I'll repeat what I said in my first post, in a somewhat different form. You can do anything you want with your pixels, and I don't have a problem with any of it. What I have a problem with is when somebody says "I didn't manipulate these pixels," but he did. Most of the older fim-era manipulations aren't really problems because they're obvious.
Hum...I've been engaged in this debate far longer than most...my first multi-image composite was done in 1984 (way before Photoshop). I took 2 8x10 chromes and had an imaging artist do an 11x14 composite that took a loupe to know it was manipulated.
Regardless of the intent, the bottom line is the context. If a documentary photographer or a journalist steps outside of the line they have agreed to stay within, shame on them. However, I do agree that recent post-Photoshop scrutiny has been risen to ludicrous levels not imposed on several past generation of photographers.
What are the real rules? Who decides? Who enforces? Are the rules different for current photographers than past photographers? You bet...and ironically, it's far more unfair now than in the past.
Look, I'll admit to wanting to manipulate EVERY pixel in my image...I don't claim any sort of "truth", I actually tend towards telling people don't believe what you see, question everything.
The whole real vs manipulated has been around long before Thomas did Photoshop. Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian was totally bogus...he traveled with a covered wagon of "props" that he used when shooting various Indian tribes....so feathers and headdresses from one tribe would be put on Indians of a tribe that they had never heard of. Curtis was often taken with the thought of trying to picture the Indians as intelligent and noble, so he would often place a clock in the shot–something the Indians had no knowledge of, but Curtis had decided that it would be useful to portray the Indians as somewhat "normal".
There's a long legacy of manipulated imagery...but it was really Photoshop that allowed talented individuals to be able to do manipulation that stressed the ability to dictate it.
But I come back to the context in which an image was made...if journalism,, you will be held to a high (and totally unreasonable reality) process. Same deal with many photographers who need to be able to portray an image as being at least within the realm of possibility...
I used to do advertising photography. Even then we were held certain standards like not putting marbles in a Cambell's soup can to make the soup level unrealistic.
On the other hand, in fine art, I think that no holds barred comes into play...I make no claims of reality or non-manipulated images...I loudly proclaim that peoples expectation should be totally blown up and that a new reality will come into play.
So, bottom line, is the context supposed to relate some sort of reality? If so, tread carefully. But if it's your intent to create a neat image and you need to manipulate the heck out of an image, go for it...just be willing to admit exactly what you may have done to accomplish your image.
So, nothing new here...these are not the droids you were looking for...