Pictures as Sources

Photoshop has always intrigued me. Once we start “fixing” pictures, or changing them to make them “better”, what are we really doing? Are the pictures still “real” or are they fake? Are they works of art or interpretations?

The readings this week spoke directly to those questions. I had thought that historical pictures were supposed to be “real” and was unsure how I felt about applying Photoshop techniques to those pictures. What do we lose when we change a picture, especially when we go beyond basic cropping (to focus on one aspect of the picture)? How do we know that we are fixing something the correct way? Or does it matter? At the end of the day, the real question (for me) is – what is the purpose in applying Photoshop to a picture?

Errol Morris tries to make the case for objects that bring reality into our living rooms. The adjustments and settings that make Arthur Rothstein’s pictures so compelling also seem to detract from their credibility. This really made me look at historical photos in a completely new way. They are subject to interpretation just as much as the written word. They require research, thoughtful analysis and critical thinking just as any other primary source document might.

Another question that occurred to me – can pictures become secondary sources due to the nature of their original purpose (whether propoganda or otherwise), or their updated purpose (once subject to the tools of Photoshop)? Perhaps so.

As challenging as it has been to use Photoshop, there are more tasks ahaed of us. Before we open up a picture to “fix” it, we need to first think of what we want to accomplish and why.

About Beth

A recently retired U.S. Marine Corps reservist, I traveled to Chile in 2017 on a whim and decided to stay embrace the digital nomad lifestyle. I have embarked on a new adventure in 2020, which I've named my Decompression Year. Come with me on my daily adventures! View all posts by Beth

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