Assignment 4 – Research and Planning

I worked through part 4 rather quickly, mainly because I found it so interesting! Apart from the range of image adjustments covered, which in themselves were fascinating, the challenge to question the ethics of what we were doing provided an additional intellectual stimulus. The assignment picks up on the ethical question, inviting us to illustrate an idea or concept by designing a book or magazine cover (real or imaginary). This post shows some of my thinking and research.

For research my tutor suggested a few areas I could look at.

3-D rendering and CGI is used extensively in new car advertising. Taking a library backdrop and placing a CGI image of the car onto it, the rendering engine then creates realistic reflections and shadows. The cars do not exist except in the virtual reality of the CGI, yet the resulting image is made to look as lifelike as the software and artist can make it:

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https://www.moofe.com/#/gallery

For me, all these do not look real, everything is too clean, even clinical. Perhaps that is the intent, to hide the fact that they are unreal, the reality is made a little too real; or perhaps it is the limitation of the software.

I considered the possibility of using CGI and rendering software and looked at the open source “Blender” program but decided the challenge of learning a new tool would be too great. Thinking about what I could do in Photoshop I came up with this:

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The spiral galaxy was created entirely in Photoshop, the planet was a map of the world but distorted to make it look spherical and alien, the astronaut was found on the internet. It would be easy to add a blanket of stars in the background.

I like the bold, graphic simplicity of this and the design allows each element to move in relation to each other to adjust and fine tune the composition. Is it real or fake? It’s fake, quite obviously so and I do not think there could be any confusion so there is no ethical justification required.

John Stezaker won the prestigious Deutsche Borse photography prize in 2012 for his cut and paste collages. He uses pictures from old postcards, film stills and books and magazines, to create collages that are often witty and sometimes disturbing. There is no denying his eye to pick up the arrangement in seemingly disparate photos, and skill to cut them precisely and paste them to make something meaningful. Whether he is a photographer in the purest sense of the word is open to debate and perhaps this is where the ethical issues lie with his work. There is also the issue of him using other people’s work and whether adequate credit is given to the original artist.

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/sep/03/deutsche-borse-prize-john-stezaker

My possible response to the assignment brief is something along these lines:

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Here the original images are mine but the skull and stoney face were found on the internet. Is this ethical? The pictures are obviously fake, no-one can be imagined to have a stone head or have a skull headed alter-ego following them. But what would the original subjects say to being exploited in this fashion?

Larissa Sansour is a Jerusalem born Palestinian whose work is inspired a lot by the tension that understandably arises from that, although this is not manifested in a conflictive or judgemental way. Nation Estate for example offers a solution to the Palestine deadlock by suggesting the state is housed in a high rise building, with a floor for each city.

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http://larissasansour.com/nation_estate.html

Her work is highly sensitive, very imaginative and extremely well-crafted. Like the car adverts above, the reality is a bit too real, it seems a bit plastic. But I get the impression here that it is deliberate.

One thing these three examples have in common is their surreal edge. Perhaps that is a consequence of the heavy manipulation involved, perhaps it was the main influence my tutor had mind when he suggested them.

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My last experiment as I explored some ideas for this assignment was “Champagne Production.” This was not really inspired by any of the examples above but I wanted to push the ethical boundaries a bit further. This is an imaginary book on making champagne. The background picture is original, the glass of champagne is obviously added (the vine it is sprouting from less obviously). What about the chap walking up the hill towards the refreshing drink at the end of a long day? He was added! In fact, he is not even a worker in the vineyard, he is a visitor. So is this ethical manipulation? When I took the picture, there was no-one there but what if I had this shot in mind and arranged for a model to be present during the shoot and arranged him accordingly? Is this any more ethical? So the question about ethics is really nothing to do with Photoshop. In my view, in this context this would be perfectly acceptable. The book is about making champagne and the addition of the person does not detract from that. If it had been about working conditions in the vineyards it might be a different matter.

So this leads me to the subject of the assignment. In my entry “The Photography of Truth” I looked specifically at two genres of photography, photojournalism and fashion and an earlier post “The Camera Never Lies” looked at documentary photography. The ethics involved in fashion photography are there, but often ignored but it’s possibly in the area of photojournalism and documentary that bring ethics into a sharper focus. This is where I should look in this assignment if I am to demonstrate my stance.

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