Exercise – The Real and the Digital

The Real and the Digital
Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75. You’ll find this on the student website.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both sides of the argument.

Wells states that; “if a photograph is not of something already existing in the world, how can we regard it as an accurate record of how things are?” I believe that if a photograph can be manipulated, then it’s possible that there may be nothing of the original left in the image. Digital technology can actually create photographs therefore the whole of the image can be fabricated. Surely this changes the way we see photography.

What is ethical and what is not in photography in a world inundated with digital imagery. The only way to be sure a photo is “real” is to have access to the raw files, view the contact sheets, study the timeline of the shoot as a whole. The only person who knows the truth is the photographer and we must continue to have faith in the photographers who say their images reflect the reality of the scene as they witnessed it. To quote photojournalist Philip Blenkinsop (b.1965)“integrity, once lost, can never be regained.” I think the key is to be honest and transparent about how one made the image.

What is relevant, however, is how the author has decided to engage you, the viewer of the image. The strength of the image is in how the viewer interprets the scene , if one chooses to place their own context around it then so be it. We watch films and read books and as we discuss the content (narrative) with others, many variations of the author’s take on it will be debated. However, if it is meant to be documentary – an expression of reality , one has to hope that the truth has been portrayed accurately.  An advantage of digital technology can be viewed as having provided us with multiple ways of portraying the same subject/scenes/story.


The Real and the Digital Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75.
The New York Times. “Staging, manipulation and the truth in photography”. Oct 2015