12 June 2007

The Uses of Photography - Science & the Manipulation of Images

There is an interesting story in The New York Times on Felice Frankel and her work in using photography to communicate various things about scientific phenomena. Here is the interesting part (from my perspective):

"But she does not feel that her photographs have to explain everything. “To me the idea is to engage somebody to look at something, and they don’t even know it’s science,” she said. “People are not intimidated by pictures. It permits them to ask questions.”

To achieve this goal, she sometimes alters the images. For example, when she photographed bacteria growing on agar, “the agar was cracking,” she said. “But I wanted the reader to pay attention to the bacteria pattern. So I digitally deleted the cracks.”

Another time, she photographed rod-shaped orange bacteria, and her film was somehow unable to reproduce the orange she could see when she looked through the microscope. “I added it,” she recalled.

These practices are acceptable, she said, because their purpose is not to disguise or twist scientific information, but to make it clearer. And when images like this appear in scientific journals, [her collaborator] Dr. Whitesides said, the “untinkered original” is posted online with supplementary material.

For Ms. Frankel, the main point is that “I always tell the reader what I do when I manipulate an image.” And she negotiates with her research colleagues about how to go.

“I think this should be part of every scientist’s education, the manipulation and enhancement of images,” Ms. Frankel said. “To just have a blanket statement — ‘You cannot do anything to your image’ — that does not make sense.”

“You can get a little crazy with objectivity. If enhancing your image gets you to see something better,” it’s acceptable, she said, “as long as we indicate what we are doing.”"

Here the discussion of 'objectivity' is striking; I find Frankel's notion that photography is a tool of communication not just a medium of representation to be very congenial. And, of course, it raises clear contrasts with the notions of 'objectivity' and 'truth' that surround many discussions of how photography is used in, say, journalism or advertising or politics.

2 Comments:

Blogger Stan B. said...

Actually, pretty much same argument Arthur Rothstein used moving the cow skull back in '36...

13 June, 2007 01:16  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Stan, I agree (Or Walker Evans re-arranging the tenant farmer's furniture, or Lange posing her subjects ...) I guess what I find funny is the notion that somehow any intervention somehow violates a hallowed notion of "objectivity." If a camera is an "engine of visualization" as Patrick Maynard persuasively argues, it is a prostetic devise (like a microspoe - what about those stains!)
that helps us see or imagine not a mirror of "objective reality."

13 June, 2007 08:43  

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