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Kerron Clement, Olympic Gold Medalist

At 26, Kerron Clement is a superb physical specimen. He excels at all kinds of sprints, but especially the 400-meter, breaking the world’s record in that event in 2005, beating Michael Johnson’s old mark by six hundredths of a second.

To freeze one of Clement’s superfast moments, Joel Grimes shot him against a wall at the UCLA track. Then, using Photoshop, he knocked out the body and dropped it into an image of the Sepulveda Dam.

To shoot the background, Grimes used a technique called High Dynamic Range or HDR, which is like burning and dodging on steroids. It allows a photographer to lighten the darker parts of an image and darken the lighter parts, creating a more perfectly lit and detailed image than could ever have been attained before the advent of digital technology.

But when Grimes first started producing such highly manipulated digital images, some of his colleagues told him he had sold out, that he wasn’t a photographer anymore, that he wasn’t portraying either truth or reality.

Grimes argues that manipulation of images has been an integral part of photography since its inception in 1839. Neither a wide-angle lens nor a telephoto lens portrays real-world proportions, for example. Photographs never portray colors in exactly the same way as the human eye sees them. And image clarity is a photographer’s choice that varies depending on dozens of variables.

What Grimes has concluded is that he’s an artist, and that photography is simply the medium he uses. Photography is not reality; the real world is just the starting point. It took Grimes a few years to come to that conclusion, but when he finally did, it freed him “like a bird flying.” That freedom now allows him to manipulate photographs at will to serve his sublime artistic instincts.

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