Questions of Authenticity

I have been quite enthralled by the topic of representation and authenticity during this week’s discussion and webinars. I have been incredibly guilty in the past of considering that what I do is a pure form of truth telling and visual record of the facts, when in actual fact there is no such thing as a neutral image (Luvera, 2020). Authenticity appears to be assumed on the part of the reader merely because the photograph is able to reproduce in a naturalistic manner.

Figure 1. Phil Hill (2010) Dawn on Bamburi Beach, Mombasa, Kenya.

Unconsciously, I have always used the notion of representation in my own work. This was very prevalent during the time I was shooting for freelance for travel editorial publications. I would knowingly select and edit out the images that would not present a location in a positive light (Fig. 1), however unaware of the implications of representing an actuality (Berger, 2013, p. 8). As an example, I shot some images of Bamburi Beach in Mombasa, Kenya showing how beautiful the location was however neglecting to also photograph the immense poverty that was sometimes literally outside of my frame (Fig. 2). This has much to do with the context of how these images are consumed however, figure 2 for example was part of a set of images that were used to illustrate a story on illegal mining practices in parts of Kenya (Kivner.

As I discussed earlier for an experimentation into how I might portray community through creating a set of images that utilise a forensic approach due to the upcoming sale of my rented home by my land lady.

Figure 2. Phil Hill (2010) Illegal gold miner, Kenya. Image also uploaded to Alamy archive.

My initial plan for this experiment was to photograph all of the negative aspects of the house in which I live and are in a state of disrepair. These images would be in direct contrast to the attempt to gloss over the detrimental view of the house that the estate agents would ultimately take (See Post). I have just started to scan and edit these images to remove the dust that attached itself to the negative during the scanning process. A fairly standard practice for film images. However, this week have raised a number of questions:

Figure 2. Phil Hill (February, 2020) Scanned image from medium format negative that has been retouched. ‘Moth Trap’ from my evidence experiment.

In terms of authenticity, a film image is behold as containing more ‘truth’ over digital, which is perceived to be easily manipulated and has caused concern in this regard since its introduction (Cosgrove, 2020). However, the modern workflow process of scanning and digitising negatives creates an even more problematic version of this truth if we still consider it to have more veracity then a digital image. My first scanned image (Fig. 3) required quite a bit of ‘spotting,’ as a result the image that also contains quite a ‘busy’ layer of all of the retouching, healing brush that I used, which poses the question of how much of the original is left, and how much of this naturalistic reproduction can be consider an icon; how much of this image is now indexical.

Figure 3. Phil Hill (February, 2020) Retouching layer from ‘Moth Trap’

To highlight the difference, I have saved a version of the image that only shows the retouching layer against a white background (Fig. 4). This image feels indexical to me, that it is based on the things that existed in the real world but bears no real resemblance to it anymore. Any amount of editing and retouching could be considered in this way.


Berger, J., 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Classics.

Cosgrove, S., 2020. Week 2 Presentation: Is it Really Real?, s.l.: Falmouth.

Hill, P., 2010. Dawn on Bamburi Beach. Mombasa, Kenya. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2010. Illegal Gold Miner, Kenya. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Moth Trap. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Retouching Layer from ‘Moth Trap’. [Photo].

Kinver, M., 2013. Nations agree on legally binding mercury rules. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 7 February 2020].

Luvera, A., 2020. Countercurrent Podcast: Anthony Luvera in conversation with Roger Kneebone [Interview] (13 January 2020).

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