Post processing can obviously lend significant changes to the way an image presents itself. This is nothing new, and has been a part of photography since its inception.
A photographer lends three basic skills to the process of creating a photograph: visualization, image capture, and post processing. All 3 are important to produce a final image. I would lump printing into the third category as well. Having control of the entire photographic process I feel is key to producing images consistent with my aesthetic.
These 2 images of Eric were both visualized and captured consistently. But the post processing style is decidedly different:
The first lends a softer, “sunnier” look. It is warmer. The second, a cooler, contrastier, more detailed image.
The first is a more romanticized look. Detail is subservient. It is in a sense a simpler image. The second is more complex; background details become more important.
Neither image is “correct.” However, the viewer’s relationship with the image – the emotional context – is vastly different. The location, the subject, and the capture are exactly the same. It’s the post that sets them apart.