This is the kind of thing which keeps functional photography from being considered art. It also drives me crazy. Yes, people think that photographs are true and expect them to be documentary. And yes, people are much more aware of how photos can be manipulated. At the same time, it’s completely wrongheaded and suggests that photographic truth exists.

Ansel Adams – Mount Williamson, The Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California, 1945

Errol Morris understands the issue a lot better. There’s always something outside the frame and the choices the photographer makes in framing the shot present a certain story where what is excluded can be at least as important as what is included—Ansel Adam’s photo of Mt. Williamson has to be viewed in the context of the fact that Manzanar is being excluded from the frame.

Cropping matters whether it’s done in-camera or during the page layout.

The same applies to other effects and techniques. Is vignetting only cheating when it’s done in post? Based on the evidence of David Burnett’s Holga photos, this seems to be the case. Burnett is a respected photojournalist whose Holga shot of Al Gore won the White House News Photographers Association Award in 2001.

The dividing line seems to be about whether something is done in-camera. While it came as no surprise that Damon Winter’s Grunt’s Life photos caused all kinds of discussion about their legitimacy as photojournalism, I’m pretty sure that if the photos were processed in Photoshop rather than on the iPhone, the exact same images wouldn’t even have been published.

Which is absurd.

The sooner that we stop presenting photography as truth—and the sooner people realize that a photography is inherently not realistic—the better.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

11 thoughts on “Ethics”

  1. Pingback: Trust | n j w v

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