The course material provides a case study where a photographer was shooting some promotional shots for a cycling charity. The primary model, a bike instructor, had recently broken an ankle and the photographer worked around this using alteration to replace the broken, cast, leg with the other leg so the images didn’t give a negative impression of the organisation.
It highlights that in this case doctoring the shot was a useful solution to a particular situation, and then asks whether it was entirely ethical to do so, and what ethical issues does it raise?
In answer to the first question; the example in this case study I think it reasonable and is not irresponsible. The cast was temporary, it isn’t a permanent part of the model so isn’t misrepresenting them. Similarly removing a spot or scab (not a scar) would be the same; it’s not really a fundamental “truth” about the person, even if it was a “truth” for a particular moment in history.
In answer to the second; it’s a case of where you draw the line and what purpose does doctoring an image serve. For example, a temporary break/cast removed doesn’t misrepresent somebody and their day-to-day situation. Replacing the wheelchair of somebody who is paralysed so they appear to be standing/walking does – such an action would be masking the fact they are not able-bodied. While that doesn’t necessarily misrepresent who they are or what they accomplish it can have a detrimental effect both on the subject and other people in similar situations. By making such a change to what is commonly perceived as “normal” an image could be implying that not being able-bodied is “abnormal”. It may reinforce the idea that to achieve something somebody must be able-bodied, or at the very least such an image would not do anything that could challenge the perception of those who believe that to be case.
An extension of that line of thought is the heavily altered models and celebrities who appear in magazines, which result in unrealistic perceptions of body image – particularly where no human could achieve what digital manipulation is presenting as a “picture of health”. While somebody’s weight, muscle definition and age is only a truth for them for a particular moment in time, I think adjustments to those aspects are examples of where digital manipulation goes too far; it creates an overall false image to society, to detrimental effect.