The Filters of Citizen Journalism

Damon Winter’s exclusive use of an iPhone and Hipstamatic app to capture images for the “A Grunt’s Life” raises a number of points.

Firstly, in the initial stages of an interview for poynter.org, where Winter discusses the validity of the images, he states that “No content has been added, taken away, obscured, or altered.” [1]

However, Winter then goes on to describe the process of capturing an image using the iPhone: “Every image receives what seems to be a pretty similar treatment, which involves a color-balance shift, burning of predetermined areas of the frame and increased contrast.” [2]

Arguably then, the images presented to the audience are not a true representation of the scene that faced the photographer at the time of taking the image.

The “moodiness” of an image, the emotional response evoked by a photograph, is very strongly influenced by colour, whether an image is predominantly dark or light, and by contrast. All changes being made to the photographs by the Hipstamatic app.

Are we then experiencing the same range of emotions that were experienced by the photographer?

This leads to another point. Should photographs taken to document a combat situation be a true and faithful depiction of the scene that was witnessed by photographer, “as is” and unaltered by the photographer, or should the photographer be free to manipulate the photographs?

Unaltered the photographs should, at least theoretically, allow the viewer to feel at least some of the emotions felt by the photographer at the time of seeing and making the image, to gain a feeling of “being present in the moment” to some extent.

By altering the images, is the photographer denying the viewer these feelings and emotions? As the author of the photographs, the photographer perhaps has an inalienable right to present the images as they see fit, to evoke in the viewer the emotions they feel most appropriate. But isn’t the purpose of war documentary to produce raw and “un-sanitised” images?

Certainly Winter demonstrates some wish to capture “real” and “genuine” candid images, images which he tells us he could not have captured using his SLR. With such a desire to document true-to-life images, it is perhaps a contradiction then, that Winter should choose to use an iPhone camera and Hipstamatic app. In fairness though, Winter does state that he chose to use the iPhone due to its discreteness compared to a much larger SLR and lens, allowing him to capture images which would have otherwise been inaccessible and, having made this decision, the Hipstamatic app was all that was available to him.

There is one further point, to what extent does the use of apps such as the Hipstamatic app remove scope for independent authorship? Does the use of such apps prevent photographers from displaying their own unique style of photography? With individual style being such an important aspect of the aesthetics of an image, do apps like the Hipstamatic app cause a dilution of photographic image quality with their “one size fits all” filters and processing which Bull [3] refers to as “washing out, fading away and obscuration” in an attempt to recreate the nostalgia of analogue photography? Winter himself refers to the Hipstamatic app’s processing as being “pretty similar treatment” [4]. If the treatment of each image is “pretty similar”, aren’t the images produced at risk of also being “pretty similar” with no single image really standing out and possessing individual character?

Photographers, therefore, are faced with a choice. Do they capture images which are then presented to the viewer in a pure and unedited form? Or do they enhance their images aesthetically? If so, does this manipulation apply to all forms of photography equally, or should some forms of photography, such as combat documentary, remain unedited?

 

[1] [2] [4] Damon Winter talking about his series A Grunt’s Life on Poynter.org: http://www.poynter.org/2011/damon-winter-explains-process-philosophy-behind-award-winning-hipstamatic-photos/119117/

[3] Stephen Bull ‘Digital Photography never looked so Analogue’ in Photoworks (Spring/Summer 2012) Available at: http://frameandreference.com/digital-photography-never-looked-so-analogue-retro-camera-apps-nostalgia-and-the-hauntological-photograph/

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