Artistic Manipulation and Pedro Meyer

The use of Photoshop as a means to create art has become more and more popular as digital technology has become increasingly more available and accessible. Photoshopping fits into the postmodern artistic framework by inviting artistic creations that use recycled materials in order develop something entirely new. This "recycling" is not merely confined to the realm of photography, but can also be found in music sampling, remix videos, machinimas; all of these use found materials to create new artistic objects. One photographer in particular, Pedro Meyer, has become famous for his artistic photo manipulations, as well as for his stance concerning the use of Photoshop tools in photojournalism. Kendra Greene, of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, provides a general history of his life, which has been filled with photography since his birth. Later in his life, Meyer embraced the rising technological innovations that would become digital imaging, and began to apply his artistic talents there. As seen below, Meyer's most famous photographic compositions include multiple images, cut up with Photoshop, and combined together to create entirely new images:

The Storyteller (1991/1992)


The Strolling Saint (1993)

The primary difference between what Pedro Meyer does and what Time magazine did with the OJ Simpson picture is all a matter of context. In the context of the news and the media, the truth and reality expected of news photos would be compromised; however, within the context of art, anything is possible. What interests me deeply is Meyer's defense of a photojournalist, Patrick Schneider, getting prestigious awards stripped away because of manipulations he made to published photographs. While the whole article is here, I wish to analyze certain aspects of his argument because I believe he raises incredibly valuable questions concerning the role of mass media and the hypocrisy concerning their enforcement of ethical codes.

Firstly, Meyer defends Schneider by saying that his uses of Photoshop are no different than writers editing their works, or filmmakers editing their films. If this is the case, then a photographer making his photos better using editing techniques should not be punished, but allowed. Meyer also argues that the changes made to the photographs do not in anyway alter the meaning of the photograph, but instead ultimately make them stronger images. Why then are photographers held to a higher standard? I believe that some, like the NPPA, would say that any manipulation of an image alters the meaning of the photograph and deceives the viewer by masking the true image. Meyer would indeed argue that they should be allowed to use Photoshop as long as the meaning is not changed. However, he points to structural problems within the NPPA and the mass media to highlight the hypocrisy and the inability of all photojournalists to create a truthful image.

The term Meyer uses is "Embedded Journalist," which identifies the communications industry as the manipulators of information, so that any photograph used within this industry is by default tainted; his essay describes it as such:

"For instance, what went on across the communications industry with their arrangements with the US Military and their "embedded photojournalists" with the recent war on Iraq, and how that turned out as far as all the distortions of information and manipulation of truths. These dispositions in essence compromised all of the photojournalists involved, as they inevitably became a propaganda machine not an agency for information. So one would have to ask oneself what were they all thinking of, when discussing this so called "code of ethics" about some one using a lighter shades of colors in their images through image manipulation, and attributing to that a distortion of content, while at the same time they covered up for the use of embedded photojournalism. I suppose one can look at this with some degree of humor, if it were not as serious...When the photographer became an embedded photographer, any sense of "objectivity" had to have become totally lost, so who was then the guardian for integrity at those news organizations at the time? Who got fired for accepting such arrangements? Does anyone have any doubt that the photographs had only a little to do with the overall "truth" of what was going to happen in Iraq? Apparently six moths after the invasion of Iraq, the US public has now had to discover that their "heroic welcoming" imagery were mostly photo-ops set up by the military establishment. Have all those photographers who took those historically altered images, been fired? I think not. Mind you, the propaganda machine worked, for a time, mostly for internal US consumption, not outside of the US. The rest of the world was getting regularly better information, and still is."

Meyer points to a greater problem with the mass media of the United States, that although they do not manipulate images, they manipulate the environment in which these photographs are disseminated. The mass media scapegoats photojournalists like Brian Walski and Patrick Schneider to cover up their own propagandistic tendencies. Although Meyer's opinion is regularly contested, I think that he has put his finger on the major problem with the press: The press' primary goal should be to provide information to the citizenry in order to make them better aware of pertinent news so that they can actively participate in our democratic society. The press now consistently skews the news coverage to guide the opinions of the public, and not let them make their own decisions. I really encourage you all to read the article, because Pedro Meyer is on to something.