Monday, August 10, 2009


“If an image is too beautiful to be true, they think that it is likely that it has been constructed” (Carel De Keyser, Belgian photographer).
Making photos is very popular today. With a digital camera it has become very simple to make them, to print them, to upload them to your computer and to change them. Everybody can “photoshop” a picture and many people do in order to make them better. Because photoshopping with a computer is a modern invention, many people think that an image that is beautiful today cannot be beautiful as such but that it has been made beautiful. A beautiful image has been constructed, they think, which has the connotation that because it has been constructed there is something wrong with it. It cannot be beautiful any longer.
What many people do not realize is that constructing photos has been done as long as photography exists. The difference with photoshopping is, however, that in the days that digital photography did not yet exist, changing and adapting photos was a complicated and often time consuming process that had to be done in a darkroom. It required much experience to do it that way that it couldn’t be seen that the photo had been changed. Often, nobody cared about changing photos, sometimes it lead to passionate discussions. Was the famous photo of Robert Cappa of a dying soldier in the Spanish Civil War a construction or was it real? And who doesn’t know the photo of Lenin making a speech with Trotsky on his side, where Trotsky has been removed in a later version? As for photoshopping, there is nothing new under the sun.
Even more, constructing pictures is of all ages. Some time ago I visited the Mauritshuis Art Museum in The Hague, which is well-known for its collection of Dutch Masters. There was an exposition of city views painted by Dutch Masters with an extensive explanation about each painting. And there they told how most paintings had been “photoshopped”, to use a modern word! The city views were not exactly real, but trees had been added or removed, buildings had been put on other places around a square, and many other “tricks” of that kind had been applied in order to make the painting looking better. But who cares? Isn’t it so that these paintings are judged because the way they have been painted and because of their artistic quality and not because they do not represent a real situation, even when they represent city views? And why should it be different for photos, “even” if they have been photoshopped?

And besides that, does it make the painting worthless that Rembrandt has photoshopped himself on the “Night Watch”?

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