The Manipulated Image


“The history of photography is full of disembodied heads.”
Mia Fineman


For this exercise I wanted to stick quite tightly to the brief requirement of a documentary image.  I searched pretty much all my archive images and couldn’t find anything I regarded as documentary so I turned to Google images for material.  I am aware of the copyright issues here but I consider this to be a permitted use under the category of satire and parody.

adams selection    paisley selection

Gerry Adams search results                                                                                   Ian Paisley search results


I chose two images from the search.  I wanted black and white for a documentary feel and also I thought the composite would be more convincing.  I looked for images larger than 800px wide so that I had enough image to play with.  I needed a background image, with a space to add the other image and a background texture that was sufficiently confused to allow superimposition without crossing too many tonal planes.  The top image, on the other hand, needed to be easy to cut out – a plain background would be best but the one I found was useable.  Both images had to be fairly evenly lit so as to allow the shadows to match as close as possible and to permit some contrast adjustments.





gerryadams_orig      paisley orig   (photographer unknown)                                   Ian Paisley, Belfast 1985     (Bobbie Hanvey)


I started with the Adams image, then opened the Paisley image, cut him out using the magnetic lasso then copied it to a layer on the base image.  I adjusted the shape a little using Transform>Warp to try to match his size and shape to the angle which the base image had been taken at.  I dodged his face a little then added some noise to match the grain of the base image.  Finally I adjusted the placement of the top image, expanded the canvas to allow a caption to be added.

adams layers    5433885810_e5972cd351_b



The caption won’t make it more believable but it stamps it clearly as parody.

It’s not particularly convincing but I’m not an expert by any means.  To get a ‘funny’ but obvious version is quick and easy, the type of thing Private Eye do all the time.  A more plausible version takes a while longer with more care – this took me about an hour.   Because adjustments and changes can be made digitally at pixel level, it would probably be possible to make this fairly convincing with skill and time (except for the caption date).

Digital alteration (or enhancement, adjustment, manipulation depending on the extent) is a contentious issue at the moment with reports of journalists modifying their news or documentary work for greater effect.  Steve McCurry, a Magnum photographer, came under intense scrutiny for altering his images by removing complete sections.  This came to light when an observant viewer noticed a bit of sloppy Photoshop work on one of his Indian images.  Detailed examination of a number of his other pictures later revealed similar changes and McCurry was forced to give account of himself, laying the blame on an overly enthusiastic studio technician.  Most authorities considered this plausible but unlikely and McCurry retreated even further, saying that he worked not as a documentary photographer but as a ‘visual storyteller’:

“I’ve always let my pictures do the talking, but now I understand that people want me to describe the category into which I would put myself, and so I would say that today I am a visual storyteller,”

Steve McCurry: I’m Not a Photojournalist | Retrieved June 29, 2017, from Web site:

The National Press Photographers Association (USA)  Ethics Committee chairman Sean D. Elliot wasn’t convinced, saying that McCurry could call himself what he wants, but:

“He bears the responsibility to uphold the ethical standards of his peers and the public, who see him as a photojournalist. […] Any alteration of the journalistic truth of his images, any manipulation of the facts, regardless of how relevant he or others might feel they are to the deeper ‘truth,’ constitutes an ethical lapse.”

Elliot also called McCurry’s attempt to blame an assistant “disingenuous” and questioned the professional standards of a studio in which a lab assistant “feels they have the authority to radically alter the work of Steve McCurry”.

This is the kind of thing – mouse hover to animate the GIF (I hope – WordPress may not allow it on all browser settings):

One may think that McCurry was treated a little harshly given the ‘arty’ feel of much of his work, but hard news is not safe from the manipulating mouse either.  Reuters got pretty annoyed with retained freelance Adnan Hajj over his skyline image of a Beirut air strike in 2006 when they discovered that he had given his it a bit of a boost by cloning some smoke – rather amateurish but I expect he was being bombed at the time.  Reuters cut him no slack; Tom Szlukovenyi, global photo editor of Reuters, said:

“There is no graver breach of Reuters standards for our photographers than the deliberate manipulation of an image. Reuters has zero tolerance for any doctoring of pictures and constantly reminds its photographers, both staff and freelance, of this strict and unalterable policy.”

image Adnan Hajj  /  Reuters
Reuters on Sunday withdrew an image of smoke rising from burning buildings after an Israeli airstrike Saturday on the suburbs of Beirut after evidence emerged that it had been manipulated to show more smoke. The manipulated image is shown on the left. The unaltered image, shown on the right, has since run.

Because extensive digital manipulation is now possible the viewer may need to rely not so much on the evidence of their own eyes, but on the actual source of the image.  Personally I feel that people, especially young people, are becoming more sceptical about truth in imagery.  Our offspring are always ready to question the verisimilitude of most online content and are aware of the need to consider the image source.