Digital manipulation is changing the face of reality – often quite literally.

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The debate that swirls around digital photo manipulation was brought home to me on a personal level last month. In a bid to capture the images of our children for future years, the family and I duly trudged down to the local photographer, plonked the kids in the middle of a huge studio, and let a cracking photographer snap away for an hour. 
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The results were great, and also funny – watching the resulting shots, complete with baby drool was, in many ways, rewarding. But, some shots were alarming.
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You see, I rather unwisely made a guest appearance in some of the photos, and the old adage – how you look is different to how you think you look – was terrifyingly apparent. We all suffer from it: all of us have an image of how we look, move, and act in our minds eye that often has little grounding in reality. 
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You see that photo of me at the top of this page? Looks nothing like me – I don’t picture myself with glasses, for example, when thinking about how I look. It’s the same with our voices: record yourself speaking, and very often the first reaction is “I don’t sound like that!”. But you do, and it’s unnerving.
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My first thought was a quick trip to Photoshop, and the various blemishes, spots, unruly strands of hair (what’s left of it) would be a thing of the past. Yet, is this really what the photographic arts is all about? Just because we can, should we alter reality into something that serves us better thanks to the painless application of the Patch tool and Healing brush? Or, should life through the lens be an accurate historical portrait, warts and all?
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Personally, and it was probably the green thing between my teeth that swung it, I think that photography and digital manipulation in the 21st Century have moved beyond their crude use of rewriting history into an artistic endeavour that allows us to paint a better world.
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Digitally manipulated images are the new visual currency – and truly accurate photos of the world are an increasingly rare thing. Almost every image in the media has been warped, corrected, tweaked, and improved to serve a purpose. 
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Models want to project an image of perfection – it keeps the money rolling in from the fashion mags – while clients demand fresh-faced figureheads to adorn products and brand campaigns, whether its flogging jeans or punting pizzas.
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And in our business, creating the hyper real from the seeds of the mundane is something we should be proud of. By changing images we improve things, we meet client needs, pay our bills, and shift products, services, and ideals in a way that straight photography can rarely achieve in today’s digital world.
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There’s a place for the real – we face it every day at the bus stop, in the coffee house, and when sharing a lift with other people. And some of them have really impressive warts.
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So, when people challenge the ethics of digital manipulation, they’re missing the point. Digital enhancement – while a fine line – is one that is astoundingly creative, and demands a high-degree of skill that is often overlooked when faced with knee-jerk criticism. 
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Digital manipulation – in all its guises – is the new reality. At least until I save up enough for some Botox.
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