Monthly Archives: August 2012

Study weekend

Off to the residential study weekend this afternoon in Leeds. While its not official OCA we have some tutors coming down and the support of the OCASA. Really looking forwards to it, nervous about meeting new people but i’m sure we’re all like that before a new study event.

I’m armed with my camera, notebook and pens so hoping to get some notes I can type up onto the blog and if the weather stays nice, some photographs of Leeds!

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Feedback and Updates

I’ve just sent in assignment 4 ‘real or fake’ and am looking forwards to receving my tutors feedback. I found the actual reading around and background of fakery in photography fascinating and it really gave me a lot to think about. From looking at photography from a purely artistic view, I then moved over to looking at the ethics behind manipulation and I think this is something that will now always stick with me, especially when looking at news photography.

I’ve also got feedback from assignment 3 from my tutor and am very happy with the comments. I need to work on my prints but I presume that as I get more experienced with 3rd party printing companies I’ll start to get more acquainted with how best to bring the tones out. One of my next tasks is to look at the work of Tom Hunter and Nicky Bird. From the examples provided I’m really looking forwards to investigating these further. I’m struck by Hunters reconstruction of John Everett Millais’ ‘Ophelia’ as its one of my favourite paintings and I’m a huge pre-raphaelite fan. I was also taken with Bird’s ‘Tracing Echoes’ where she’d traced relatives of original models used by Julia Margaret Cameron and retook these photographs now.

I’ve seen this concept before, I’m a regular visitor to Whitby and particularly like Frank Meadows Sutcliffe work, collecting some of his books, and one that I’ve looked at over the years and has fascinated me, is ‘Every Now and Then’ where Michael J Shaw has traced relatives of original work by Sutliffe and has taken a modern reconstruction and presented this photograph next to the original. As welll as being interesting historically, just to see that through the decades there is still resemblance and familiarity is so fascinating.

With my work on assignment 5, i’m moving a little bit into the comparison of new and old with my project on capturing dereliction/urban decay compared to how locations looked originally. I think due to the amount of research work this could be something to be progressed as a long term project.

Assignment 4: Real or Fake

Assignment Brief

The last few exercises should have helped to clarify your opinion on the potential for altering content and viewer’s perception in an image, and helped you to define your own stance. The purpose of this assignment is for you to demonstrate this stance and the means involve completing a task which lies in the middle ground of the real versus fake argument.

The object is to produce a photographic image to illustrate an imaginary book or magazine cover. Covers are sales vehicles for their content, and so often quite widely interpreted by art directors, illustrators and photographers. The moral ground is therefore potentially ambiguous.

Decide on a topic to be illustrated, you could take an existing book and devise a new cover for it that gets the theme or story across to a prospective reader, taking a photograph especially for it. Explore the areas of adjustment and (possibly) manipulation that would make the image successful as a cover. This might, as just one example involve shading or extending an area at the top in order to make space for the title. Or you might choose to combine two visual elements (juxtaposition)

Accompany the finished image with a description of the techniques you considered using and finally used, and also your ethical justification.

Overview

The debate on real or fake has shadowed photography for decades, well before the advent of computers and image editing software. From modification through pushing and pulling film to enhancing contrast levels in Photoshop, photographers have always undertaken a level of processing to provide them with the most out of the image. While these modifications and removal of dust spots, stray telephone lines etc. can make an image more aesthetically pleasing, the original intent is still there, albeit adjusted but if a person visited the location, they would see enough to recognise it. Where the debate becomes cloudier is in the addition or removal of components that give the image a different context and feel.

Originally the view was that the camera never lies, however with the advent of combination printing where photographers such as Rejlander combined a number of negatives to form one image in ‘Two Ways of Life’, this was proved to be wrong. (Jeffrey, 1996)

It’s hard to write about real or fake without referring to some well-known cases, and one of those has to be the Cottingley fairies. I recently visited the National Media Museum in Bradford where there is a collection of some of their cameras and a reproduction of one of their images showing that the use of techniques to add to a composition have long been in place and that our current software suites are just another tool to create with. Looking at the image with modern eyes and knowledge it’s easy to believe that these are not necessarily faked images but composites mixing reality and fantasy. Would I have had the same thoughts viewing those at the time? I don’t know, I think I might have taken them at face value and believed the fairies did exist without the obvious signs of manipulation, and to put it in the context of the back end of the First World War, it was possibly a lot more believable than it would be today.

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At the other end of the scale of deliberate manipulation is the 2003 case of Brian Walski. I only stumbled across this when I was searching for some examples of modified images and found the article to be fascinating. While taking pictures in Iraq, Walksi took two images in close succession and used Photoshop to merge these into one. Van Riper writing for the Washington Post states that ‘He had to consciously manipulate his two digital pictures in Photoshop-an action requiring both skill and intent. He had to create the separate, faked image and –again with intent- transmit it to his editors saying nothing about the alteration’.

This was only noticed when a duplication of the background was spotted, if there had been no forensic trace of the blending, would this have been identified as fake or would it have been accepted as per other images from an established photojournalist who up until then had a history of credibility?

For me, the debate is not black and white and it very much depends on what the use of the photograph is and the context in which it’s being used. For this assignment, the end product I’m producing is a book cover; looking at other covers they are more an exercise in design to get the reader interested than to portray reality. In the case of Walksi, my views are much clearer, if the photograph was to depict a factual moment in time then modification should not have been used, I understand that it created a stronger image but is verging towards propaganda in influencing the audience towards a particular viewpoint. If it had been portrayed in an exhibition or gallery as an example of the conditions in Iraq, then I feel that it wouldn’t have been viewed so harshly.

My research has moved from not just faked photographs, but also to the ethical debate on staging photographs or posing subjects and implying that it’s actually happened in that way and at that point in time. This isn’t something that’s clear cut and we’ll all have our own ideas. For this assignment, my brief is to portray a book cover that stands out, attracts the viewer’s eye and gives a hint as to the story contained within.
With my other photography I will happily modify my images for aesthetic purposes by undertaking digital development, sharpening, removing stray dust spots and minor blemishes. I will consider the audience for the work when I decide what Photoshop actions I need to undertake, and while I can’t say that I won’t ‘fake’ aspects, I can see that these are more for images that will be displayed as art not realism.

The Subject

After giving some consideration to what I could use as a subject, I first of all considered a magazine cover, and then I considered a take on one of my favourite books that’s fantasy based and would be a good subject. The book I chose to re-design was ‘The Affinity Bridge’ by George Mann, essentially its a genre known as steampunk where history as we know it took a different path and we have the Victorian era with airships, automatons, steam powered vehicles and Queen Victoria being kept alive artificially. I’d taken a number of photographs of the peak district landscape as I knew they would be a useful backdrop for the exercises in assignment 4 and I specifically took a number of photographs of this crumbled road knowing that it was a good canvas to add to.

There are two covers to the novel, and I only found the second one after this had been completed so to see that I’ve also echoed the cog design was quite interesting. However I used the cogs as they symbolise elements in the story as well as being one of the most recognisable icons of steampunk related paraphernalia from jewellery through to clothing.

The Process

I checked the background for anything modern and I removed the car, telegraph pole and white lines on the road using the clone stamp tool. I then selected just the sky and used adjustments so that I decreased the brightness and increased the contrast to bring more colour back into the white sky as it was quite white. I worked with layers a lot here, converting the image to monochrome. I then edited an image of an airship, using the magnetic lasso tool to highlight it, and then I boosted the colour to a more brass/gold tone. I then copied this as a layer and pasted it twice into the image to get a feeling that there were fleets of airships.

In order to enhance the steampunk theme of the book, I took a photograph of a leather cog shaped necklace I’ve got, cropped this, saved it as a layer and then pasted it twice in. Using the history brush to remove the white background I’d taken the image on, I took my time and worked carefully to erase the white so that the cogs were standing out.

To finish the image, I chose the viner hand itc font as I wanted something that wasn’t quite modern and put the title and author at the top of the page where I had the expanse of sky and while I always envisaged the text there, it really stands out and works well.

In all I’ve spent around 8 hours working through Photoshop to get this how I wanted it. Effectively editing an image is not a quick process, it needs to be considered and done with care so that any major editing to create a ‘fake’ image will be done with thought and the knowledge that you want to create this effect. It’s not a quick mistake, it’s a planned action.

Thoughts

I could potentially put more detail into the book cover to make it more fantasy related in line with the real covers, but I wanted an edge and sense of realism and I think through the use of the photograph as opposed to drawn or illustrated background this adds interest to the story and what will happen to the UK with the different plot points. While the novel is London based, there are elements such as the use of airships (dirigibles) and the revenants that spread out of the capital.

The Original Covers

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The Affinity Bridge- My cover

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Bibliography & References

Jeffery, Ian. 1996. Photography: A concise history. Thames and Hudson. London. 2nd edition. Rejlander image p 43

Van Riper, Frank. Manipulating Truth, Losing Credibility. Available through The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030409.htm [Accessed 16th August 2012]

Exercise: Alteration

I had a couple of different images that I could use for this. At a recent classic car show, it was so busy that some of the images had people in the background so I thought these would be a good test of the alteration exercise.

While I’ve managed to remove the two people, I feel the sky it too patchy and not realistic enough, however at this point my skills aren’t enough to effectively rectify this. An advantage of this image was that the background wasn’t too complicated and was quite neutrally toned; I used a smaller brush size for around the trickier areas and ensured that I took my time to get this right.

Original image

Alteration Original

Altered image

Alteration1

Exercise: Addition

Take a conventional landscape view and expose for the sky, take another image exposed for the landscape. Process the two images normally, copy the lighter image onto the darker image and erase the over exposed sky to show the darker sky underneath.

Using CS6, I opened both files side by side, and as I hadn’t actually copied a sky from one image to another, this was all new to me. Luckily I’d bought a magazine that showed me the steps I needed to do as I’m very much still learning Photoshop as I usually just use it for basic enhancement.

Exposed for sky

Dark background

Exposed for foreground

Lighter background

Combined image

Addition1

Now using Photoshop (in my case as this is my chosen software), take this image or any other photograph with a sky. Then choose a different sky from an existing or new photograph.

I selected the sky from the previous exercise and copied the canal image onto it. Using different tools such as the expand and then feather, it helped to reduce/avoid any harsh edges. As the sky was quite dark already I didn’t want to do any further processing to this so I flattened the layers and then saved the image. For a first attempt I’m quite pleased by it as the original image was ruined by such a white sky and where you can’t easily revisit a location, it’s nice that it can be rectified. My only personal caveat would be that any work continued to look realistic and that I didn’t produce anything that couldn’t be seen on another different weather day.

Original image

Addition2

Image with new sky

New sky

Exercise: Enhancement

I made a layer of the image and increased the contrast and slightly increased the brightness. I then used the selection tool to select the iris and pupil to increase the saturation, brightness and I also altered the hue slightly. I can see the difference in the tones on the face and the warmer hue but I can’t see any obvious difference in the eyes. One thing I did notice was that there was a fine line between making an acceptable adjustment, and going too far that it starts to affect the colour and becomes unreal, an example of this is where I’d strayed onto the eyelid skin slightly, if I was more proficient in using Photoshop tools I’d probably be able to select an area more effectively but as there was a little bit of skin showing if I adjusted it a bit too much it turned pink so I knew that I’d gone too far in the image processing.

Original           

enhancement original

Enhanced

eye

Exercise: Improvement or interpretation?

Photograph a portrait in a setting and then use a manual selection method to select just the area of the person e.g. lasso tool or mask painting with a brush. Then save the selection and make any adjustments to this area that makes it stand out more clearly from the surroundings while still looking realistic.

I chose an image I’d taken of a band player at Southport air show where the background is quite busy and the attention should be on him. In Photoshop CS6 I used the magnetic lasso as I was struggling using my tablet and pen and the mouse to get a perfect line, ensuring that I selected the edges of the image as I wanted to darken the background not the subject. I then decided to crop the image just to make the focus stronger on the subject. I feel that comparing the images side by side that there is much more impact with the edited image and the colours make the subject stand out more against the darker background. I’d also been experimenting with the magnetic lasso technique and managed to select the figure and to alter him to monochrome while keeping the background normal coloured. While this isn’t ‘realistic’ in terms of the exercise, it’s a good example of what alteration can be done to make a statement without altering the subjects within the image.

Original image

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Modified Image

Improvement

Modified experiment

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Consider the limits

I wouldn’t use this technique to take a subject from a background and to place it in another different context as that can be misleading to the viewer, altering the background/subject to make the difference more tangible is one thing but to create a situation that’s essentially fake to me is one step beyond where I want to go as a photographer. The only situation that I can see this to be acceptable is if you are creating a fantasy scenario, recently I saw some bridal photographs where the subject was placed against a fantasy background and that was obvious to the eye that it was not a natural situation and there was no attempt to mislead. Considering press and documentary photography, the ethics of undertaking changes would negatively affect photography planting a seed of doubt in viewer’s minds and I feel that photographers need to be careful that what they produce depicts reality or is made clear to be a fantastical situation.