Ashok B. Boghani

May 16, 2021

3 min read

Photoshop meets authenticity

I wrote a couple of Blog Posts on authenticity some ten years ago. A conclusion I had arrived at in those posts was if you can achieve your objectives, even if it includes showing off, by purchasing a non-authentic thing, a rational person would do so. The implication…. authenticity will become a thing of the past!

More than ten years later I encounter subject of authenticity in a different form. It has to do with one of my passions, photography. I take pictures, use Photoshop to spruce them up, create composites (mixing two or more pictures) and even create abstracts that have nothing to do with reality.

I have also moved to California and joined a local camera club. They help us enter our photographs in competitions sponsored by a massive consortium of camera clubs. There are multiple categories in which you can enter your photos. I will use some of these categories to illustrate my point.

The first one is a category called “Nature.” You can enter your birds and bees pictures in this category. However, there cannot be any manmade object in your photo because then it will be disqualified. So, our camera club will teach you how to remove manmade objects using Photoshop, but do so in a manner that does not arouse suspicion. So, my first question is, why do they have a rule that encourages cheating? Would somehow a picture be less about nature if a wooden post appears in it?

Similarly, a picture in category “Travel” can only be entered if there has been no editing done to it. So, if you remove an unwanted person from the photo will it represent the place less so than if you had left it alone? Is the object of the competition to reward the art of photography or the one that chronicles a place faithfully?

Really interesting things happen in a category called “Creative.” Here is where you would enter your Photoshop images, such as composites. In fact, you run into trouble if your image looks like it was not Photoshopped. Your end product should appear unreal, but not too much. Abstracts are considered too unreal and not allowed.

This when I realized that this is a different version of authenticity. Authenticity in this case does not mean that you are trying to sell your photograph as one created by Ansel Adams. Nor is it where you are altering reality by inserting a politician in a compromising picture. So, authenticity of the end product is not in question.

It is authenticity of the process used to create the end product that is questioned.

Did your process of creating that lovely bird photograph include removing a manmade object after the picture was taken or you found a bird away from anything that would be considered manmade? Did the process of creating that wonderful photo of sunrise in Miami require you to remove an unwanted person in the photo or did you wait patiently for the beach to become empty? Was the process used to create your image of moon behind camels included using Photoshop (as you are supposed to in the Creative category) or you just happened to be there when moon was rising behind camels?

I always thought it is the end product that matters, not the process used to create it, especially in art.

Did someone forget to tell Ansel Adams that he could not use his post-processing in a darkroom to create his wonderful images…they had to be as they were taken?