Enhanced Reality: Exploring the Boundaries of Photo Editing

Photos Retain Mystique of Being Original Documents "You can compare the possibilities of using modern photo enhancement with the use of adjectives in a written article," says Lyon. "Some reporters exaggerate in their descriptions of events." Photos, on the other hand, still have the mystique of being objective documents, which can depict reality in genuine form and without any subjective interpretation. Paradoxically, this is only heightened through digitization.

Suddenly the unlimited possibilities for changing an image are offset by the faith in the existence of an unadulterated original. A digital photo can be stored as a raw file, one that makes do without all the interpretations, changes and compromises that are necessary when a camera stored an image in a standard small file format. The World Press Photo Award reserves the right to check this raw file if the jury suspects that a submitted photo was excessively post-processed. But it did not avail itself of this option in the case of the award-winning Gaza photo, or in that of another winner, American photographer Micah Albert, with his photo of a garbage collector in Kenya.

"The discussion on enhancement in photojournalism is overdue," says Albert. "As a communicator, I want to know the boundaries."

But a raw file could also be manipulated. Besides, is the image it depicts reality? Or does it have to be interpreted first, like an undeveloped roll of film? The answer is clear for the image processers at 10b. "It isn't a question of whether this information is post-processed," says Palmisano, "but merely of how and why."

'There Is Much More Competition Today' The work done by the staff at 10b takes place in an astonishingly tense environment. On the one hand, it is seen as a taboo. There are photographers who are so embarrassed by their relationship with the company that they prefer not to discuss it. On the other hand, some of the world's most famous photographers place their images in the hands of the Rome experts.

James Nachtwey, for example, has been working with 10b for two years. Working with the legendary war photographer is especially time-consuming. Palmisano says that he can spend up to 12 hours on a Nachtwey photo. By the end of the process, he and Nachtwey may have exchanged up to 100 emails, addressing the most painstakingly detailed changes.

Pressure to Make Photos More Dramatic

The award-winning Russian photographer Yuri Kozyrev, who has reported from war zones for important magazines for 25 years, used to send his film directly to clients, like Time. Now the images pass through the hands of the people at 10b, who know what he wants, so that he can exert more influence on the aesthetics of the printed picture. He is no longer willing to submit raw files to his clients. "The photos look totally flat in their original state," says Kozyrev. SPIEGEL, too, has printed photos that were processed by 10b.

Critics see an "Italian look" in the way 10b enhances images, something that is fashionable in the way bell-bottoms once were. On the other hand, the subsequent dramatization of photos is also a reaction to the growing flood of images, especially on the Internet. "There is much more competition among photos today," says Klaus Honnef, a professor of the theory of photography. "They have to outdo each other. This is also achieved with tools like image enhancement."

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