Study Visit: Current Conflicts

I was not really sure what to expect from this study visit. The cover picture on the entry on WeAreOCA appeared to be of a soldier asleep, grabbing a few moments rest from the stress of warfare, the description spoke about the constancy of war, the essay linked from it had as its subject how the castration of war zone photojournalism has diluted its effectiveness almost to the point where it is merely part of the propaganda machine. What attracted me to the day, however, was the promise of the artist’s talks and the seminar.

The exhibition gave us a view of war from a number of different perspectives. None of the contributors were front line photojournalists but each had a contribution to make. Here is a summary of their exhibits and the talk they gave.

Matthew Andrew – Constructs

Matthew described how his interest in photographic truth has led his photographic journey. He opened with a slide showing this famous photo by Roger Fenton (was it or was it not staged?):

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He then went on to describe some of his staged photos, recognisable objects made from alternative materials. He showed a picture of personnel controlling drones, drawing an analogy to computer war games, then arrived at the subject of his contribution to the exhibition. “Constructs” is a project documenting war games, not the computer kind but real life simulations. He portrays the landscapes and people involved and describes how realistic they can be made to appear. To my untrained eye, they could have been from a front line war correspondent. He pointed out that some of the landscapes can appear boring but have a hidden and subtle meaning.

It was a trigger to consider how endemic war is hardwired into the human psyche, that adults can find war games and simulations so interesting.

Olivia Hollamby – Homefront

Olivia’s contribution was a collaboration with her partner. When he was posted to Afghanistan, she armed him with a camera and gave him a short briefing. He was to photograph his surroundings, simultaneously she was at home photographing his belongings. The result was captivating. She commented on the contrast between his snapshot aesthetic and her more considered staged works. She had published a photobook on the project and this was available for review.

I found, the more I looked at the pictures, the more I was drawn into the concept. As well as the obvious anxiety, there was estrangement on both sides.

Richard Monje – Bullets

Unfortunately Richard was not present to talk through his display of retrieved bullets from Afghanistan. These pictures of distorted ammunition had been photographed to be aesthetically pleasing. Being carefully lit against black backgrounds to an extent hid their brutal purpose and there was some debate about whether this was an effective way of showing them.

Les Monaghan – From the Forest

Les explained how he grew up in a forces environment and decided the regimented, institutional life was not for him. But he explained that you “shoot what you know” and showed us pictures of forces cadets that supported his decision.

In the project “From the Forests”, he followed services personnel on extreme survival training. The prints are very dark, the dark physical space leaves room for the viewer’s mental space.

In his talk he discussed the difference between photography for newspapers, where the subject has to be very obvious, and art photography, where the meaning can be ambiguous.

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Jamie Simonds – In-transit

Jamie is a commercial portrait photographer. It was while he was on his way to his honeymoon that he was grounded for 6 hours in Atlanta airport in company with some US soldiers en route to Iraq and Afghanistan. He only had a compact camera with him, but asked if he could take their portraits with it. The result is a set of pictures of a group of people on a very different journey to his own. Their faces tell their own story.

Jamie explained his approach to portraiture where he typically takes his subject against a plain background. In this respect he is heavily influenced by Rineke Dijkstra. This removal from context places the focus on the subjects and allows them to express themselves better.

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Christopher Down – Visions from Arcadia

Arcadia – a mountainous district in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. In poetic fantasy it represents a pastoral paradise and in Greek mythology it is the home of Pan.

Chris followed three real soldiers, either preparing for a tour or during rest and relaxation breaks. By contrasting these soldiers with idyllic pastoral scenes through four seasons, he is exploring the paradox of trying to obtain peace through war. Stylistically, it is a melding of two genres, landscape and portraiture.

I admit that at the exhibition I did not understand the message, but on researching what Arcadia means, I can now thoroughly connect with it.

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I had two main points to take away from this study visit.

Firstly, it showed that you do not have to be a front line photographer to picture war. There were 6 different photographers, all with something slightly different to say and all providing more background to the act of going to war, and what war can mean. Together, they showed a picture of war that is never reported in the media. At times, this was a much more personal picture, with an impact much closer to home, with a potential to carry more meaning to us who are so distant from the “theatres” of war.

Secondly, I found it most instructive to hear direct from the artists, their thought processes, their work process, explaining how they came to the particular project, what it means to them, what difficulties they faced.

Looking at Pictures – Kenneth Clark

It was through thinking about how to analyse pictures that I came across this book by Kenneth Clarke. This is not Kenneth Harry Clarke, the conservative MP, but Kenneth McKenzie Clark, the art critic who came to public prominence with the BBC series “Civilisation” in 1969. By this time, this book had been nine years since first publication.

In the introduction, Clark describes his way of looking at pictures, whilst acknowledging that it might not be the only way “No doubt there are many ways of looking at pictures, none of which can be called the right way.”

He follows this with some pithy, but profound advice:

“I believe that one can learn to interrogate a picture in such a way as to intensify and prolong the pleasure it gives one.”

“Looking at picture requires active participation, and, in the early stages, a certain amount of discipline”

“First I see the picture as a whole, and long before I can recognise the subject, I am conscious of a general impression, which depends on the relationship of tone and area, shape and colour…”

“…followed by a period of inspection in which I look from one part to another…and naturally I become aware of what the painter has intended to represent…”

“…quite soon my critical faculties begin to operate, and I find myself looking for some dominating motive, or root idea, from which the picture derives its overall effect.”

“In the middle of this exercise my senses will probably begin to tire, and if I am to go on looking responsively I must fortify myself with some nips of information.”

There follows a collection of essays that first appeared in the Sunday times describing, in Clark’s own style, 16 major works of art. The paintings covered include Titian – The Entombment, Raphael – The Miraculous Draught of Fishes and Turner – The Snowstorm.

Each description follows Clark’s pattern of analysis described in the introduction: leading from and initial impression into more detailed perception, punctuated by forays into the background of the artist and the picture. Clark’s knowledge is immense and he uses this to place the picture into a context, so he explains how the picture means so much more than what it is portraying.

Kenneth Clark has an easy going, easily-read style that makes this book a delight. There is nothing pompous or stuffy about his descriptions; instead they are very warm and genuine. This is a reminder that any critical analysis of a work of art should be honest and as much a reflection of the critic as it is of the artist.

So what do I get from reading the book:
1. an overall impression, leading into closer scrutiny is a good start,
2. to understand the picture at a deeper level it is necessary to know something of the artist and the context in which it is produced,
3. I might not know the context of someone else’s picture but a bit of research will help,
4. Be prepared to commit time and effort to the process, go away and come back refreshed if necessary,
5. stay honest and be prepared to say what the picture is saying to me.

Looking at Pictures

The reading list for the courses I have done so far contains books like “On Photography”, “Photography: A Critical Introduiction”, “The Photograph as Contemporary Art”. Reading these makes me think that this is the kind of artistic criticism I should try to emulate when I am looking at pictures and trying to read them. However, they uncover deeper meaning and hidden contexts which I simply do not see (often even when pointed out to me!) and when I try to write like that, it sounds like pompous nonsense!

This post was prompted by two influences. My tutor in his feedback suggested (more like commanded) that I start to develop more of an aesthetic critique of my work. Then on the OCA forum there was a thread started on “Analysing Work”. It seems there is some transcendental force at work, pushing me in a certain direction!

To counter my misgivings expressed above, there was some good advice posted:

· To learn how to analyse your own work you need to begin by analysing the work of well known and well regarded artists,

· You need to learn how to sort out the good points from the bad (composition, use of form, colour and so on).

· Analysing is not really any more than putting into words the reasons why in image speaks to you (or not I suppose!), what it says and how.

· There’s no real mystery to it, you just start off ‘saying what you see’, as in Catch Phrase, hahaha, and take it from there!

That’s advice I can relate to, “say what you see.”

There is an OCA study guide on “Looking at Other Artists and Photography” which contains lots of words and exhortations to visit exhibitions, buy or borrow art books and look at pcitures on the internet but not a lot of advice on what to look for in those pictures.

Another student posted a link to something he found useful (http://japanorama.co.uk/2011/02/25/building-visual-literacy/). This contained a 7 step guide to building visual literacy.

This started me on my quest. My view was that if I could develop a workflow for my photographic processing as taught right at the beginning of DPP, I could do the same for analysing pictures.

Searching on “Analysing Pictures” in Google produced a multitude of hits, including:

http://www.mediaknowall.com/as_alevel/alevel.php?pageID=image#

Written for Media Studies students at GCSE and advanced level it has an image analysis page which talks about deconstruction (denotation and connotation), mise en scene, organisation, composition, framing, lighting and colour with links to more in-depth articles.

http://nuovo.com/southern-images/analyses.html

provides a useful vocabulary to described photos, grouped under Basic Vocabulary, Visual Elements and Composition

http://pages.uoregon.edu/jlesage/Juliafolder/PHOTOANALYSIS.HTML

Contains seven categories which can be used to describe photos

http://classroom.synonym.com/write-picture-analysis-essay-2441.html

Contains a ten step guide to producing a picture analysis

Analysing pictures – Arcor.de

a four step analysis guide.

Putting all this together and trying to make sense of it we have:

Step 1

How does the picture makes you feel?

(Do this before you make any intellectual analysis of the picture. Immediate, unprepared and unguarded observation will often tell you more about the content communicated than rigorous analysis.)

Step 2

Describe the picture in terms of concepts from TAOP

(Points, lines, shapes, rule of thirds/golden section, colour, lighting, rhythm and pattern, how these lead the eye, balance)

Step 3

How does step 2 reinforce and/or contradict step 1

Step 4

Then with that in mind and at a deeper and more analytic level, (this is lifted directly from http://japanorama.co.uk/2011/02/25/building-visual-literacy/):

Building Visual Literacy

Level 1A: Building observation skills

What do you see in this picture?

Can you describe it more?

What else do you see?

What is going on in this picture?

What information in the picture makes you say that?

Level 1B: Building vocabulary

Can you guess where the photographer was standing when he or she took the picture?

Above the subject, looking down? Or below the subject, looking up? This is called point of view.

What is included in the picture frame? What is not included? This is called framing.

Describe the composition. What shapes do you see? What other patterns do you notice?

Level 2A: Building technical knowledge

What techniques did the photographer use?

What is the point of view?

How is the picture framed?

Describe the quality of the lighting. What direction is it coming from? Does it create a pattern of light and shadow?

Level 2B: Building an understanding of the choices photographers make

What choices did the photographer make?

Why did the photographer choose to use that technique?

Why did the photographer choose to compose the picture this way?

What is the photographer’s point of view? What effect does it have?

Why did the photographer choose to frame the picture this way?

What does the composition emphasize?

What does the lighting draw your attention to?

Level 3A: Understanding the context and intended use of the picture

What was the photographer’s purpose or the intended use for this image (e.g., magazine assignment, photo essay, fine art exhibition)?

Can you tell what genre of photography this is?

What do you know about the time period in which this photograph was made?

What does the photograph communicate about this time period?

Can you make comparisons to other photographers or artists working in this time period?

Level 3B: Relating context to subject and meaning

What choices did the photographer make? Can you guess why?

What is the photographer drawing your attention to? How is this accomplished?

What is the photographer’s point of view? What effect does it have?

What do you notice about the subject? Or the people in the picture?

Do you have any questions about the subject? Or the style of the picture?

What is the photograph saying? Does anyone have a different interpretation?

Level 4A: Finding meaning

What choices did the photographer make?

Does this element contribute to the photograph’s meaning, or is it distracting?

What was the photographer’s purpose in creating this image? What was the intended use of the image? How well does it work in this context?

What is the photograph saying?

Level 4B: Relating meaning to creative choices and larger issues

What is the impact of this image?

What are some issues it raises?

How might you approach this topic matter?

Level 5: Discussing what the image communicates

Which technical or formal elements work well in this photograph?

What do these elements draw your attention to?

What is the photograph saying?

What is the impact of this photograph?

How does the picture make you feel?

What does it make you think of?

Does it inspire you to work creatively in any way?

Part 4 Reflection

This part carried on where part 3 left off. I have found working through the gamut of Photoshop corrections, enhancements and other techniques extremely interesting and I have learnt a lot. That is not to say that all the material was new to me, most of it I have picked up along the way (or stumbled across it would be a better way of putting it) but the coherent and logical order of presentation has put a lot of that experience into a better context.

The unit constantly challenged us to question the ethics of what we were doing. I have commented on much of that in the exercises and I have prepared a separate post where I consider the issues more deeply so I won’t go into it here. Rather I will concentrate on what I personally have got from it.

Photoshop is a big program and my version (Elements 7) is quite rudimentary in comparison with the latest CS version. It was still powerful enough to be quite intimidating and was man enough for all the exercises. Part way through the unit I started using Lightroom 5 and although I am getting to grips with it fairly quickly, I was not confident enough to tackle the exercises and in any event, the later ones required the use of layers which are not available in the new software. For the assignment I used layers so the final image was produced in Photoshop. Lightroom was used for the rework to assignment 3.

Some useful Photoshop sites I’ve found…

http://www.photoshopelementsuser.com/category/getting-started-editor/

http://www.photoshopessentials.com/basics/

http://ibrandstudio.com/tutorials/how-to-create-3d-ball-in-photoshop

…and I’ve invested in Phillip Andrews’ two books on Photoshop Elements 7.

Looking at the ethical concerns around this kind of work added an extra element, lifting it beyond the simple “do this and that happens” to a higher intellectual plane.

I have also started to look at analysing pictures. I’m in the process of working out my own personal approach to this (which will be the subject of a separate post) and I’m reading Kenneth Clarke’s book “Looking at Picture”. So far this is proving very insightful, explaining his personal way of analysing a picture, how he gets sidetracked and comes back to it.

On Photography

There seem to be two types of photography book; one explains the nuts and bolts of picture taking, the mechanics of the craft; the second goes more into photography as an art. My technical background gives me a definite leaning towards the former; their style of “this is what you do, why you do it and how it is done” is much more accessible to me. I have tried several of the “photography as art” type books with varying degrees of accomplishment. Susan Sontag’s collection of essays published as “On Photography” is a member of the second group and the one I have had most success with.

Susan Sontag is not a photographer. If she were writing a how-to book, this might be relevant but not in a book like this. Neither is she a photography critic. She is a writer with an interest in photography that has led her to research the subject extensively and the depth of her knowledge and the level of her understanding is apparent on every page. Then her writing ability takes over to produce a book that is both erudite and readable.

Not being a photography critic is occasionally apparent when she does not differentiate between opinion and fact, or even personal opinion and considered peer group opinion. Being personal opinion, I found myself having a different opinion but had to remind myself that her personal opinion is based on more extensive research and has been read more times than mine and is considered more worthy. And having a different opinion opened my mind and forced me to challenge my way of thinking.

Other parts are predicated on esoteric background knowledge and not having that background made it difficult to understand the point. An example lies within the second essay, “America, Seen though Photographs, Darkly”. References to Walt Whitman had me scurrying to Google to see the relevance.

Then there are little snippets that give hope to struggling students. On page 132 we read “…there are pictures taken by anonymous amateurs which are just as interesting, as complex formally, as representative of photography’s characteristic powers as a Stieglitz or an Evans.”

I found it interesting, against a context of finding one’s own personal voice, that she did not consider individual photographers to be particularly individualistic. She compares them with composers and uses Stravinsky as an example where a particular style runs through all his works that enables compositions separated by many years to be instantly identifiable. She asserts that this is not the case with photographers.

The final “essay” is an anthology of quotations; some humourous, some profound, some puzzling but all carefully chosen to have something worth saying:

• I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. – Garry Winogrand
• I photograph what I do not wish to paint and I paint what I cannot photograph – Man Ray
• If I could tell the story in words, I would not need to lug a camera – Lewis Hine

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.

The Photography of Truth

David Byrne has reason to be rueful. Having been awarded the title of Landscape Photographer of the Year in October 2012, he then had to sit back while other photographers and forensic experts dissected his entry, decided he used Photoshop excessively and disqualified him. In his own words:

“I have to inform you after a conversation with Charlie Waite I have been disqualified from the Landscape Photographer of the year awards, unfortunately I didn’t read the regulations and certain editing like adding clouds and cloning out small details are not allowed, while I don’t think what I have done to the photo is wrong in any way, I do understand it’s against the regulations so accept the decision whole heartily.

I have never passed off my photographs as record shots and the only reason this has come about has been due to my openness about how and what I do to my images. The changes I made were not major and if you go to the locations you will see everything is there as presented.” [i]

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Lindisfarne Boats by David Byrne

Harry Fisch suffered a similar fate in the prestigious National Geographic Photo Contest with this image:

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Preparing for Prayers by Harry Fisch

The reason he lost his title was that he cloned out a small paper bag at the extreme right of the image. He argued that he could have cropped it but to no avail. Like Byrne, he accepted the issue gracefully and vowed to read the rules more carefully next time. [ii]

The introduction to part 4 of the course has this to say:

When digital photography began to be used professionally for publication, many people voiced concerns about the threat to what was perceived to be the inherent ‘truth’ of a photograph. How are we to know any more that a photograph was truly taken from life, and not in some way manipulated unscrupulously?

We then went on to look at various Photoshop actions and were asked to comment on the ethical issues around each one. The concept of a continuum from ethically acceptable to unacceptable was used. Clearly in the two cases mentioned above, the photographers placed their entries in a more conservative position on the continuum than the organisers.

Competitions are one thing, they have well defined rules and are officiated by a judging panel. Whether the rules in terms of allowed Photoshop interventions are clear is a matter of debate beyond this post. Nevertheless, as is often quoted, “the judge’s decision is final.”

What is the situation with more ‘real world’ areas of photography? I looked at what was meant by photographic truth in my previous post “The Camera Never Lies” and questioned what the real truth was. In a reply to a blog post by Kevin Connor on fourandsix.com, Eduard de Kam argues along the same lines, “…the truth is way too complex to ever be captured in a picture, a picture or photo will only show a small part of the reality. The lens used and the direction the photographer aims his camera are choices made at the very moment the picture was taken.” [iii]

In this post I will look a bit deeper at the history of photographic manipulation and review the situation with regard to two specific genres, fashion and photojournalism.

Four and Six Technologies is a company founded by Adobe veteran Kevin Connor and photographic forensic expert Hany Farid. Their website fourandsix.com (mentioned earlier) contains a timeline of photo manipulation stretching back to 1860. It contains many examples of alterations for political reasons, either because a leader had fallen out with someone or to make them look more powerful. [iv]

Mussolini:

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Mao Tse Tung:

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The nest example was a Pulitzer prize winning photo published in Life magazine.

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But even though manipulation has been going on since the dawn of photography, the timeline shows increasing numbers. The assertion now is that Photoshop has made it easier and more widespread.

At one end of the acceptability continuum where manipulation is widespread is fashion photography. Refinery29.com is quite amused by it: [v]

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Ralph Lauren and Fillipa Hamilton
This highly controversial Ralph Lauren ad makes model Fillipa Hamilton look like distorted bobble head being sucked into a vortex. Ralph Lauren later apologized, but our eyes still haven’t forgotten.

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Carla Bruni in Closer Magazine
The perfect accessory to a beautiful evening gown is not a black clutch but apparently, a floating third hand.

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Demi Moore on The Cover of W Magazine
In this photo of Demi Moore wearing Balmain on the cover of W magazine, her body looks awfully similar to Anja Rubik’s. Demi’s disappearing hips caused a ruckus when this photo was first published, but W‘s Creative Director Dennis Freedman claims that there was no retouching of the image.

These are extreme examples but the industry finds no ethical impairment in it. Flawless magazine’s creative director and photographer, Don Horne (his Facebook page say’s ‘I’ll shoot anything!) goes further than merely justifying the approach,

<p>“These days everything is about money. We all want it, We all try to make some of it! So its not surprising to see the lengths companies / brands would go to, to try and make some of it. All that these brands are worried about is selling. Sometimes they do it in a good way, Sometimes they twist the truth a bit to try and sell…”

“…But im a strong believer in photoshop’s role in photography![vi] (sic)

He goes on to warn about “the bad things about photoshop”, nevertheless his comments indicate a level of acceptance of photo-manipulation in the industry.

Further evidence is provided by the Guardian in their article “The Camera Often Lies.” [vii]

"Every single magazine cover in the UK has been Photoshopped to some degree,…If it’s a celebrity or a model, the bare minimum is that the skin will be touched up to remove blemishes, folds in clothing that show fat, wonky looking legs, bad hair, the whites of the eyes, cellulite … For men as well as women."

A former art director at Arena recalls two complicated cover shoots where Natalie Imbruglia’s cheeky grin as she jogged away from the lens was constructed from three different pictures, and Nicolas Cage had his forehead extended using a composite of six separate shots. "With the advent of digital technology, stars are taking more and more of an active role in the picture selection and retouching," the art director explains.

The prevalence in an industry where image means everything is understandable; does that mean it is acceptable?

"It’s (unsettling) because our commitment to telling the truth is being diluted," explains Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News.

The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University, Massassachussetts published its ethical enquiry in August 2012[viii]. It gave a balanced report but amongst the arguments against the practise, it blamed numerous eating disorders on the “thin-ideal media images.” Although the link to Photoshop was not expicitly proven, it was criticising the attitude of the industry that leads to the digital manipulation. A number of organisations that were bucking the trend were cited, including online magazine Jezebel and the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

Strongly allied with this is the skewed definition of beauty that is communicated and the harm done to “ordinary” people’s self image.

A genre at the further end of the continuum is photojournalism. Another competition winner who (nearly) fell foul of the forensic analysis was Paul Hansen for this winner of the World Press Photo of the Year 2012:

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Angry Mob by Paul Hansen

Neal Krawetz claimed the picture to be a composite of a number of images, a claim refuted by Hany Farid and the photographer got to keep his award.[ix]

Brian Walski was not so fortunate. The LA times staff photographer lost his job for this piece of doctoring a picture of a British soldier with Iraqi civilians in Basra. [x]

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Walski called his actions “a complete breakdown of judgement” and blamed the stress of the assignment.

Lebanese photographer, Adnan Hajj was dropped by Reuters for this digital manipulation (original on the left) of an Israeli air strike on Beirut: [xi]

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Reuters have published a “Handbook of Journalism” [xii] in which they make their views on the use of Photoshop very clear:

“Materially altering a picture in Photoshop or any other image editing software will lead to dismissal.”

They go on to describe what is allowed and what is not:

No additions or deletions to the subject matter of the original image. (thus changing the original content and journalistic integrity of an image)

No excessive lightening, darkening or blurring of the image. (thus misleading the viewer by disguising certain elements of an image)

No excessive colour manipulation. (thus dramatically changing the original lighting conditions of an image)

In defence of Brian Walski, fine art photographer Pedro Meyer asserted that Walski did not materially affect the content of the image, ‘in its essence’. He reckons they fired a photographer effectively for doing something the journalists do regularly, that he tried to come up with a better picture in the same way that the writers polish their text. He might have a point, a recent study to measure the accuracy of journalism has shown that there are errors in 59% of 4800 stories across 14 (US) metro newspapers. This reflects the results of other studies going back 70 years[xiii]. This in itself does not prove anything, but it would seem to indicate that mainstream journalism is making genuine efforts to maintain ethical standards and ensure the accuracy of its visual reporting.

The acceptability of manipulation depends very much on the context. By context I include client’s expectation, photographer’s ambition, how the picture will be used, how the viewing public will interpret it etc. We have seen how heavily manipulated images have lost competition winners their awards and photojournalists their jobs. There are rules covering both these activities, all involved broke the rules and it is to the credit of the parties involved that rules were established and enforced. On the other hand, the fashion industry has no rules and less well-established codes of practise. We have seen how this results in much more liberality with what is done to the image and something of the effect this can have on the viewing public.

I have not looked at Fine Art Photography, this is an area where even higher levels of manipulation would be accepted, if not expected.

This gives some guidance to a photographer when his computer is booted up and Photoshop loaded, what is the intent? How is the audience going to view it? Is there any deception involved? Any degree of manipulation might be acceptable in some contexts, in others only a small amount of correction can be used.

In conclusion I quote an extract from Susan Sontag’s book “On Photography” where she sums up the paradox between truth and aesthetics in photography:

“As the vehicle of a certain reaction against the conventionally beautiful, photography has served to enlarge vastly our notion of what is aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes this reaction is in the name of truth. Sometimes it is in the name of sophistication or of prettier lies: thus, fashion photography has been developing, over more than a decade, a repertoire of paroxysmic gestures that shows the unmistakable influence of Surrealism. Even the most compassionate photojournalism is under pressure to satisfy simultaneously two sorts of expectations, those arising from our largely surrealist way of looking at photographs, and those created by our belief that some photographs give real and important information about the world.” [xiv]


[i] http://petapixel.com/2012/11/02/landscape-photographer-of-the-year-2012-stripped-of-title-for-too-much-shoppin/

[ii] http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2013/01/11/first-place-not-in-the-bag-national-geographic-photo-contest-winner-disqualified/

[iii] http://www.fourandsix.com/blog/2013/5/21/what-is-a-truthful-photo.html

[iv] http://www.fourandsix.com/photo-tampering-history/

[v] http://www.refinery29.com/the-worst-fashion-photoshop-disasters/slideshow#slide-1

[vi] http://flawless-magazine.net/flawless/photoshop-fashion-industry/

[vii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/feb/23/newspaper-photography

[viii] http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/ethicalinquiry/2012/August.html

[ix] http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/155617-how-the-2013-world-press-photo-of-the-year-was-faked-with-photoshop

[x] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030409.htm

[xi] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5254838.stm

[xii] http://handbook.reuters.com/?title=A_Brief_Guide_to_Standards,_Photoshop_and_Captions

[xiii] http://jonathanstray.com/measuring-and-increasing-accuracy-in-journalism

[xiv] Susan Sontag, “On Photography” pub Penguin Books 1979, p105

Reflection on Part Three

This was a big unit!

It seemed such a long time ago we were looking at the RAW format. Whereas I was doubtful to begin with, I have convinced myself of the advantages and it has now become an integral part of my picture taking, my camera is now set almost permanently to RAW + jpeg. I can’t say I’m fluent with the manner of processing but it is improving. In fact, I have just started using Lightroom and this software seems much more seamless in it’s processing of RAW files.

The value of the exercises on managing tone and colour lay not so much in the core subject (although it was useful in providing a more coherent background to the work I already do) but in providing a good opportunity to practise RAW processing. I think the results I achieved with the images I chose were an improvement on what I would have got previously and I particularly appreciated the ease with which some of the adjustments can be made in the RAW file.

Creative interpretation was interesting. To have the freedom to take an image and produce some wild effects with it was quite liberating. I noted at the time that I did not think it would become part of my normal photographic practise. This was based on the notion that I am more of a realist than a surrealist in my work. However I am thinking that some kind of more extreme processing, consistently applied, can provide a kind of signature.

The last, and by far the largest, subject covered was black and white processing. This was new to me so had an immense value. I learnt the effect that adjusting the relative tonalities of the different colour channels can have on the final image. My software at the time, Photoshop Elements 7, could only adjust the red, green and blue channels, Lightroom has the ability to adjust a greater range so should offer more flexibility and control over the finished effect. The course noted that black and white allowed more extreme processing in key and contrast although this is not something I have explored much. The assignment was an exercise in black and white and although I produced pictures that were quite pleasing, I’m still not sure whether it is a medium which I want to pursue. That is not to say the exercises were not valuable: I learnt more about image processing, what can and can’t be done and what is effective; I learnt more about how Photoshop works; and if I’m ever called upon to give black and white images, I can honestly say I know what I am doing.

There are plenty of web sites that offer tutorials in Photoshop but I have found that most of them offer instructions on doing some quite eclectic techniques. Adobe has some good help on the basic features. Therefore I particularly liked the way this unit was structured, starting with simple corrections and moving through more radical adjustments. Photo processing software are powerful pieces of software and an image file is a complicated thing but this unit showed in simple and effective terms the most important elements of those. This process is taken further in the next unit.

Simon Roberts

Of all the photographers my tutor suggested I look at during my research for assignment three, the one whose work I found the most interesting was Simon Roberts. He promised me that; “His images very much ‘pull back’ from the main event allowing us to see beyond what would normally be expected.”

I have encountered Simon Roberts’ work before at the Somerset House exhibition “Landmark: The Fields of Photography”. Three examples for his series “We English” were shown along with one from “Olympiad XXX”.

The Olympiad series clearly demonstrate his “pulling back”. You might expect pictures of the Olympics to be dominated by sports and sportspeople. These are not ignored in Simon Roberts’ work but they are depicted within a context. Take this example of the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform Diving Final.

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You can see the divers but they very much take second place to the arena, the cameras in the foreground dominate, the spectators are shown in the background, even the judges are in view.

There is no doubt about the location of the men’s marathon:

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The Womens Cycliing Road Race pictured here at Box Hill in Surrey is an English landscape picture, with a group of cyclists and spectators.

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Another of his series that strikes me is “Pierdom”. In this series he is setting out to depict every remaining British seaside pleasure pier.

There is not much context to place a pier in but Simon Roberts still employs the same style whereby he pulls back. Rather than getting close so that we can see the detail of the structure or the amusements available, he surrounds his piers with plenty of sea and sky.

For example, Blackpool South Pier:

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Clevedon Pier:

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Sandown Pier is blessed with the inclusion of a bit of beach:

Pierdom

Particularly poignant for me is Hastings Pier. As a youth I spent much of my leisure time in or under the pier and it was a particularly sad moment when I heard it had been subject to an arson attack.

Pierdom

This can be compared with one of mine taken from a similar position (and on a similar dull day):

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My tutor particularly recommended his pictures from the general election campaigning.

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The Election Project

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For me, the overriding character of Simon Roberts is the irresistible Britishness of his work. “We English” and “Pierdom” obviously have the country as their subjects but he conveys throughout all his work a picture of the ordinary British, normal people, doing normal things that as a whole define the spirit of the nation. This is achieved through showing background, foreground, wide vistas, other subject matter additional to the “main subject”. Pulling back as he does enables a much bigger picture to be shown.

Photography: A Critical Introduction

The first sentence in the introduction to this book sets out its purpose as “…to introduce and offer an overview of conceptual issues relating to photography and to ways of thinking about photographs.”

In fact what it does is to discuss the history of photography and its place within society in relation to certain defined subject areas. As such it contains chapters entitled “Thinking About Photography”, “Surveyors and Surveyed”, “Sweet it is to Scan…”, “Construction of Illusion”, “On and Beyond the White Walls” and “Photography in the Age of Electronic Imaging”.

“Thinking about Photography” is mainly about the history of photography and discusses various approaches to chronicling the history.

“Surveyors and Surveyed” chronicles issues principally around the development of documentary photography, both from the aspect of photographer and subject.

“Sweet it is to Scan…” talks about personal photography and the taking of pictures for family record.

“Construction of Illusion” is sub-titled “photography and commodity culture”. As such the development of advertising and its use of photography is the subject matter.

In “On and Beyond the White Walls” the rise of photography as an art form is presented, both within the gallery and outside it.

The final chapter, “Photography in the Age of Electronic Imaging” contextualises the latest chapter in the development of photography, not just restricted to the digitalisation of the camera but cameraless methods as well.

This is an ambitious spread, one which the book attempts with aplomb. It is too broad to review in full here but a few general comments can be made.

There are flaws. The opening chapter is riddled with apparent and irrelevant feminism. There are ample references which implies impartiality but they are well chosen to support the arguments being presented rather than a balanced view. Its focus on history tends to detract from its stated intention “…to introduce … ways of thinking about photographs.”

As a history book on the development of photography within the areas discussed it is excellent (notwithstanding the occasional bias) and the references provide direction for further study but the thrice repeated inaccuracy over the date of the contribution of Fox Talbot and Daguerre (1939 versus 1839) gets tiresome.

The somewhat academic argument over who actually invented photography is evidence that the book is suitable for students of photography, rather than student photographers. I’m not sure at the moment how this will influence my photography but I will return to it later in my studies.