There is no doubt that digital imaging has brought with it significant benefits. However, the fact that a digital image can be easily touched, retouched and manipulated very often raises the question of authenticity with respect to today’s photographs.
It must be remembered that manipulation was also possible with film. In the case of film, manipulation took place in the dark-room. The Nazis used the dark-room almost to perfection by removing people who fell out of favour. Similar manipulation was also done by the Communist regime in Soviet Russia.
The only difference now is that, with film, manipulation was limited to the dark- room; with digital manipulation, it is widely available to everyone and its nefarious users are becoming fairly widespread.
Is all image-manipulation bad? The answer, clearly, is no. With manipulation software, it is very easy to remove dirt marks and other blemishes from images. This clearly is acceptable. However, if image manipulation is done to include elements not existing in the original scene, the photographer must honestly admit that and clearly mention that the image has been digitally manipulated.
The issue of manipulation of pictures has, for some time, been a great concern for the insurance industry. In Europe and America, many insurance claims have been rejected after it was found that photographic images had been retouched in order to enhance the complexity of the claim. Digital manipulation has also entered the field of scientific research papers where authors have submitted microscopic images that have been doctored to confirm the results. In recent years, photo contests have also lost their edge and many contests now stipulate that manipulated images will not be eligible for awards.
Efforts to detect doctored images have started bearing fruit. Silicon valley companies have started selling an add-on software which can tell whether the image has come straight from the camera or has been manipulated. However, counterfeiters have gone a step ahead and developed measures to make sure that the detection software is easily fooled!
In January 2013, the Israeli Government passed a new law making it illegal to use manipulated images in advertisements, without printing a disclosure on the picture. Similar legislation is on the anvil in several other countries.
Obviously, digital manipulation of images is a complex area. In- camera digital manipulation is clearly acceptable but manipulation using imaging software is not. We are still to hear the last word on the subject.
As for manipulation of video images, high quality computer graphics can make the impossible believable.
H. S. Billimoria