Posted by: wmellin | November 29, 2011

Photo-shopping vs. Staging: what’s the difference?

We’ve been talking over the course of the semester about the staging and construction of photographs. I just read an article in the New York Times about the photo-shopping and editing of photos (of celebrities in particular). Here’s a link to the story: It’s interesting to think about changing the scene presented in the frame before the photo has been taken versus after the fact. I feel as if I’m not seeing the “true” image if it has been altered, yet a similar argument can be made for staged photographs from the Victorian period. For example, how does updating the photo of George Clooney by darkening his eyebrows compare to Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of Thomas Carlyle, where the light shines on his face in a particular way and looks possibly chemically altered? The “truth” conveyed somewhat depends on comparing a final image to its original. In the second half of the 19th Century photographers had to be creative with their technology to get their desired effect; now photographers – more so editors in the context of the New York Times article – actually have the technology to achieve the perfect image after it’s been taken.

What do readers think about editing, enhancing, or even supplementing images before as opposed to after the photographic moment? Do the different technological approaches alter the integrity of the image in the same or different ways?


  1. I think with photoshopping vs early photography, and even now the developing of photographs in an artistic way that alters the totally ‘representative’ character of a photo is ultimately complicity. With photoshopped images, particularly in advertisements (fashion models, but also magazine ads, clothing stores, and probably entertainment industry promotional material), there’s always a question of whether the subject of the photograph is aware of the way in which their photo will be doctored to represent something to society at large.

    This is not to say that I think Juliet Margaret Cameron asked Thomas Carlyle if she could develop his photo in a certain way, simply that at least in this case, the familiarity with the subject would have enabled him to have more input on the way in which his photo was altered to suggest different connotations than a straightforward representation. This photo, and many of the others we looked at in class the other day, are purposefully meant to imply that photographs do not NEED to be (nor can they ever truly be) accurate depictions of reality.

    In contrast, with photoshopped images, oftentimes the extent to which the photos have been altered from the original state is hidden from the viewer because the technology is meant to be so hidden (as opposed to Cameron’s obvious blurs and changes). Images in ads are presented not as artfully repurposed but as images of what actually is, no matter how staged they may be. This representation is something that the subject may or may not be complicit in, and the viewer may or may not be cognizant of.

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