A Note About Unmanipulated Images

It may be assumed that the achievements within a particular medium are the more satisfying aesthetically if they build from the specific properties of the medium.
Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 12.

In the early 1920s, photographers moved towards what they called straight photography. In contrast to the pictorialist style, they now rejected any kind of manipulation in the photographic process (e.g., soft lens, special developing or printing methods) and tried to use the advantages of the camera as a unique medium for capturing reality. Their motifs were supposed to look as objective as possible. Turning the focus away from classic portraiture and the pictorialist style, the photographers started using their pictures as means for representing the harsh realities of everyday life, but at the same time tried to search for the beauty in the detail or the overall aesthetical structure. Machines and factory work, sky scrapers and technical innovations became prominent motifs. In 1932 some younger photographers (e.g. Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston) started Group f/64 based on the ideals of straight photography, which became the most progressive association of its time.

Traditionally the photographer has always been confronted with reproduction issues in print making. In cases where the print maker is not the photographer, reproduction issues can be exacerbated since the photographer has to rely on the print maker's technical ability and equipment - whether a photographic lab or other print maker.

My position has always been that the image is the transparency film or print film image created by what the camera records. Hence, the process of producing an image includes only the camera and the film. And, for my work, the transparency film or print film should be manufactured to record as closely as possible what is rendered through the camera lens - no additional saturation dyes or other chemical enhancements.

Hence, the fidelity of the print image must be based on the image recorded by the transparency film or print film negative. The photographic print should be a perfect rendering of the image recorded by the transparency film or print film negative.

With the advent of digitalization in the print making process, the photographer is faced with the same traditional issues and very many more. The interpretive latitude afforded the print maker must be constrained to reproducing exactly what has been recorded by the transparency film or print film negative.

To that extent, I believe the following parameters of unmanipulated images set forth by photo.net are reasonable;

While there is not always a moral imperative to present unmanipulated photographs, many people who are primarily interested in photography as an art form believe that knowledge of whether or not photographs have been manipulated is of critical importance when looking at and aesthetically appraising them - that unmanipulated images which faithfully represent what the photographer witnessed (saw) are aesthetically very different from images that were synthesized in the darkroom or in an image-editing program like Photoshop.

For people holding such views, the unique and special feature of photography as an art form is its ability to record meaningful images from what is found by the artist in the world, and that manipulating images reduces photography to just another tool for creating imagery. Some exponents of this view would even deny that manipulated photographs are photographs at all, and would urge the use of a different term for them.

The photograph should be an accurate record of what the photographer saw and the camera and film captured, with the absolute minimum disturbance of the captured image during the processing and finishing stages. A transparency film image processed through standard chemistry is the paradigm for an unmanipulated image, and other types of photographs should strive, within the limits of technology, to be as close as possible to the transparency film image with respect to manipulation.