The line between photographs and digitised imagery has been getting increasingly blurred for some time now, and the demise (to all practical purpose) of analog photography simply hastened the process; once the initial stage in the creation of an image depends upon the ordering of digitised pixels, it becomes very difficult if not impossible to draw an arbitrary distinction between pixels produced by different methods. Photographs taken with a digital camera are now routinely processed through Photoshop – not, usually, with the intention to deceive, but just because the kind of ‘tidying up’ that used to be done in the darkroom, laboriously and not always skilfully, can now be done in seconds on the screen. At the same time, some photographers have long combined ‘real’ and entirely invented imagery, producing what to even the most expert eye appear to be ‘normal’ photographic prints; the practice is so common in the world of art photography as to hardly be worth remarking on.
Manipulated photographic images of the kind to be seen in galleries and museums are nevertheless still complicated to produce, requiring, perversely enough, a fair amount of skill and manual dexterity. What is disconcerting, on the other hand, is the facility with which certain highly sophisticated kinds of software can now produce entirely virtual imagery which is getting very close to the real thing. That software is routinely found running computer games.
Of the two images, above, the first one is a photograph taken by John Cantlie of snipers from 2/12 Infantry Division looking for insurgents in the Pech Valley, Afghanistan; the one beneath it was produced by computer game Arma 2. How long would it take the average viewer to tell which is the real image? Could he, in fact, do so? OK, once you study the computer-generated image, you start finding the give-away details: the odd knobbly protuberances on the second soldier’s hands, the overly square set of the nearer soldier’s shoulder and the not-quite-convincing stretching of the trouser material at his groin. But you have to look for them. And on the other hand, note the convincing depth-of-field blurring of the background and the apparently accurate rendering of the plant in the left foreground. How long before the increasing sophistication of the software and the corresponding increase in the processing power of home computers levels the field completely? What price reportorial accuracy then?
These images were included, with other similar ones, in a recent online article by the BBC’s picture editor, Phil Coomes. In it, he refers to “a recent Ofcom ruling that ITV misled viewers by airing footage claimed to have been shot by the IRA. Labelled ‘IRA Film 1988’, it was described as film shot by the IRA of its members attempting to down a British Army helicopter in June 1988. However, the pictures were actually taken from a game called”, yes, Arma 2.