available to most people to use or abuse in creating representations of real life, of truth. The provenance of an image, coupled with reliable first-hand accounts of events is perhaps the only way we can determine whether a photograph represents a reliable version of the truth. The image alone is not enough.


Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75

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