There are two unchanging principles of photography that have defined the medium from its beginning, will continue to define it into the future and, most importantly, shape a person's expectations of it. These two principles, which are essential in telling the subject’s story, are reality and transparency.
The principle of reality holds that what is presented in the image is real. Transparency holds that the image is presenting the subject as it was seen. Both of these may seem to be keen perception of the obvious, but each one needs to be expanded a bit...
Reality holds that the subject of the photograph actually existed. This has nothing to do with what is photographed or how it is photographed. It is all about photographing the scene and the subject as it existed at the time.
Transparency holds that the photograph is presenting the scene and the subject as it was seen. This certainly does not mean we can't make adjustments to images in terms of contrast, sharpness, color balance, cropping etc., but we can't manipulate the image to the point where it is no longer the scene as it was seen.
The watershed here is whether the image conveys what was actually seen or presents what the photographer wished he or she saw.
Both of these principles embody the trust that society places in photography.
It is this trust that is so central to the viability of the medium and gives photography its special place in the public eye. It is the continuation of this trust that photographers must adhere to.
To present the subject as the photographer wishes it had been is to create visual fiction (photographs are always of the past- even if that past was a split second ago).
It has long been held that photography is a non-fiction genre and that photographers are telling the subject’s story. Anything less makes the work about the photographer and not the subject.
It bears repeating that these twin principles of reality and transparency have allowed photography to earn that special trust with most people... namely that you can believe what is seen in the image as being the subject’s story. These two principles are mind numbing in both their brevity and their simplicity but also astonishingly demanding.
Reality and transparency make what was seen and what was photographed, the subject and the subject’s story, the crux of the matter.