One pixel too far

When does manipulation go too far? What defines a photograph; the shifting boundary.

Computer art

‘Eyes above salt pillow’ – 2004

 (The following has been pieced together from several different conversations, and re-sequenced to read as a single interview.  2004)
You often refer to your close links with photography, even making an issue out of it. But these are not photographs. What are they?                
There is an unbroken link from my images to the original information recorded in the digital camera. The only argument is the degree of the distance achieved from the raw data. And any argument about subjective boundaries imagined, along a continuous spectrum of change, soon become meaningless.
The freedom to play with photographic imagery should not be an issue. I am an artist first, not a journalist.
Every single one of these images was taken with a camera, and then manipulated.
They are no longer photographs then.
Why not? All photographs are taken with a camera, and then all are manipulated with chemicals or with in-camera software. Later they are manipulated in the darkroom or on computer.
Dogging and burning in are as old as airbrushing negatives or hand tinting before the advent of colour. These are all legitimate manipulations. So are subsequent chemical alterations of the tone and colour, as in sepia.
After all this manipulation a photograph is usually reinterpreted a second time. For example when it is reproduced in a new media, offset printing or similar. 99% of all commercial photography is reproduced, touched up, polished and manipulated.
At which point did it stop being a photograph and become something else?
I concede that some manipulation is OK as long as the image is still discernible.
Yes, but by whom? I can still discern it, don’t I count?
No. The artist is directly involved, an independent view is essential.
This point is a very interesting one, the last word in arbitration? There is no such thing of course and the search for some kind of definitive consensus is futile. A work will always be Good, Bad and Indifferent at the same time and will always be too much of one thing to some and too little to others. But isn’t part of arts function to challenge, stretch and confound our conceptions? So what ever else, the work will always at least have this role.
The real question is how well is this task served? That is a far more legitimate way to judge the relevance of the images.
When does manipulation go too far?
What we do should always be evolving, constantly looking for the next step. In such an environment there can never be a last enquiry when we finally run out of curiosity.
What ever claims you make, it is still quite plain that looking at the work, you can’t tell it is a photograph. 
Why is this important? I’m not interested in re-creating images I see daily in magazines. They are doing a terrific job without me. Photography is great at recording. It is perfect in fact. But I think photography should no longer solely be a mirror held up to society or nature. I want to move it more towards revealing. It is not too accomplished at that.
Revealing what?
All that is not at first visible.
What the original image is or how it is taken is not actually that important. If an aspect is initially there I consider it to be trivial, too obvious. What I am really interested in is what can be ‘teased’ out of a picture.
An aspect of a lot of art is subjective reinterpretation and this is exactly what I’m doing, but to extremes. Why place an arbitrary limit on this process?
Your work seems to require explaining. Surely the work should always speak for itself.
That is a worthy sentiment in principle. However the work will only speak with the vocabulary of its viewer. This can be misleading and limiting. The viewer will be forever reinterpreting their personal landscape, endlessly, with the same familiar references. I don’t see this as useful to anyone.
I think that a piece of work could actually use all the help it can get, what ever the source. I’m convinced that what we see, hear and enjoy is dependant on our expectations. The whole mystic of a work totally infuses the perceived result. We miss a lot of things because our expectations were not primed.
What was your method of approach?
First I started adding ‘false colour’ in a way similar to the Hubble photographs, then I went a step further and continued resonating with the data and including ‘false shapes’. I persist until overwhelmed by the intrusions the original becomes ‘the canvas’. That is my starting point. 
Just the starting point?
That is simply a way in to the making process. There is no end, no final conclusion and no ultimate reward.

‘2 Chickens’ – 2001