Reaction to Errol Morris’ Alarm Clock Investigation

The readings for this week were quite timely for me as they once again reminded me that there is more to Photoshop than just manipulating images. As of my last post, I’ve spent a great deal of time working with Photoshop and it’s been amazing to see the capabilities of the program. It’s easy to see how people can go overboard on the manipulation of images. The possibilities appear to be endless! In my limited experience with the program I’ve learned how to remove bits of dust and dirt, scratches, glares, and even faded parts of an image. With all of the various tools and properties, it’s been difficult to even remember how to make all of these exciting alterations. I’m sure that the more I interact with Photoshop, the more familiar I’ll become with the best approaches for specific changes, whether that is re-colorizing an image or perhaps replacing a missing corner.

That being said, it was beneficial to read Errol Morris’ series titled “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock.” I really enjoyed reading about the history behind the story. Morris examines the photos taken by the Farm Security Administration (F.S.A.) during the presidency of FDR. I was most fascinated by the discussion of the photo of the migrant mother. That’s a photo I’ve seen many times and it was interesting to hear the migrant mother’s thoughts on the photo. When I first began reading I assumed at some point Morris would discuss how old photos can be improved using programs like Photoshop. I was way off. The main point of this series questions the historical legitimacy of photography. What makes a photo believable? According to Morris, from the moment a photo is taken, it is altered from its original state. While it is easy to think of Photoshop as a threat to the legitimacy of images, the image has likely gone through its own transformation prior to even arriving in a Photoshop workspace. As Morris reveals, many photographers staged photos to produce a desired result. Does this make them less viable as a historic resource? Not necessarily, it simply changes how people react to a photo and that reaction can change depending on the culture of the times.

Photoshop, and other image manipulation programs, are yet another step in the transformation of an image. What I took away from Morris’ series is to always consider the changes that I am making to an image. This is especially important because I am creating a historical website that has a foundation in historical and legitimate research. What I present in words on my site must be factual if I want to be taken seriously (which I do). The same goes for images. That’s not something I thought of too much prior to the reading this week. While I’m excited to enact so many cool and exciting improvements to an old image, I must keep in mind not to jeopardize the integrity of the image. Just as it’s important to provide quotes with context and not just cherry-pick specific lines that support an argument, images should not be so distorted as to influence its meaning. For me, the use of Photoshop comes down to this: just because you can do something (even if it’s really awesome) doesn’t mean you should. I’ll keep that advice in mind as I move forward with my site.

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