B. FoundView's History and Growth


(You may click on a desired question or simply scroll down to the answer)

B-1. Why is FoundView necessary now? Haven't photographers always manipulated images?
B-2. How did FoundView decide where to draw the line?
B-3. What's the difference between FoundView and the photo manipulation policy of news publications such as the New York Times?
B-4. What's the difference between FoundView and the way photography has generally been practiced for the past 160 years?
B-5. Isn't it too late for something like FoundView, in light of the boom in digital manipulation? Are we trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped, to put the lid back on Pandora's box?
B-6. If viewers expect realistic-looking photographs to portray what they appear to portray and if most photographs do indeed do this, why is there a need for FoundView?
B-7. How was the name "FoundView" chosen?
B-8. How and when did FoundView get off the ground?


B-1. Why is FoundView necessary now? Haven't photographers always manipulated images?

Although image manipulation has been a part of photography from its inception (see E-3), recent advances in digital technology have made a new range of photographic manipulations much cheaper and easier to execute—and much harder for the viewer to detect. As a result, the viewing public is becoming increasingly uncertain and suspicious about what is real in photographs and what is synthesized. Some advocates of undisclosed manipulation have sought to resolve this confusion by trying to persuade viewers that all photographs lie (see E-6). A less cynical approach, one that doesn't discard viewers' hard-earned faith in photography, is "honesty in labeling"—the goal of FoundView.

Recent technical advances have made image manipulation easier, but they have not changed when that manipulation is ethical and when it is not. In other words, FoundView would have been an appropriate measure at any time in the history of photography. It only became urgent when extensive but indiscernible image manipulation became more pervasive.

While this change didn't happen overnight, by the mid-1990s it was generally agreed that digital technology was rapidly and permanently altering the nature of photography. The new technology was in itself neutral—neither good nor bad—but it was often used to indiscernibly manipulate the content of photographs, resulting in synthesized and composite images that were frequently passed off as single-click photographs. Manipulation advocates began encouraging photographers to "save" weak photographs by substituting more interesting skies, inserting wildlife, removing unwanted elements, etc., with little or no attention given to disclosing to the viewer these secret manipulations. Those performing the indiscernible manipulations—and advocating them—claimed that their techniques were no different than using such conventional tools as black-and-white film or telephoto lenses. In reality, of course, there was a huge difference: unlike most manipulation techniques of the pre-digital era, these new processes provided the viewer with no way of knowing that the content of the image had been altered. For the first time in history, even relatively unskilled users could easily and extensively manipulate the content of photographs without making the images look any less realistic. (See Notes.)

An alarming casualness was accorded to many of these manipulations, which were breezily rationalized with phrases such as "It's no different than using black-and-white" (which is untrue, because black-and-white is an alteration that the viewer can immediately see) and "People opposed to undisclosed manipulations are just scared of computers" (again untrue, as more and more FoundView-type photographers were buying digital cameras, digitally scanning their images, adjusting the tones on computers, and starting up web sites). Worst of all was the accompanying tone of cynicism: "Right or wrong, everybody'll be doing it soon"; "All photographs are lies; to be a good photographer you have to learn to lie better than other people do"; and, most disturbingly, "If you're too lazy or uncreative to go out and get remarkable photographs, don't worry. Now you can easily, cheaply make them on your computer at home!" (See E-15.)

To many, the threat to the trustworthiness of all photographs was very real. As even a prominent supporter of image manipulation later admitted, the digital photography revolution "eliminates our trust in a means of communication that was once premised on the objective transfer of information." (See Notes.) While the word "eliminates" was an exaggeration—the public will always trust respected newspapers and newsmagazines not to alter the content of news photographs, for example—it hinted at the danger posed by undisclosed manipulations.

Eventually a clear trend began to emerge. A number of photographers noticed that—without exception—the only people trying to blur the distinction between single-click photographs and composite images were creators of the latter. Those making composite or synthesized images often tried to pass off their images as unmanipulated single-click photographs, but the reverse never happened: single-click photographs were never presented as fabrications or composites (it's much harder to create a remarkable image with a single click of the shutter than it is with post-shutter manipulations; see C-1 and C-6). Opposition to undisclosed manipulations increased as photographers realized that those who combine and synthesize photos—whether on the computer or in the darkroom—and try to pass off their work as single-click photographs eventually can damage the trustworthiness of all photographs (and photographers).

But opponents of undisclosed manipulations agreed that this loss of trust in photographs was neither inevitable nor unstoppable. Photographers and publishers were uniquely positioned to prevent this erosion of trust, through clear disclosure to viewers about which images have undergone manipulations of content and which have not. In other words, photography's future credibility with viewers was entirely in the hands of the medium's practitioners.

In early 1997 FoundView was born out of the belief that the very foundation of photography was at stake and a line needed to be drawn.

B-2. How did FoundView decide where to draw the line?

The founders of FoundView didn't want a manipulation standard that was arbitrary; there had to be solid logic behind it. They also didn't want to repeat the shortcomings of previous attempts at labeling systems. As it happened, figuring out where to draw the line wasn't difficult at all. Everything evolved quite naturally from the Greek root of the word photograph, which means "drawing with light" (graphein + photos). This made sense: in the making of every photograph, light (tone) invariably undergoes some change between the three dimensional original scene and the two-dimensional final image (see E-13), but pictorial elements such as people and objects (called, in FoundView language, "forms and shapes") do not change unless someone intervenes after the shutter is clicked to artificially change them.

It quickly became clear that not only was FoundView's distinction not arbitrary, it wasn't even new. It was less an "invention" than a readaptation or repackaging of a very broad consensus that's already out there. Besides the roots of the word "photograph," FoundView's antecedents included:

1. Historical precedent. Every one of the billions of photographs made in the first 150 years of photography went through changes in tone (lighter, darker, etc.) between the original scene and the final image. However, until the digital era none but a tiny fraction of those photographs contained elements ("forms and shapes") that had been moved, added, reshaped, or deleted in indiscernible ways after the shutter was clicked. In other words, the photographs that everyone was accustomed to seeing during photography's first century and a half were FoundView-compatible.

2. Journalistic ethics. FoundView's distinction between altering tone and altering content was consistent with the standard followed by newspapers and serious newsweeklies. With thousands of publications drawing the same distinction, the standard already had widespread support.

3. Viewer expectations. Tens of millions of people, when they flip through a new batch of their own snapshots, expect that some pictures will be lighter and some darker than expected, but no one expects to find a space shuttle, giant prairie dog, or other previously unseen element inserted in the middle of a family photo. The same expectations hold true when they read the daily newspaper: they know that tones and contrasts in photographs may have been changed, but they take for granted that no elements have been added, changed, or deleted (except by cropping) in the published photographs. In other words, no re-education of viewers would be necessary; viewers were already accustomed to FoundView standards.

4. Human seeing. Individual variations in human vision can cause two people to see tones in even the simplest scene very differently, but—assuming a clear view—both will invariably see the same number of forms and shapes. FoundView allows for similarly personal interpretation of tones, while faithfully recording forms and shapes.

B-3. What's the difference between FoundView and the photo manipulation policy of news organizations such as the New York Times?

There is no substantive difference, although of course each publication uses unique wording in its policy (just as FoundView's phrasing reflects its diverse constituencies). Also, different policies must reflect their users' different reputations and histories: viewers are understandably wary of granting to an individual photographer (whose work they may encounter only once) the same credibility that readers bestow on a newspaper that has depended on readers' trust for 150 years. That is why FoundView raises the bar so high when defining standards for manipulations of content. A standard based on the highest common denominator ("No post-shutter manipulation of forms or shapes, ever") is far more likely to win viewers' trust than is a standard based on the lowest common denominator ("If the viewer can't spot the manipulation, go for it!").

Every respected news publication has strict photo manipulation policies designed to preserve the credibility that the publication has worked so hard to earn. Thus these publications allow their photo departments to perform limited post-shutter adjustment of tone (though generally not as much as FoundView allows; see E-13 and F-10) but never of content unless very clearly presented or identified otherwise. For example, at the New York Times, pictures of news situations can never be posed or undergo post-shutter manipulation of content: "Images in our pages that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way." Non-news photographs in the New York Times may be posed or manipulated only if the intervention is "unmistakable to the reader and unmistakably free of the intent to deceive." Similarly, the Associated Press states, "The content of a photograph will NEVER be changed or manipulated in any way. . . . Retouching is limited to removal of normal scratches and dust spots." And Newsweek declares, "While we often correct color values and contrast levels in pictures we use, it is not Newsweek's policy to change or misrepresent the subject matter in any way." (See Notes for sources.)

FoundView makes the identical distinction. Whether it's the cover of Time magazine or a vacation image being shown to a local camera club, the underlying principle is the same: if it looks like a realistic photograph that was taken with a single click of the shutter and then left unmanipulated, the viewer wants to know whether it is or it isn't one. Note that FoundView isn't just for news photographs. The trend among photographers trying to get away with undisclosed manipulations has been to claim that if photographs don't depict "news events" they are somehow magically exempt from viewers' expectations of trustworthiness. But as this web site makes repeatedly makes clear (see, for example, D-2, D-6, E-4, and E-8), viewers don't dole out their trust based on what subject a photograph depicts. Instead, if the photograph merely looks realistic, viewers will want to know whether it's a fabrication or whether they should believe their eyes.

B-4. What's the difference between FoundView and the way photography has generally been practiced for the past 160 years?

There is no difference at all. FoundView is simply a new label for the way most photographers have traditionally worked (i.e., "drawing with light" but not changing the forms and shapes in a photograph without identifying or presenting it accordingly). The increased availability and use of sophisticated image manipulation created the need for such a label but did not change the nature of the long-accepted photographic practices that it addresses.

B-5. Isn't it too late for something like FoundView, in light of the boom in digital manipulation? Are we trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped, to put the lid back on Pandora's box?

No. Although some photographers present the case as closed (i.e., claiming that composite and synthesized images are no different than FoundView photographs), their wishing does not make it so. In fact, quite the opposite is true: the manipulation possibilities created by new digital technologies have forced publications that extensively use photographs to make distinctions among manipulations that simply weren't an issue before the digital age.

A generation or two ago, there were technical limits to how much the content of a photograph could be changed before it looked fake. Everybody knew that photographs could only veer so far from reality and still look real, so most publications, viewers, and photographers saw no need for anti-manipulation policies or labeling. Digital technology removed those technical limits, and new manipulation technologies introduced in the 1980s and 1990s compelled newspapers and newsmagazines to take a position on what is a genuine record of a scene or event vs. what is deceptive. Not surprisingly, they erred on the side of credibility, and today equivalents of the FoundView standard are faithfully self-enforced at the highest levels of journalism. Most national newsmagazines and newspapers—including those that make extensive use of digital (filmless) photography—refuse to publish (except in ads) images that do not meet FoundView-like standards unless the images clearly look synthesized or the manipulations are disclosed. (Publishers of magazines, journals, newspapers, and books are welcome to make use of the FoundView standard; see Using FoundView in Publications, Contests, and Exhibits.)

Because they can seriously damage credibility with readers, the rare occasions on which respected magazines even appear to breach this industry-wide consensus tend to get national attention. Most photographers who have followed the manipulation debate can readily cite the rare exceptions that prove the rule: National Geographic's cover in which the pyramids were digitally moved, the Time cover in which computer manipulations were used to darken and soften O.J. Simpson's police mug shot, Newsweek's digitally straightening the teeth of the Iowa septuplets' mother. (See Notes.)

Note that while FoundView follows the standard set by the news media, "news" photographs are only a small part of FoundView's purview. The standard is equally applicable to landscape, travel, nature, street, architectural, sports, adventure, wildlife, and any other branches of photography that benefit from the believability of realistic-looking images. (See also C-4, D-2, and E-12.)

B-6. If viewers expect realistic-looking photographs to portray what they appear to portray, and if most photographs do indeed do this, why is there a need for FoundView?

Because the percentage of believable photographs is diminishing and in many contexts viewer expectations will likely follow suit. As increasing numbers of realistic-looking photographs contain undisclosed manipulations of content, the need for FoundView continues to grow.

When FoundView was born, relatively few photographs were being created using digital technology. Most members of the viewing public assumed that most photographs they saw depicted the forms and shapes that were recorded by the camera the moment the shutter was clicked. And why not? Most photographs had done exactly that since photography began. Since the mid-1990s, however, the percentage of digitally-made photographs has steadily risen, and the manipulation of forms and shapes has increased correspondingly. ("Digitally-made" does not automatically mean "excessively manipulated"—see C-2—but the temptation to manipulate forms and shapes is fairly strong once a photograph is converted to millions of pixels, all of which can be changed with the click of a mouse.)

Industry analysts predict that within a decade (by about 2010), most photographs will be made using digital technology (rather than conventional film); digital cameras are already widely used by consumers. As this shift happens, and as the viewing public learns (by manipulating their digital vacation snapshots on their home PCs) that with digital technology anything is possible in a photograph, the general assumption may quickly shift 180 degrees. In other words, what was the "norm" in 1997 or 1998 (FoundView-compatible photographs) may well become the exception in a few years, and what was the exception back then (content-manipulated photographs) may well become the "norm." At that point, viewers will take for granted that most photographs have had forms and shapes manipulated unless otherwise indicated. FoundView is a way of indicating that otherwise.

B-7. How was the name "FoundView" chosen?

During development of the standard, the original working title had been "The Viewfinder Principle" (as in "Was everything in the image seen through the viewfinder at the time of exposure?"). However, this name turned out to be problematic when taken too literally. SLR viewfinders black out at the instant of exposure, rangefinders have parallax discrepancies, many viewfinders show only about 90 percent of the recorded image, and still other cameras' viewfinders reverse or invert the image! The phrase was also clumsy and a mouthful. So "Viewfinder" morphed into FoundView, which incorporated "found," conveying the notion that the elements in the final photograph would have been found at the scene at the time of exposure—and on the resulting film or file.

Obviously, since it does not disqualify photographs of subjects that have undergone pre-shutter manipulations, FoundView encompasses more than pristine wilderness scenes that were merely "stumbled upon" (see E-11 and F-23). But the term does signal the portrayal of all the elements the camera lens found at the scene—and what the viewer would have found at the scene had he or she been there—when the shutter was clicked and the photograph was taken.

B-8. How and when did FoundView get off the ground?

The idea of devising a standard to address issues of undisclosed content manipulation—what eventually became FoundView—developed over the course of about three years, initially inspired by a February 1994 Scientific American article and related lecture (see Notes) on the subject of digital photographic manipulation. Various other articles and troubling examples of undisclosed content manipulations that were published during 1995 and 1996 clarified the need for action. FoundView's organizers conceived the consortium idea (and the name and logo) during the winter of 1996-97 and wrote up the first informational brochure in March 1997. The FoundView checkmark and standard were first incorporated in a book of photographs published in May, 1997 (The Promise of Winter, ISBN 0-8028-4436-7), but word about the new standard was slow to get out until this web site was fired up almost a year later, in late spring of 1998. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Internet is ideal for something like FoundView, because it goes straight to the appropriate audience, it allows plenty of room to explain things, and it lets supporters easily stay in touch with each other. Best of all, it allows exponential growth. One photographer hears about FoundView, mentions it in a forum, and soon countless other photographers know about it—including many who put it on their photographs or make it a link on their web site—and then mention it in other forums (please see FoundView's Internet policy). Thus, even though FoundView has never spent a penny on marketing, promotion, or publicity, word of mouth has led to steady growth. The controversy over undisclosed photographic manipulation heated up noticeably after Kenneth Brower wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly (May 1998) on digital manipulation in which he called for "a modern-day Group f64." For many photographers, FoundView—though not mentioned in the Atlantic article—filled the bill precisely.

The reaction to FoundView has been overwhelmingly affirmative, indicating widespread consensus that a line needs to be drawn with respect to disclosing indiscernible image manipulations. FoundView has received constructive suggestions from both supporters and critics about various sections of its web site, and the site design has been modified, the wording clarified, and the explanations amplified accordingly. Among the critics, none have suggested a better place to draw the line; the chief disagreement seems to be that no line should be drawn. Obviously no standard, no matter how logical, popular, or well-reasoned, can satisfy those who think no line need be drawn, but if this standard speaks to the many who do see a need, it will thrive and prosper.

Some photographers who previously had had little experience with digital technologies did not immediately see the need for FoundView, and it's true that when the standard was introduced it may have been a little ahead of its time. But it's better to anticipate a problem than to try to correct it after it's too late, and as the digital revolution spreads and more photographers and publications adopt the FoundView standard, general awareness continues to grow. FoundView has evolved steadily, logically, organically—not arbitrarily or haphazardly—with input from both photographers and viewers. If FoundView's most serious problem is that it's ahead of its time, its future is bright indeed.

Bottom line: The need for such a standard increases daily as the technology of photography continues to race ahead. FoundView is here to stay.

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