Photographic Memory

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories

Memories. Those funny little thoughts. They are like packets of imagination except they are supposedly real. But many lawyers depend on the fact that they aren’t real. Perhaps because of their association with the imagination, they’ve acquired a bad rep. They can change the color of a car, the height of an attacker, even the reality of the most important events in your life. The idea that people can “lie to themselves” also helps make the case that memories are an amorphous hologram projected on the water of the brain, changing with the tide of mood and the storms of age.

Unfortunately, photographs are seen as a replacement/enhancement for those horribly inaccurate memories. In fact, Nikon has a new system in place which accurately logs and reveals any and all altering or editing of a photo in any way. Known as “Image Authentication”, it logs any change. Now, this to me assumes that the original photo will be able to prove something. I can tell you that having shot photos for years, cameras lie. Angle, focal length, shutter speed and exposure are just some of the tools the camera uses to take a unique look at the world for a set section of time. It can compress space so two people look like they are right next to each other. It can stretch time so that it looks like there are 5 people jumping over a candle instead of just the one. It can erase beauty and dignify evil.

So is this new tool from Nikon a bad thing? It’s being targeted toward the CSI crowd and lawyers. And since photos have been used as evidence for years, it’s probably a good thing that image manipulation will be logged. But with greater ability and knowledge comes greater responsibility. And I can see this tool being used against those who are honest.

The problem lies with photography in general. Even the greatest photographers speak of being surprised at what comes out of the camera. And shooting raw images requires the final “developing” of those images within the digital darkroom. Will these final “changes” be logged as manipulations of the purity of the original camera image? Is there such a thing? Lots of people have lots of opinions of Photoshop. But I see Photoshop as a tool for creating the final vision of the photographer, just as an enlarger and a pan of chemicals did during the film age. However, some feel that Photoshop is “cheating” because it’s such a powerful tool. Amazing scenes of picturesque beauty are now often dismissed as being “chops” or created in Photoshop. The skills of the most advanced shooters are diminished by the very existence of such a flexible program.

How will this problem be solved? Where will the line be drawn in the sand? Will the debate rage on forever? How will photography be defined in the future? And when will photography earn the shoddy reputation that memory now is forced to endure?

What do you think?