Quite a curious discussion in that it seems to focus on an area in the image that has been lightened, ignoring the much larger amount of darkening. If Peter Eastway had exposed to the right until the foreground hill was the luminance in the final version, and then darkened the rest of the image to match that final version, would people object as much?
I would, although I'm not exactly objecting.
There are a number of things going on here.
1. Fraud or deception. There is a distinct line between deception and creativity, and they really have nothing to do with each other. There are well-known photographers who set up entire scenes, much like movie sets -- the scene itself is totally artificial -- but this is ALWAYS known to the buyer or the viewer. There is no deception involved; quite the contrary. The underlying vibration to *this* discussion seems to be, "Is it all right to represent something as naturalistic if I've moved a plant or a hill, changed the light, added a person, etc." The answer to that, IMHO, is No. Saying that "art is art, and the object stands on its own" is tap-dancing around the central problem of deception. If your creation is so good, why not take credit for it? If you can only sell it, or get acclaim of some sort, by claiming that it's a natural depiction when it isn't, then, you've crossed an ethical line. This has nothing to do with art; this has to do with honesty. IN some ways, among honest people, this conversation wouldn't even be taking place -- *of course* you disclose the genesis of the work; it's automatic. No need for a discussion. But...we're having the discussion, aren't we?
2. There are some implicit arguments about art, which seem to refer especially to painting. But painting and photography are wildly different from one another. With painting, there was never any question among sophisticated viewers -- meaning anybody interested in painting -- about objectivity. All paintings are interpretations. There are no exceptions. Recently, The Online Photographer published a group of fine portraits taken by a man who stood outside fast-moving trains and shot a high speed camera at the train windows. As he noted, he couldn't see the people he was shooting, and they really couldn't see (be aware) of him -- everything was moving too quickly. It occurred to me after reading that story, and looking at the photos, that you could put a camera on a tripod and hook it to a sound-responsive trigger, and get the same shots. There need be no human involvement whatever, in the capture. That's *never* the case with a painting, and it never can be. So, in a sense, photos can be objective in a way painting can never be. The various manipulations of "straight" photography seem to me quite minor compared to anything done in painting -- and not only minor, but well-recognized as manipulations by anyone with even the most cursory acquaintance with photography. Nobody thought the sky was black but the hills were white in Ansel Adams photos; nobody thought the deer were really fuzzy in Caponigro's "Running White Deer." Those things were all recognized as artifacts of the photo process. The difference with Photoshopped works is that sometimes even the experienced viewer *can't* tell if a photo's been manipulated. But the fact that a photo has been manipulated is crucial: you're no longer looking at a more-or-less good representation of an actual scene. In fact, you don't know what you're looking at. You have no guarantees whatever -- not even a guarantee that the creator took any of the photos associated with the work; as far as you could tell, they might all come from stock agencies.
3. In this current latest example, we see sunlight being placed on a non-sunny hillside. Or, maybe it is sunny, but underexposed, and he created the shadow. No way to tell. Did he create the sunshine, or the shadow? But you know what it reminds me of, in either case? The kitschy paintings of Thomas Kinkade, the "Painter of Light," who recently relieved us of his corporeal existence. In fact, I'd suggest that virtually all manipulations like this are automatically kitsch, because they are designed to evoke emotions based on a rather cynical manipulation, just as Kinkade's warm orange fireplace-glows in snow-bound cozy country houses did. What would we think of the present photo if it was entitled, "County Hillside with Artificially Added Warm Glow to Make You Feel Good?"
4. I think photography has a strong tendency toward naturalism, and anyone who messes with that tendency better know precisely what he/she is doing. On the other hand, there's an entire world that welcomes that tendency to naturalism, with the simple difficulty that the world is hard to represent in a way that is both natural and contains the aesthetic qualities needed to make a snapshot into "art." I know it can be done, because I've seen it. But rarely.