More on FAQ #207

207. Why is the public so skeptical of impressive-looking photographs now when the manipulation of photographs is as old as photography itself?

Because it is so much easier now to doctor photographs without detection than it was in pre-digital times.

“Detectability” is the big difference between then and now, a distinction that is often overlooked when observing that “Doctoring is as old as photography itself.”

In the digital age it is ridiculously easy to undetectably doctor photographs and — just as importantly — the general public knows how easy it is.

Back in the film era (the 19th and 20th centuries), it was generally very difficult, time-consuming, and technically demanding to doctor photographs without detection by the viewer.

For examples of how easy it is to spot doctoring in photographs from the pre-digital era, see the images from the exhibit and book Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.

Knowing that most doctoring could be detected by viewers on close examination, in the pre-digital era the public wasn’t nearly as skeptical about the photographs they encountered.

But in the 21st century, now that photographs can be radically altered without detection by viewers (no matter how carefully they look), the public has become understandably skeptical.

More on the difficulty of film-era manipulations

More on the ease of digital-era manipulations

More on why the 21st-century public is skeptical