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For Greater Image Credibility

In my After Photography book I outline a number of ways to employ the digital image differently, including ways to be more explicit as to the origins and possible meanings of the image. Given the never-ending discussions about digital retouching and a growing disbelief as to the authenticity of the contemporary photograph, I will repeat two of them here:

1. If we divide photographs into fictional and non-fictional categories, much as we do writing and film, then could we use a thicker border around the non-fictional photograph so the reader immediately knows, among other things, that it is meant to be a recording of the visible without significant manipulation by the photographer? Given these categories, the photographer would still have to provide captions or other contextualizing material to amplify the photograph’s meanings. And, as we all know, non-fiction has a great deal of fiction in it whether we are referring to writing or film or photography, as does fiction have a great deal of non-fiction in it. These are always overlapping categories, constructs, but they can be helpful.

2. If the four corners of every digital image are used to hide different kinds of information to be revealed by an interested reader using the mouse in a rollover, then the photographer can contextualize the image and no matter where it is published on the Web the image will always have the same information within it. The four corners would be standardized to always contain the same kinds of information: the bottom right corner of the photograph would contain hidden credit and copyright information; the bottom left corner the photographer’s statement about the circumstances in which the image was taken; the upper left could have two other images taken from the same scene so as to give the reader more of a sense of what was going on when the displayed photograph was taken; and the upper right corner would have links to other sites that provide pertinent information. The reader can choose just to look at the photograph as it is, or roll over one or more corners to get more information. Whether CNN or flickr published the image, it would always travel with the same four-corner contextualization.

These ideas are explained in the After Photography book at greater length. The point is that in the free-floating digital domain, it may not be sufficient to publish a photograph as one did in a print magazine or newspaper, considering the enormous numbers of links, the speed with which people look at images, the lack of attention to layout and captions, the re-appropriation of images from one site to another, etc.

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