The photograph as document – Project 5: The manipulated image – Exercise 2

Exercise

Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73-75. You’ll find this on the student website.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.

If you were to ask this question to a student of photography, the simple answer may be “no”. We know full well that images have been manipulated since the advent of photography, and as far as we are concerned, the move to digital processing has only changed the way and ease in which images are manipuilated. For the layman, the non-photographer or the casual snapper who has little knowledge of the history of photography, the answer will probably be very different. For them, the advent of digital technologies and widely used applications such as Adobe Photoshop have created a sense of mistrust, particulaly given our image saturated culture. I actually read the above titled book when studying the Art of Photography, and my notes on the book as a whole can be found here.

The question above is not specific to digital photography, but to digital technology. With the widespread use of social media, and the rapid dissemination of transient snapshot images, I think that we (viewers) still largely regard the bulk of images as truth, due to the current digital visual culture. As David Campany points out: Almost a third of all news “photographs” are frame grabs from video or digital sources. These connote authenticity, particulallry when they are grainy or of low quality, which is often linked to “citizen journalism”.

Wells makes a point that “the authenticity of the photograph may be validated less by the nature of the image itself, than through the structure of the discursive, social and proffesional practices which constituted photography. Here, context comes into play. Where an image is published (in what newspaper or on what website) may influence how sceptical we are in believing what we see. The proffesional practices of forensic photographers is bound by strict rules which allow the images to be used as evidence. Despite the use of digital technology, can there be any doubt about how “real” these images are?

It doesn’t take much to damage a reputation. During Op TELIC (Gulf War 2), I rememeber the Daily Mirror publiushing photo’s of British Troops urinating on Iraqi prisoners. These images were not manipulated, but were staged in the UK, and proven to be fakes, which ultimately led to the editor (Piers Morgan) being sacked. This article describes how a photojournalist was fired after it emerged that his image had been a composite of 2 earlier images, taken only seconds apart. But is his manipulated image any less real in terms of meaning? The fact that it is well composed, lit and proffesional looking, has contributed to the current social distrust in proffesionally shot documentary images. This is also due, in part, to the fact that proffessional photographers also tend to be the ones with the skills and tools to manipulate images, hence the greater trust in citizen journalism.

If we look at social networking, and inparticular, Facebook, it is often joked that everyone is living an ideal/perfect life. We can upload large quatities of images quickly from any number of devices. We can edit /manipulate these photos on our phones using Apps, and we create a picture of our lives that we want others to see. Just like the family album, we often don’t document the strife, and even if we do, we don’t tend to share it with the world. This in itself affects the way that we view photography as truth. The individual photograpgh may be truth, but as a set, depicting our lifestyle, they are often far from it.

On the whole, yes, I think that digital technology has changed the way that we view photography as truth. It has made us more critical and sceptical, but this is not neccesarily a bad thing. sometimes it is good to question what we see on the “face of it” in order to uncover a deeper truth.

The photograph as document – Project 5: The manipulated image – Exercise 1

Exercise

Instead of using double exposures or printing from double negatives we now have the technology available to us to make these changes in post-production, allowing for quite astonishing results.

Use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never actually be.

To make a composite image you need to consider your idea and make the required amount of images to join together.

Upload the images and decide which image you’ll use as your main image and background. Use the magic wand to select sections of image from the others you wish to move into your background image. Copy via layer and drag into the background. Do this repeatedly until you have all the pieces of your puzzle in place. In order to make it more convincing, use the erase tool on each layer to keep the edges soft and to create a better illusion. Be aware of perspective and light and shadows for the most effective results.

Search YouTube for Photoshop tutorials; there will probably be a suitable upload. If not, ask your tutor or your fellow students for advice or find a digital technique book in your library for more specific instructions.

Have a look at Peter Kennard’s Photo Op series for inspiration: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/15/tony-blair-selfie-photo-op-imperial-war-museum [accessed 24/02/14]

The images by Peter Kennard, referenced above, are very well made, humorous, cynical and thought provoking. Photo manipulation is an art of it own, requiring an in-depth knowledge of the software in use, and the skills to use it well in order to create a realistic looking image.

I’ve experimented with image manipulation in the past, and have submitted images during my last course that were composites. For this exercise, I wanted to have a play with a fledgling idea. The images that I’ve created are pretty rudimentary, and at best are sketches in the development of an idea.

After my last tour of Afghanistan, my wife and I went on a holiday of a lifetime, driving Route 66 in the USA. I took an awful lot of snapshots of both the operational tour and the holiday (long before my education in photography started). I thought it would be interesting to mix and match elements of both sets of photos, to create a series of Afghanistan holiday snaps, or Route 66 war snaps. As I sad, its a fledgling idea, and these are the results of some experimentation:

1. The view from the aircraft window.

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Consisting of:

3b

Flying over Helmand Province in an RAF Chinook helicopter.

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The Grand Canyon

2. Afghanistan’s own Route 66.

2

Consisting of:

2b

Members of a Royal Engineer Search Team looking for IED’s during a Route Search.

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Yours truly.

3. Sharon and I at the Holiday Camp (Bastion)

1I’m conscious that the lighting is off here, and the subjects need to be darkened. But its just an experiment. Consisting of:

1a

Camp 406 – Home of the Counter-IED task force within Camp Bastion.

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Me and Sharon at the Grand Canyon.

To be honest, I wasn’t too enthused about this exercise because photo manipulation is nothing new to me. But that said, I’m not exactly great at it so appreciated the chance to practice. It has also been the catalyst for this idea, and it will be interesting to see where I can take it.