Image manipulation

By Camila Durán

There is a confusion between some concepts related to images, specifically documentary images, many of which are part of different works of contemporary art. When someone mentions the word manipulation, viewers and readers tend to associate the concept with the media and propaganda. However, the construction of any audiovisual discourse is a manipulation. As Harun Farocki said it: when I take an image and juxtapose it (montage) I am creating a sense of manipulation.


In the interesting book The Media Crisis, theorist and filmmaker Peter Watkins exposes an exhaustive investigation around the media and montage. All images are manipulated. This happens both in traditional media, as in social networks, cinema or art. Therefore, the question we must ask as spectators is not whether the images in front of us want to manipulate us, but what is the ideology that exists behind them.

Watkins explains that, with his students, he conducted an exercise to determine the duration of images on television newscasts. The average was 4 seconds per image! What does this mean? On the one hand, the viewer has little time to examine the image. They have taught us to see the images and not to look at them. (The difference between both verbs is that the act of seeing is a perceptual quality: all humans with functional eyes can see images; while looking means stopping to observe. This observation process requires visual, aesthetic, political, ideological criteria.) On the other hand, people have been educated that any contemplative discourse that stimulates the analysis of images can be boring or tedious. If the images are not fun or entertaining, they are useless!

To look at the images carefully is to act against the system. Contemplating, questioning them, dissecting them, means taking a political position on the images.

If we do not take a political position, our participation as spectators is that of a simple receiver. If we do the opposite, we enter into a dialogue with the work. The best works of contemporary art are those that open a conversation with the viewer. This conversation does not have a set duration: it lasts as long as the work continues to stimulate the viewer’s interpretations throughout different periods.