Editing History

I remember when I was much more active in photography there was always a controversy over processing photos with software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. I was always on the fence about it. While I hardly ever edited my photos, digital processing CAN make a GOOD photo look AMAZING. But, it also goes a bit too far (see HDR) where it becomes plainly a stylistic choice rather than “improving” on the “correctness” of a photo. Which I put in quotes because really no photo is a true recreation of reality, no more than a portrait is 100% accurate reflection of the subject.

But that’s art. What about history?

Take this scanned photo of a man and a dog on a horse.

It doesn’t show up so well so I tweaked it in Photoshop before uploading to Twitter.

Now you can see that adorable doggy’s face!

Is this an accurate portrayal of a historical artifact? Even the slight edits I made would be enough to get me disqualified from a nature or news photography contest.

For some random picture of a dude and a dog on a horse it probably isn’t that important. But what about important photographs? Governments have cropped and edited photos to better represent their interests or to erase traitors from history. And what about written material? Junior novelizations are a great way to get kids interested in classics, but let me tell you, the kids version of Moby Dick is WAY more interesting than the actual book. Also, if we were concerned about historical accuracy, shouldn’t someone paint old Greek statues just as artists and preservationists clean and touch up old paintings?

Perception is an important thing when it comes to learning from history, and it’s easily altered. We already bring personal bias into everything we observe, and usually what we’re seeing is a second or third hand representation, creating an endless game of nonfiction telephone. And when social media makes it so easy to share brief impressions of a topic, it’s probably rare for anyone to do the independent research, so the version they see last becomes the reality. And then it becomes a majority rules issue and your mom is sending you emails from her Yahoo account about the latest fictional political scandal she saw on Facebook. (Not MY mom. My mom is smarter than your mom. And she uses Gmail.)

The roundabout point I’m making is use caution and critical thinking when telling a story or when listening to a story, both from the past and in the present. There is no such thing as objective fact, and it’s up to you to decide what percentage of truth is in a truth.

Generally this would be the part where I’d ask your opinion, but people hardly comment on here anyway. And, to tell you the truth, my real purpose was to get a better look at the dog.

I mean. LOOK AT HIM.

dog on horse crop

Maybe I should make that my new avatar.




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