What is a Photograph?

The argument rages on about what exactly is a photograph in this age of digital photography.

Over on Popular Photography a couple of winners in a recent competition were composite images and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Miriam Leuchter had to publish an editorial on this after the two photos in question resulted in some controversy. Then just after this, David Pogue (New York Times) also published an article about when can a photograph be classed as real?

Most of the arguments against “manipulated” images seem to fall into two camps – either the image should be a shot taken of real life, or it shouldn’t be a composite of several images. But both of these views have their own problems.

In terms the real life argument, what about a model in a chosen costume and pose, shot within a studio built set. This certainly isn’t real life but most would classify it as a “real” (un-manipulated) photograph. As for the composite argument, what about a panorama comprised of several images stitched together?

Finally, check out the sad story of the original winner of the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest. Harry Fisch took the decision to clone out a distracting plastic bag to the right of his photo. Officially this turned the image in a manipulated one and something the rules clearly disallowed. As a result he was stripped of his title in just 72 hours. Strangely, if he’d cropped the image, or even darkened/burned the bag so you could hardly see it he would have been okay. Check out the story to see the photo with and without the bag and make your decision on whether Harry should have been disqualified.

So what do you think makes a photo? And what changes would cause you to classify a photo as a manipulated image or invented reality?