Maintaining Authenticity In A Plastic World

We live, breathe, eat, drive, dress, watch, listen, and learn in a culture that is energized by the manufactured. And because of the sheer volume of creations and of creators, it is often very difficult to determine what is real and what is fake. My personal philosophy is best summed up by the simple: honesty is the best policy.

But even honesty comes with different definitions, fine print, and translations or inferences. To some it means true transparency. For others it may mean “big picture” with fine print at the bottom. Most of us can probably agree that our own definitions evolve over time based on our experiences and interactions with others. For example, I will not tell a stranger where I hide my money, because we’ve learned that some people are not honest and do not hold our same caliber of values when it comes to property. I will, however, tell you that I am averse to spicy foods if you ask about my “dietary preferences”, even though I hate being thought of as picky, but because the real answer is a little less… tasteful. It’s all to say: yes, you can be TOO honest. But what is honest enough? In a plastic world we must understand that being honest or authentic may come at a price and we must be willing to either pay the price or suffer the consequences.

I recently watched a short but telling interview with famous documentary photographer/journalist Ann Curry. She was asked about how we maintain the integrity of photographs in the world of “deep fakes” and photo/audio/video manipulation, and her answer was simple: we judge the integrity of an image by the integrity of the photographer. Of course, I felt moved by this not only as a photographer, but as a human/documentarian. I’ve always prided myself on being honest in imagery, to a fault. I jumped on the Photoshop bandwagon very, very early — before I became a photographer, in fact — but I never over-retouched or manipulated my photographs. It has always been important to me that I achieve as close to “real” as possible when I fire the shutter of any camera. But to some, using Photoshop or any photo manipulation software at all, is dishonest. So? Balance must be achieved.

You wouldn’t likely want to look at any old photograph of some flowers. Additionally, as a photographer who began in headshots, I’ve been asked to change t-shirt colors, hair color, brighten eyes, and smooth fine lines/wrinkles. Altering, cropping, resizing, retouching, photoshopping… whatever you want to call it… is still just an adjustment to an original, and it doesn’t automatically render the art “fake”. The realization of an artist’s memory or vision is best referred to as an enhancement, even if you don’t personally have a positive reaction to the art itself. It is to say, “It COULD look this way, so why shouldn’t it?” Besides, we already know that our memories are colored by experience and are scientifically unreliable when it comes to details.

Any freelancer or business owner wants to put his/her best foot forward. Our portfolios are generally our best, most diverse, or most “colorful” representations of our capabilities. We filter through our work and place what we think best represents us at center stage. Is this dishonest? No. But it isn’t complete. I have always placed authenticity at the top of my list of qualifications for many things in my life: personal beliefs, friendships/relationships, business dealings, and self-reflection included. If you are representing yourself, is authenticity important to you? What does it mean to you? How can one put their best foot forward without being dishonest?

I’m curious to know what you think! Hope you’ll engage with me in a thoughtful discussion or in personal reflection on the topic.

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