August 29, 2006
There is no doubt my “Can Celebrities Shoot” essay is wildly popular. It appears to be so popular that it is difficult to access the web site containing all the images and side articles of the celebrities. Part of the problem is that my post has been picked up by external sites such as Netscape. No doubt the web master of the celebrity site is wondering what hit him. Hopefully he is working without pause to fix the problem. Meanwhile, please be patient. There is nothing I can do to to fix this short of pulling the post. Except apologize to the web master on the celebrity site for making his life difficult. Fame is hell.
Another issue. I test the posts against several browsers and resolutions to ensure quality. In general, we test out fine although a high connection speed together with a high monitor resolution are good things. However, the beta version of IE 7 (now a release candidate) has caused me all kinds of headaches. Essentially, the current IE 7 causes display problems in WordPress. While this is really a problem for WordPress, not me, I’ve done my best to work around the various issues to present the best possible viewer experience. Nevertheless, some of you IE 7 beta people probably have experienced some display oddities. The standard IE 6 does not have these issues and hopefully Microsofties are addressing their problems.
August 29, 2006
Here is a multimedia War Photo Documentary showing human suffering during war. It is a political, yet real and honest statement of my view of war. The purpose of this very explicit, violent presentation is to show “War Destroys People”. To support this point, I use any technical means available to me. So do other documentary artists. Will you see “Reality”? From a technical view, no, not at all. From a human point of view, yes indeed. War does hurt people.
Joe Rosenthal – with Respect
Joe Rosenthal died at 94 last Sunday. His major fame came from his Pulitzer winning Iwo Jima picture. It is said to be the most printed and copied photo ever. The stories behind this picture have been endlessly discussed. Even I got into the act in a previous “On Reality” essay. No point in adding more to all those discussions.
Except for a brief period during WW II, he was not a war photographer. He was not a Robert Capa, nor a Hemingway.
Yet his one famous picture is a symbol. It stands for the triumph of good over evil. It implies the sacrifice of war is worth it. It shows clean indisputable heroism. The picture suggests hope, optimism, pride and stands for just causes. The American way is the true one. Unfortunately, three of the six people in the photo died in battle within days. That might have been a damper but wasn’t. The picture’s power easily overcame the infinite suffering lodging behind it, unseen.
Rejected by the Army due to poor vision, he worked the Pacific War, as well as other theaters, for AP. He appears to have experienced considerable combat prior to the Iwo Jima invasion. After the war, he returned to San Francisco. He worked for the SF Tribune for some 35 years, to my knowledge never again to seeing combat. Although I know little about his life prior to Iwo Jima and thereafter, his life appears to be peaceful as was his eventual death.
But nothing should be taken away from Joe Rosenthal. He took the picture of a century. His fame is deserved. He will always be remembered for that moment on an obscure mountain in the 1945 Pacific, over sixty years ago and counting.
After hearing about his death, I decided to do a tribute to him, consisting of a sample of his work. Amazingly, I could find very little of his photos beyond endless versions of his, apparently, one picture of fame.
War on a macro level – No Gain at High Cost
But it lead me to another, more ambitious subject. War coverage is not exactly limited to one picture from 1945. Especially since that picture has little to do with real war. It does not show people maimed, killed, driven insane, dislodged, fleeing, tortured, starving, degraded, gassed or imprisoned. War – to real people – is a horrible, dirty, painful business with little or no meaning and a lot of suffering.
Let’s consider a few examples on the higher “macro” level. Here is my point. There is an old saying that “War is too important to be left to Generals”. My take on it is “War is too important to be left to Generals, the President, the Cabinet, Congress or any other crazed fool out to make his reputation or fortune”. How to do it then? Easy: let us just NOT do it. Plenty of others have managed that. Yes, I know. I’m just a simple minded artist with no understanding of the Big Issues. Luckily, we have others, such as Mr. Cheney who knows better and who is an excellent shot as well. Labeled a man of mystery, his incomes from defense oriented businesses and Halliburton are far too complex for a thoughtless photographer to understand. All I can say, it all seems to be closely guarded secrets. The issue, though, is: Who the heck makes money from engaging in War? Certainly not me.
There have been three major invasions of Russia: Sweden’s King Karl XII, Napoleon and Hitler. All met exactly the same fate. They lost. A lot of of the invading people died from starvation, cold, exhaustion, illness and, a few, from battle wounds. The Russians uses the same tactic every time. It’s called Quit And Run. Or perhaps Quit, Burn and Run is a better term. Napoleon was the only invader to actually conquer Moscow. His victory turned hollow when he saw the Russians burn their capital to the grounds. Napoleon conquered nothing but burning debris. No food, little shelter. No surrendering Government. No defeated people. Napoleon realized his victory actually was his final defeat. He turned back to France, defeated. Few of his grand army made it back. The Russians rebuilt the country they had devastated in front of the advancing French army.
Quit and Run, such a simple, devastating tactic if used right. Think about it, George W. Be creative.
World War One, costing tens of millions of lives, led to yet another World War. World War Two led to the Cold War. Korea? After well over 50 years nothing has been accomplished except South Korea is briefly an Asian Economic Tiger. The North is starving while building nuclear bombs with no apparent objection from the rest of the World. Iran eagerly follows the same path, minus the starving.
Anyone remembering the Iraqi-Iran war? It went on for years, killing countless people in a death spiral almost without equal. It led to nothing except Iraq was supposed to have real mean, battle hardened troops. I suppose we know better now. The Iraqi did not even achieve that. Probably all the battle hardened, mean troops were killed in some swamp trench, attacking or, possibly defending, Important Targets. Maybe by poison gas, popular at the time.
Europe followed up on an ancient legacy of major wars with revolutions, friendly to the West, in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The West did nothing. The Soviets responded with mass killings, offering nothing but hardship in return. Then they disastrously invaded Afghanistan, costing them their empire. The Russians, wise from that experience, used their diplomatic skills to wipe Chetnya off the map using explosives rather than talk. Surviving Chetnyans responded by blowing up Russian apartment houses, an airliner or two, occupying a theater and a school. Russia again responded with their customary sensitivity. The price was a thousand Russian lives or so against the gain of a handful of Chetnyan lives.
The Vietnam War killed almost 60,000 Americans with no known benefit. Some claim great restaurants run by Vietnamese refugees are a benefit. That’s stretching it. Hanoi Hilton, Da Nang, Tet, the Wall and countless other memories are terrorizing too many good people. Some learnt from it. Lyndon Johnson did. But now we have George W. who did not learn.
Vietcong and the North Vietnam army did learn, ahead of the battles. They used a variation of the age old Russian Quit and Run tactic in a hugely successful manner. They only lost when they abandoned the tactic. Such as they did when launching the disastrous Tet offensive. They still won. The US never caught on and learnt nothing.
The Soviets and the Americans, in a rare act of common aim, shot down civilian airliners full of innocent people. An American fighter jet managed to down a ski lift gondola full of innocent people by bravely flying very low. Unfortunate accidents, no one is to be blamed.
Earlier, Kennedy was handed a Cuban Missile Crisis – he did win that one albeit almost at the price of wiping out the planet. It sure worked better than Eisenhower’s denial of U2 flights over USSR in spite of one just being shot down by the Soviets. Later, Kennedy declared himself to be a “Berliner” and promptly flew back home. Around then, Khrushchev attempted to scare the UN into submission using his shoe as a sort of weapon. Meanwhile, the USSR and the US wildly built nuclear capabilities suitable to destroy not just Earth but parts of the Universe as well. These were the Glory Days of the Cold War. Interestingly though, the Cold War was one with far less casualties and suffering than your average war. In fact, both the main players prospered. Except, of course, USSR eventually went broke, ending the Cold War.
What about Mrs. Thatcher’s Falklands war? It has to be one of the most astonishing wars of all times. The Iron Lady ensured victory through uncompromising stubbornness and by Staying The Course. French made fighters fought British fighters. A British submarine sank a formerly American cruiser. A French made Exojet missile sank a British destroyer. Later, British made, Argentinean owned, bombers sank a number of British ships. Funny how the international arms trade works. The price was about 1,000 dead on both sides, not to mention the loss of ships, airplanes and other hardware. Is that a reasonable price for a set of tiny, desolate, wind blown islands with no strategic value down in the South Atlantic? In particular since both sides demonstrated considerable incompetence, such as having no clue how to operate their hardware? Granted, the freedom of many sheep from the neighbor, vile Argentineans was assured. The pubs in capital Stanley remain on British soil. No doubt, the tales of the victorious and heroic Battle Of Stanley in 1982 remain alive in these establishments. I doubt either of the combatants can point at any hard benefit from this oh so cute, almost romantic war.
In Europe, “ethnic cleansing” developed into major conflicts as it has many times in the past. This time, they focused on a dizzying array of ex-Yugoslavia provinces, cities, countries, counties, villages, blocks, streets and even houses with religious/racial pockets of population suddenly eager to kill each other. America leaped to rescue, but learnt that the Apache helicopters can’t fly in mountainous terrain This dampened the courageous attempt of humanitarian help. Instead, NATO, led by America, bombed the area into dust.
We take pride in the successes of Bay of Pigs, Grenada and Panama. We tried exploding cigars on Mr. Castro in the name of the Fair Cause. Now, America and a few token, reluctant “allies” wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We may expand the Good Cause into potentially even worse Near East conflicts. Why not? The recent Near East adventures have cost thousands or even hundreds of thousands lives, not to mention the destruction of nearly a whole continent. Even Reagan had the sense to get out of Lebanon after losing hundreds of sleeping Marines. Clinton got out of Somalia after a massacre.
We lived – most of us – through 9/11 as well as deadly subway attacks in Japan, Spain and the UK. George W. declared War on Terrorism. He did not get out. He jumped in (others) head first. He did not realize that battle is ago old. It has been fought for decades by men far more knowledgeable (let’s be kind) than Mr. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld,
How about the IRA, the Kurds, the Japanese Red Army, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Basques and the Palestine killers at the Munich Olympics or the Cambodia Killing Fields? Remember the plane hijack crisis in the 70s for an assorted hopeless, obscure causes? How about the handicapped American thrown off a cruise ship to his death? Or the innocent airline passengers killed and thrown onto the runways in an attempt to get free gas for the next hijack flight? I’m not even touching on al-Qaida, the PLO as they once were, PHFL, DFLP, ANO, PLF, DPLF, PKK, DHKP, PMOI, Hamas, the Hitzbullah, GIA, IMU and maybe a few thousand more organizations viewed as terrorists. They come and they go – usually undefeated, often undetected – but mostly, they kill.
I’m even curious to find an American Church of Reality here in the US with the clever motto of “Understanding Reality The Way It Really Is”. Its leader is declared to be a terrorist. He is quite proud of the attention. Good work, Homeland Security. I guess you nailed one. Code Red.
In Asia, India and Pakistan play a game of brinkmanship using nuclear weapons. Wasn’t Kashmir supposed to be a romantic place not so long ago? Ceylon/Sri Lanka seems to accept its place as a dangerous place to visit or live in. Indonesia and other nearby islands aren’t too healthy either. Bali is out of favor thoroughly. Earlier, Mao’s Cultural Revolution used a Little Red Book to turn children into judges, throwing their parents and others to the wolves. Then, later, the Tiananmen Square massacre restored order after a feeble democratic student upheaval. The price? No one knows, nor cares.
Then we have George W. who, in his Texan manner, led us into the Iraq adventure. Within days, the Job Was Done. Well, perhaps not. In fact, the job isn’t done at all. George W, has decided the next President, not him, is responsible for the mess. The cost of this disaster is enormous in, oh, so many ways. Money is no objection. Neither is the casualty rate. Everyone counts the American Sacrifice in an abstract sort of way, but no one really cares about the tens or hundreds of thousand of, say, Iraqi victims.
George W., his cabinet, party and a few “patriots” remain “Optimistic”. Stay the Course. No Quit And Run. Halliburton, the real winner, is doing Great and hugely Profitable Work. Oil is good at any price – just think of the value of those Iraqi reserves at $75 or so a gallon, sorry it’s still a measly barrel. Good investment. American Democracy is Winning albeit still just around the Corner. American Power is Best, not to mention Fair and Honorable. All is Well. Progress is made. No Civil Wars on the Horizon. Those nasty Insurgents are Quitting and Running. Everyone is happy, except for a few soldiers doing bad, bad un-American things. Except for a hundred or so Iraqi killed every day. Small price to some, enormous to others.
Some Democrats and foreign “allies” remain supportive of the Bush War – well almost – well not really – actually not at all. Look at those poll numbers. Where are Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Maria Cantwell, Joseph Biden and John Edwards these days? They might wish they were in one of Cheney’s undisclosed locations. As long as Cheney is properly disarmed at the entrance, of course. Just joking. They are out there being optimistic yet not too optimistic or, suddenly, even pessimistic. They are the ones quitting and running. They do not understand the Russian version of Quit And Run either.
These days we better be careful of perfume and shaving cream getting mixed up whenever we fly. Or explosive shoes. Or combs. Or nail scissors. Or hair wigs. Or anyone with a beard. Not to mention a Dark Complexion. Remember the innocent Brazilian shot to death in London because the police believed – without evidence – he was a Near East bomber?
Now here is the question. Are we better off, given any of the above thrills? Did anyone end up happier, richer, prouder or, at least, less depressed? Not counting government officials, arms dealers and other riff-raff, of course. I think not.
Our real people troops in these wretched and useless foreign countries sure are not running, nor quitting .They are just killed, maimed and despised by all in the “operational theater”. Very few of our real life troops quit and ran in any of the hopeless, and many, conflicts braved by their Chief In Command over time. Many just died or simply went crazy. That’s been the case since the American Revolution. These troops are our kids. They are the ones knowing the facts of war. They should be the future of our country, not dead.
The USA has not seen war domestically for close to 150 years. Take Hiroshima – About 140,000 people died in the 1945 attack, some immediately, some over the next few months. Many more died from delayed causes. That’s out of a pre-attack population of about 310,000. About 50% death rate. A whole city structurally wiped out.
The bombing of Hiroshima was an atrocity. Foreign cities and countries suffered losses on a level unimagined in this country. Very much, lucky us. Just realize that those experiencing such total violence have a different take on war than those that don’t have the experience. I’m sure those involved closely in 9/11 would agree.
9/11 was child’s play compared to what has happened in other countries. Yes, I know. It’s punishable by eternal wire tapping to say something is as bad as 9/11. But 9/11 serves as an excuse for all kinds of undemocratic and illegal acts. So it will for many years to come. That is not good.
Don’t get me wrong. I woke up that September morning, turned on the TV and was changed irrevocably like most of us. The horror of that day will be with me forever. The heroism displayed by so many was, and is, without question, doubt or comparison. America truly is a remarkable country. As long as you exclude the opportunists, the cowards and the incompetent leaders. NY Fire Men and Police with many others spent the day risking and losing their lives, desperately trying to deal with massive horror. George W. spent the day on AirForce One. In almost total silence. Cheney withdraw – in silence – to his first undisclosed hole in the ground.
I dare. In spite of all illegal government activities, free speech still is a valued and trusted part of our constitution. Still, who is this guy being – maybe – critical of the honor of the American Way of Life and Its Glorious Past, Present and Future. What right does he have? Well, for one thing, I have the right of Anger.
I’m an immigrant. I’ve lived legally in the US for over thirty years. I enjoy the Freedom, the American Dream and all the Good Things of this country. Not least, the opportunity to change my life from one career to another, much more fulfilling, is an great gift. Today I consider myself to be an artist. Yesterday, I was not. That’s a great freedom, not available in all countries.
I grew up in a country that has not been at war for a few hundred years. It is famous for economic and social stability. In my days, there were no racial issues – today there may be some. Strangely enough, in my high school days, I was part of the school’s Conservative Youth Party. I even spent five years as an officer in their Navy – this was during the days of the last Vietnam war. Of course, for me there was no war – just play. Sort of like it was for George W. Today, they hardly have Armed Forces. They spend their money on other areas. Such as helping people, at home and abroad.
I knew plenty of deserters from the real war at the time. They practically invaded my city. It was in the middle of the glorious (to some) sixties. My country was second to none in the excesses, the free thinking and the rejection of past hypocrisy. All of it eventually left me with a sense of social justice, equality, people awareness and perhaps a revolting tendency. It might have pounded some honesty into me. And a fair degree of anger and a critical, maybe cynical eye.
I went to America and slept through many years of successes – former bosses allowed to disagree. I did not sleep through a number of tragedies, in my health and in that of near ones. More than the average number of tough deals have been handled. That’s what, finally, woke me up and turned me into an artist and an advocate for certain causes.
War is one of those causes. With my background, it should not be surprising that I hold the views I do. War is something to hate. It is not something to be optimistic (”All is Well”) or triumphant (”The Job Is Done”) about. I do not really care about the macro view. I’m reluctant to take sides.
I do, however, care about the poor souls that get in the way of war, one way or another. Which, by the way, does not make me all that different from lots of American, non-American, non-Terrorist, non-Weirdos people here and around the Globe. Many of these people know about War first hand – most Americans do not with the exception of relatively few Soldiers, Marines, Navy and Air Force men and women.
So that is the real subject of this post. The message is “War destroys People”, applying equally to the armed forces and civilians of the various nations involved.
War on a micro level – War Destroys People
This series is supposed to be about reality. My point all along is that reality is something we know very little about. Reality is distorted in all kinds of manners. Some of these distortions are physical in nature – the sun’s cycle and its different lights, light distorted by weather, different light sources’ K value and so on. See “On Reality 1″ for meat. Then there are different sources of distortions – those that are man-made.
Some of these distortions are just for the hell of it or because you can make money off it. Art is a great and socially well accepted example of such deviousness. Then there are many not so noble variations on the theme. Paparazzo. National Enquirer. Certain journalists. Parts of the Justice system. Forgery. Etc.
There are other, perhaps even more serious, offenses. Propaganda. Censorship. Both of these tend to be run by very authoritative and rich agents such as governments. Both are used in war. The American Government – especially, but by no means uniquely, the Bush administration – uses both tactics to an embarrassing degree. I’ll have a lot to say about this in later “Reality” installments.
The two goals of the activities are: 1) to defend the current war to the domestic civilians 2) to hide the terrifying suffering of all involved in the war. I won’t expand in this context. That’s for later. Instead, let’s get to the point of this post.
I’ve prepared an eight minute multimedia presentation intended to illustrate, very explicitly, war as experienced by real live or soon-to-be dead people. This is no “embedded journalism” BS. This is graphically dramatic images of the horror of war on a personal level. It covers conflicts from the last 150 years. It shows several sides in those wars with no opinion of “who is right”. There are no heroes. None of the real people are recognizable. For many horrible reasons.
The presentation may be labeled a piece of propaganda by some, just as may be the case of any documentary. The difference compared to real propaganda is that I tell you what I’m doing. Another difference is that, as an artist, I have creative freedoms that, again are openly acknowledged. I produce documentaries to make a point. In this case, the point is “War Destroys People”. To make that point, I use any available technique to amplify the impact of my message. I gladly doctor the images to clarify the message. In general, the images as shown are even darker and more expressive than the originals. The music – a Contemporary String Quartet – is chosen to support the idea.
I’ve cleaned up old, scratchy, low quality Internet images. Then, they are more believable. Even so, most of the images are of very low quality. But they do make the point. In my opinion. This manipulation of you, dear reader/viewer, by me and probably many others before me explains the nature of this post. The goal is not to deceive you, It is to open your eyes, to consider another point of view, to surface some issue of importance.
Details of the Multimedia Presentation
Do not watch this presentation is you object to pictures of explicit violence and its consequences. Some images are very graphical. Do not watch this is you are too young. Let your parent(s) know. The rating is definitely MA. Protect yourself.
A fast Internet connection is practically a must to watch this show. Although the presentation uses a fairly low quality mpeg 1 format, the download size is from 90 to 140 MB. As you hit the download link, one of two things will happen. First, The video may start almost immediately – actually while the file is downloaded. This is a good solution if it works to your satisfaction. Success depends on your setup. IE and Windows Media Player has good support. Firefox as well works well but tend to like Quicktime which in its free form only plays in a tiny window. The video is designed to be viewable full screen.
The second thing that might happen is that the video file is simply downloaded. This may take its time – usually 4-5 minutes with a fast connection. Then it may play itself automatically or you may need to load it into your favorite player – there are many such players available from companies such as Microsoft, RealNetworks and Apple. There is no spamming, advertising, nasty scripts, adware or even any installation or interference with your system whatsoever related to the download. This is true as long as the file is downloaded from Leading Design. Please alert us if others attempt to offer our presentation in any form. Please note, I’m not really able to provide extensive troubleshooting or technical support of your private system.
All of the images are originally downloaded from the Internet. I claim no rights whatsoever to them. I respect all copyrights that may be involved. I do claim a copyright to the design and production of the video itself. Please do not attempt to sell this product. That is plain illegal.
Finally here are three download links. Just hit the first logo and and you’ll experience an anti-war statement as shot by some very brave and, in some cases, a few very immoral or at least very cynical photographers. The presentation may or may not be streamed. If streamed, you may suffer from buffering and download speed issues resulting in jerky, poor quality. If so, use the second logo which uses a smaller version of the video. Finally, the third option is to download the video file without streaming and run it any way you please.
Any of the download alternatives require a bit of patience. Please hang in there, just as you have to with any Web video program. Even when streaming, your player may take minutes to set up its buffer. Thank you.
Possibly streamed download (Try first – medium quality)
If the above link and your particular setup causes problems such as poor or jerky playback quality, then use the link below to download a lower quality, smaller version of the file. That may resolve any issues you have with a streamed download.
Possibly streamed download (Try second – lower quality)
If the above link still causes problems, then use the link below to download a zipped version of the file. Unzip the downloaded file and run it in your favorite video player. That should resolve any issues you might have with a streamed download.
Zipped download (Best quality but not streamable)
This is the safe bet but it takes a few minutes to download the video file. On the other hand, the video file is higher quality than either of the two you get above. You may want to download this file in the first place in spite of the wait and minor hassle involved.
Thanks for your attention and thanks for bringing my hit number to above 30,000 in about six months. Humbled, I hope you get some value out of your visit.
August 24, 2006
Little did I know three weeks ago that I’d reach the mile stone of a 1,000 readers (excluding you syndicated ones) this soon. No doubt other blogs grow quicker, but this one is aimed at a very special, limited and, I think, sophisticated audience. To me, this mile stone is quite special. Thank you all.
I’ll keep writing about photography, art, artists and reality as I have in the past. Here is a short list of the most popular posts so far:
- Can Celebrities Shoot? – This one sure fired you up!
- On Reality 3a – This is the one discussing faked photos. Much more to come.
- Stanley Kubrick The Photographer. I’m glad you liked this one. He was quite a guy.
In On Reality 3a, I wrote about Joe Rosenthal and his Iwo Jima picture. The date of my post is 8/15. Joe Rosenthal died at 94 on 8/20 2006. For a few days, this piece of news passed me by. When I realized what had happened, I felt a bit funny about discussing his work in my post. I felt the post was disrespectful, although unintended. The post does not actually contain any criticism.
Even so, I am working on a tribute of respect to Joe Rosenthal and the symbolism of his WWII work. As I do, the scope of the tribute is expanding to include all people affected by war. It will state my personal view on war. War is not something to be “optimistic” about, as our leadership seems to be. Rarely are there winners, but a lot of dead, maimed, lost and hurt people. That is reality. Thus, this post – soon to come – will be part of the On Reality series of this site. It’s main part will be a multimedia presentation showing war for what it really is.
Again, thank you all for spending some of your precious time with me on this site.
August 21, 2006
In several past posts, I’ve commented on my theory that highly talented people – such as Stanley Kubrick, Gordon Parks, Tony Bennett and Henri Cartier-Bresson – did great work in art forms different from that of their principal fame. I started to wonder if that is generally true. I came across a web site devoted to celebrities and their photography. I don’t know what you’ll think about what I’m about to show and discuss. I found some of it hilarious and some of it depressing.
Here is a note on the pictures in this post: I’ve selected about an equal amount of photos by the celebrities from a) the “best” of them and b) the “worst” of them – according to my opinion, of course. The pictures occur in a random order. They are not linked to the text at all. Can you spot the good ones from the disasters? Maybe yes, maybe no – after all, it is just a matter of personal taste. There is no right or wrong answer and certainly no score card.
Here is a link to the Celebrity Site “Take Great Pictures, Celebrities That Shoot“. The article covers no less than 19 celebrities and their photographic talents. The site includes side articles and slide shows. I thought that this must prove or disprove my talent theory. Here is what I’ll do: For each of the 19, I’ll provide a link to their photo slide show for you to explore. Click on the name of the reviewed person.
I’ll make some statements on my view and show some quotes from or about each celebrity. Again, the principal question is – Can Celebrities Shoot? Check my totally subjective ratings!
1 – David Berkeley – a musician and song writer who did some photographic work on assignment in Alaska for a travel guide. A quote:
“What draws me into photography as a form is similar to when I write songs. Both photography and song writing are very emotionally instigated and desired forms. Some things just call out to take a picture of it, such as a stupid sign or a striking shadow. That is easy to capture, but often I have to be moved by something visually to photograph it. What I really like about photography is that I can see an image I want to capture but then the trick is to try and figure out a way to photograph it. You can’t create that emotion with just a mirror image of what you see. You have to try and figure out the best way the camera can capture it and still convey the emotion that you felt at that moment.”
Not a bad statement at all. I think it is right on. Question is, do his photos live up to his words? I think there are several photos of his that are quite nice. But there is little commonality or any particular insight. Have camera, will travel. Grade: C.
2 – Matthew Modine – Veteran actor, perhaps best known for his role in Full Metal Jacket (Directed by Stanley Kubrick!). He published a book about his experiences playing a photographer in the film. Here is a quote:
My interest in photography really began with the tremendous generosity of my friend Joe Kelly giving me the Rolleiflex to take with me on my trip to London to work with Stanley Kubrick. Joe said that Stanley would be really impressed (he felt) if I had a knowledge and understanding of photography.
Now that’s a novel idea – having a camera promote your career. Most of the pictures are from the movie set. Enough said. Grade E.
3 – Barry Zito – Oakland A’s Pitcher. A happy amateur enthusiast. The enthusiasm is reflected in his work but it is pretty much snap shots. Curiously, he uses a Canon EOS 7N – a film camera much beloved by me and one of my principal cameras.
Q: ….It seems like you try a number of different styles of photography, whether it is candids, landscapes, or abstracts – what kind of photography is your favorite to shoot?
BZ: Hmm… I don’t know. I like shooting people. I mean, I’m an extroverted person and I love capturing someone’s spirit through their eyes. But I don’t even like to say I’m a photographer. I just like to document my life and have experiences, some of which not everyone gets to enjoy and see, so I put it on film or digital. I’ve already got 7,500 pictures just from the past three years with so much random stuff. I’ll bring my camera with me to restaurants and bars and always have it on me because I never want to miss that shot.
Well, the pictures are all over the place. Exposure is a weak area. But he’s got the right idea and some humility – bring that camera along and keep shooting. One day it will work. I did the same for many years. Grade C.
4 – Carmen Electra – Actress. It appears most of her photographic experience occurred when:
“Carmen and fellow actress Bai Ling, who appeared on the cover of the May 2005 issue of Playboy, snapped when they were able to borrow a D2X from WireImage Professional Photographer Michael Caulfied the night of the Force of Nature Concert for Tsunami Aid at Stadium Putra in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.”
The most interesting part are the pictures that Carmen Electra apparently took of herself. It reminds me a bit of the equally astonishing picture of Hippolyte Bayard that I discussed in “On Reality 3a” below. Of course, he managed to photograph himself while dead. Ms Electra apparently is not dead in the pictures she took of herself. Grade: F.
5 – Brendan Fraser – Actor in a great many films. There are no quotes available. Too bad, I’d like to find out more about his photography. This guy has got talent although perhaps not much patience and discipline. But then, why should he? It’s not like his livelihood hangs on this. I do like his stuff. It’s got this nice improvised, irreverent vitality feel – check it out. Grade A-.
6 – Kyle MacLachlan – Prolific actor, mostly on TV. Link to article doesn’t work. The photographs are labeled “Photos From Around The World” and they seem to be. Snap shot quality, nothing special that I can detect. Grade C-.
7 – Robert Tourtelot – “Renowned litigator best known for his high profile work in the OJ Simpson trial”. Ah well. Here is a series of quotes:
“In the last four years, however, Tourtelot has committed a lot of time and energy to the craft of photography. “Digital cameras drew me back in and peaked my interest,…”……“He has also committed himself to learning formally, saying, “I’ve studied a lot at the UCLA extension school and completed a course at the New York Institute of Photography.” Returning to photography, he says “makes me look at the world differently…”
“Robert Tourtelot photojournalistic approach reflects his opinions on the condition of contemporary photography, “I am of the firm belief there exists in Photography today a certain element of ‘elitism’ amongst certain well-known photographers, galleries and critics.”…..”that is so out of focus that I want to laugh. Of course the reviewer or whoever is commenting on the photo accepts the photographer’s explanation that it was shot this way on purpose to convey some sense of mystery or whatever.”
I always like people who can consider changes in their lives from one career to something entirely different. They may have dreamt about such a change for ages and finally act on it. I’m not sure if Mr Tourtelot is one of them but he may be. I personally certainly made the change of a life time when I abandoned my high tech, high pay career for photography and art.
Many of his photos are quite nice. There is a commonality, a line of though missing in most of the work of others discussed in this post. Nice going. Grade B-.
8 – Marty Stuart – Country Music Entertainer who is “Shootin’ From The Heart”. I like that. Let’s see if it is true, as reflected in his photography. Quotes:
“As an entertainer Marty has enjoyed a special kind of relationship with his subjects, because they are more often then not close personal friends. It is this connection that has allowed him a unique kind of access that other photographers would not ordinarily be able to achieve.”“Stuart feels country music gets back to the core of human existence and through his through (huh?) the craft of photography he’s succeeded in capturing a fading generation of stars, in a not-always glamorous profession.”
I suppose that tells us something – sounds interesting. Unfortunately, the slide show displays only two pictures. Hard to tell if they come from the heart or if they capture a fading generation. I guess we have to buy his book to find out. Amazon reviews are positive so he must have something to say. Grade: none.
9 – Frank McCourt – Celebrated Author (Winner of a Pulitzer Price) with the “Luck Of The Irish”. Maybe so. Here is another example of an alleged photographer that seem unable to shoot anything but himself. That’s right – every picture in the article and the slide show is showing Mr McCourt having a grand time. I hope his Pulitzer Price work wasn’t quite as obnoxious as “his” alleged pictures of himself. First prize for worst photos so far. I wish he had the insight to keep them in the family album in the bottom drawer. Grade: F-.
10 – Leonard Nimoy – Photographer/Director/Actor/Photographic Expressionist AKA Spock of Star Trek. Oh man. Mr. Spock surely must be one of the multi-talented people I’m so desperately (by now) searching for. Let’s check a quote:
“While he’s also published two books of poetry, it is photographic images that have drawn Nimoy completely away from show biz. He worked on Shekhina some seven years, and he’s continuing to devote his energies to photography rather than on acting or directing. “I’m withdrawn from both. I’m not accepting any acting or directing offers. I’ve had enough of that,” Nimoy has said. “This is what I’m doing.”
As with Mr. Tourtelot above (perhaps), here is a guy that seem to understand art and being an artist. Very much my kind of person. I’m also happy to say I like his photography a lot. It’s very dramatic, expressive and generally engaging. Nimoy qualifies all the way. Grade A.
11 – Henry Winkler – Prolific Actor/Producer/Director, mainly TV. There is an amazing amount of celebrities I do not really know anything about. Although I recognize his face and remember seeing him in a few shows, I really know nothing about him. That goes for many on this celebrity list. I guess I’d make a lousy paparazzi. Unfortunately, the side article contains almost no information about his photography or anything else except showing some of his photos. Here is the lonely quote:
“I love reflections, as you can tell. I’m drawn to them. I always try to capture the symmetry of reflection”
Well, that’s fine if not exactly original. I like reflections too but I rarely shoot them – the field is a bit overcrowded. He is a combined nature/travel photographer. His images are quite nice although by no means original. Grade C+.
12 – William Shatner – Veteran Actor, “A True Renaissance Man” and, of course, another Star Trekker. Interviewed in the side article by Photographer Joe DiMaggio. Now that might have been a real double take. However it turns out there really is a Photographer Joe DiMaggio who is NOT a dead, famous Center Fielder. Now, about the Renaissance Man part, Leonardi da Vinci was a Renaissance Man. So was Michelangelo, Donatello, Machiavelli, Gorgia Popes and, to some extent, Rafael. The Medici family was part of the period. A quote from Wikipedia:
“Historians have begun to consider the word “Renaissance” as an unnecessarily loaded word that implies an unambiguously positive “rebirth” from the supposedly more primitive Middle Ages. Many historians now prefer to use the term “early modern” for this period, a neutral term that highlights the period as a transitional one that led to the modern world, but does not have any positive or negative connotations.”
On the other hand, here are some more current “definitions” of Renaissance Man from ask.com:
“A man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.”….”a modern scholar who is in a position to acquire more than superficial knowledge about many different interests” and “a scholar during the Renaissance who (because knowledge was limited) could know almost everything about many topics”
Interesting issue. It seems modern views have little to do with historical reality. Anyway, I digress. Mr. Shatner may have broad intellectual interests. He might be accomplished in both the arts and the sciences. Unfortunately, his photography does not reflect such talents. I dislike the use of pompous descriptions of inferior talents. This is not unique to Mr. Shatner. It is extraordinarily common to many of the celebrities in this post. Self promotion beats modesty and honesty any day, it seems. Grade: D.
13 – Jamie Elman – an Actor with what seems to be a real interest in photography. Strictly an amateur and essentially a point and shot photographer, he nevertheless has some interesting things to say:
“I’ve learned quite a bit from watching Cinematographers work with light, angles and composition. The beauty of my shooting is that I can see things that are beautifully lit. I can watch them create compositions and I can talk to them about what they are looking for. And it has helped me with my digital camera because I am much more aware of what makes good pictures.”
I might have liked his stuff if the shots were not all of himself. What is it with these people? Aren’t THEY supposed to take the pictures they imply are theirs? Perhaps he uses some sort of remote control technique but even so, self promotion is the only factor here. The grade is automatic. Grade: F.
14 – Nathan Purdee – Actor. There is only a self promoting article on the site. Not a single photograph. However, being your diligent blogger serving my alert readers, I did not stop there. It turns out Mr. Purdee really is a photographer and, actually, a pro portrait/people shooter. The name link will take you to his art. He really is pretty good but I penalize him for the self promoting part. Grade: B.
15 – Jeff Bridges – A Great Veteran Actor shooting “Go behind-the-scenes of a Hollywood movie set”. I actually have seen his photo work before. Which is lucky because the site contains none. Nor does it contain any meaningful information. Again I have to practice my investigative skills. It’s not hard to find references to his photo work – after all it is all about the glamour of Hollywood, right? Well, not really – his work is definitely several steps above that. He is a good photographer. Certainly he is one of the multi-talented crowd – small as that crowd seems to be. The name link takes you to his “Baker Boys” collection. Here is another useful link to Jeff Bridges photography. By the way, high marks for his innovative web designs. Grade: A-.
16 – Bill Eidson – Mystery Writer “Inspired by Photography”. I like mysteries. I read them all the time. But this one goes too far. The site contains no hints he actually shoots photos. Maybe he does. The slide show shows the covers of his books. I doubt those are his photos. I found an article of his describing the work of a real photographer. I found no conclusive evidence of any photographic work done by him. Case closed. Grade: none.
17 – Kenny Rogers – Country Singer of great fame. Here are a few quotes that we sorely need because the slide show contains only two photos:
“Rogers’ photographs focus on two very different types of images: landscapes and portraits. In shooting the vistas of America he has crisscrossed many times in his years on the road, Rogers says he looks for form, design, texture and organization, such as the brick and mortar of the urban landscape and the endless variations of light and shadow in the country.”
“The quality of Rogers’ photography distinguishes him as a visual artist notwithstanding his fame as a performer. The proof is in the images—the talent and vision evident in Rogers’ photographs make them stand on their own as fine artworks.”
I guess I have to check this out. The slide show told me very little. So did my research. He has two books out. Buying them seems to be the only way to find out what his work is about. Amazon is rather mum on the subject. I give up. Grade: none.
18 – Rudolph Giuliani – Former New York City Mayor In Pursuit Of That Elusive City Image. Come on, he might be one of the heroes of 9/11 but a photographer? I think not based on the single photo in the slide show. Here, however is an excerpt from a Larry King interview that might be informative in our quest for talent:
KING: Another aspect of the life and times of maverick Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani the photographer. Here’s a picture of the former Yankee Cecil Fielder batting against the Orioles, that’s Cal Ripken there at third. When did you get into photography?
GIULIANI: Oh, years ago, 25 or 30 years.
KING: As a kid?
GIULIANI: Sure, I used to do weddings.
KING: You’re kidding.
GIULIANI: Yeah, for fun.
KING: For fun, Bar Mitzvahs or just weddings?
GIULIANI: I may still do one. Maybe I’ll do one for charity, and do a wedding.
KING: Why don’t you publish some of these?
GIULIANI: I did an exhibit at the Likka (ph) Gallery, and we sold about forty of fifty thousand dollars worth for charity.
KING: Look at this one.
GIULIANI: That’s one of my favorites.
KING: Where did you shoot this one?
GIULIANI: I shot that from a boat, and that was used by Amtrak as an ad for about a year and a half on the Metroliner.
KING: That’s a great shot of the city. It’s in your eye, huh — that’s where the photographer…
GIULIANI: And the lighting was the thing that we were very fortunate.
KING: And this one.
GIULIANI: That was a…
KING: Tell us this one?
GIULIANI: That was a subway derailment in the Bronx, that I went up to late at night.
KING: As mayor?
GIULIANI: As mayor. I had my camera with me.
KING: Do you carry your camera as mayor?
KING: And you took that…
GIULIANI: A picture of one of our firefighters. It is the force of the water that is keeping the subway car up there, so that they can eventually stabilize it.
Two American Icons having a sharply intellectual conversation. Rudy, I sure can’t discourage shooting pictures for fun and charity. But politics is probably your real game. Grade: none.
19 – Tyra Banks – Model and Actress “On Photo Assignment – As The photographer”. This is the last celebrity. What a marathon. I have to admit I’m a bit burned out on the subject. I suspect anyone actually reading this might be a bit fed up too. But let’s give Tyra a fair shake. After all, she is“a groundbreaking international fashion icon whose image campaign can be seen around the world” and, no less, “equally well known for her concern for today’s youth and such important issues as education and self-esteem.”. The slide show is all about charity work. Good charity work, but not interesting photography. Grade: D.
So – unbelievable as it must seem, that concludes our reviews. Time to summarize.
Summary: “Can Celebrities Shoot?”
Here are my grades of our 19 Celebrity Shooters:
- Really Pretty Good ones (A-B) – 5
- Somewhat Competent ones (C) – 6
- Please Forget It ASAP ones (D-F) – 5
- Insufficient evidence, un-rated – 3
Of course, this is not a scientific study but a subjective opinion. Based on the commonly quoted “Normal Distribution” the distribution is too flat – too many good ones and too many bad ones. The magic middle ground is too shallow. I do believe that is the story, though. Some of these celebrities are really very talented people and it shows in their photography, being a secondary talent. Then there is a gang into anything providing free publicity, self promotion or an ego trip. Any surprises?
So the answer? Yes, there are some really talented people out there. They are capable of being successful in many artistic fields, including photography. But the rest of the celebrities? No – their stuff is no better than that of your average Joe and Mary in AnyWhere, USA. Some of it is probably worse than average in an obnoxious way.
Now for the final step. I’ll select a few pictures from the “A” gang and a similar amount from the “F” people. Ill show these pictures spread out in the post in a random fashion. I hope you can tell which picture goes with the “A” people and which with the “F” gang. If not, perhaps my critical eye needs some serious overhaul!
Next time, I think I’ll get back to the quite popular “On Reality” series. Stay tuned!
Thanks for your attention, all you alert readers,
August 18, 2006
Rarely is one person as talented as Gordon Parks. From directing films such as “The Learning Tree” and “Shaft” to authoring books and music to a prolific and varied photography career, he consistently excelled.
Gordon Banks passed away in March of 2006 at age 93. Here are the awards he received: Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, 1941; Notable Book Award, American Library Association for A Choice of Weapons, 1966; Emmy Award for documentary, Diary of a Harlem Family, 1968; Spingarn Award, 1972; Christopher Award for Flavio, 1978; National Medal of the Arts, 1988; Library of Congress National Film Registry Classics film honor for The Learning Tree, 1989; honorary Doctor of Letters, University of the District of Columbia, 1996; induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, 2002; Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002.
He was born in Kansas in an environment “electrified by racial tension“. His photo career started in 1937 while working as a train attendant, Prior to that he had held a variety of jobs, including being a musician. Oddly enough, his early photos were of fashion – something that would follow him for a long time. Even more oddly for a black man at this time, he was successful.
He expanded into documentary photography and landed a job with the famous Farm Security Administration in 1942. Still faced with strong racial prejudice, his anger is clearly shown in his pictures. FSA folded in 1943 and for Parks, it was back to fashion. At that time, black fashion photographers were not exactly a common sight. In fact, he was the first black photographer hired by both Life and Vogue.
For that matter, he was also the first black man to work for FSA. Later on, he became the first black director in a major Hollywood studio. This remarkable series of “firsts” was based on superior talent with quite a dose of anger.
His magazine career continued for years. One editor remarked that “At first he made his name with fashion, but when he covered racial strife for us, there was no question that he was a black photographer with enormous connections and access to the black community and its leaders.”. Malcolm X said “Success among whites never made Parks lose touch with black reality.”
Park’s film career started in 1962 with a movie about Park’s experience with saving the life of a young Brazilian. The boy’s name and that of the film was Flavio. A number of films followed. Simultaneously, he wrote several books, some biographical, some of poetry. He was extremely prolific in the 60s through 80s. He received many honors during this time. In 1995, he donated much of his artistic work to the Library of Congress.
I used many sources to gathter the above material. The principal source can be seen here.
So what about his photography? In my view, his work falls in three main categories: documentary often reflecting racial tension and black poverty, fashion photography and, later in his career, abstract work. Personally, I prefer his documentary work. Not a surprise to those that know me, I feel these documentary pictures reflect a reality seldom seen and very much worth being known and preserved.
So where are all these pictures? I am trying a different approach this time. I’m linking to my external portfolio site. It contains Parks’ photography, as collected by me. I designed and produced the show. This makes it easier for me to manage. It allows showing more photos than within this blog post. HERE IS THE LINK TO THE PARKS PHOTOS.
August 17, 2006
Let’s discuss some reader questions. Several real good issues have been raised by alert readers. Familiar with Dave Barry and his alert readers?. Thankfully I seem to have some too.
Maybe this blog is turning a bit more philosophical than I intended. Hey, all I do is fool around with cameras and various tools to make imagery I find interesting. Nothing earth shattering. But two readers raised points I can’t resist since they are both excellent. Besides, it’s a break from the “On Reality” stuff. Almost. So I’ll discuss those two points here rather than in direct responses to the two readers. Please don’t get it wrong. This is not an ego trip about me personally. I believe each question has a great fundamental value. Besides, having alert readers is nothing to sneeze at. I sure hope for more. It beats having me figure out all the subjects. Democracy.
The first item is an answer to my questions in the On Reality 1 post: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? Does it matter if it exists or not? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No and (3) Probably not.” Reader Ryan offered the following comment: “Descartes addressed and answered your reality question… “I think, therefore I am.” Interesting, let’s examine that very famous statement and see if and how it applies.
The second question is by reader lodewika: “Hi, could you tell me why you call this art photography? I’m not saying its not, just interested in how you think.” I assume that refers to my work. Art or not? Good question. Oddly, I think my answer will relate a bit to the first Descartes question.
While I’m in this deep philosophical mood, I think I’ll touch on the metaphysical existentialist nonsense I’m accused of as well. Let’s get it over with. That is question 3.
Question 1 – I think, therefore I am.
As all of you alert reader know, Descartes was a ground breaking scientist and philosopher living from 1596 to 1650. Originally French, he lived most of his life in other countries – including my native (long ago) Sweden where he tutored Queen Christina, contracted pneumonia and promptly died. Later, his death was blamed on arsenic poisoning. Here is one quote:
“René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650), also known as Cartesius, was a noted French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the “Founder of Modern Philosophy” and the “Father of Modern Mathematics,” he ranks as one of the most important and influential thinkers of modern times. For good or bad, much of subsequent western philosophy is a reaction to his writings, which have been closely studied from his time down to the present day. Descartes was one of the key thinkers of the Scientific Revolution in the Western World. He is also honoured by having the Cartesian coordinate system used in plane geometry and algebra named after him.” Source: here.
Not exactly a guy to ignore. For all his accomplishments, the statement “cogito ergo sum” is his most famous one liner. Most commonly translated into “I think, therefore I am”. So what does it mean? That has been debated for centuries. Here i8s my simple minded view:
The foundation of Descartes whole existence was one of great skepticism. In fact, he was strongly suspecting nothing existed and struggled with explaining whether or not he himself actually existed. Eventually he concluded, much to his relief, I’m sure, that he did in fact exist because he could think. Hence the statement. But that statement referred to him personally. Note the “I” rather than a “we”. He existed but what about the rest of the universe? Here’s another quote from the same source as above:
“Therefore, Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists. But in what form? He perceives his body through the use of the senses; however, these have previously been proven unreliable. So Descartes concludes that the only undoubtable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted.”
“To further demonstrate the limitations of the senses, Descartes proceeds with what is known as the Wax Argument. He considers a piece of wax: his senses inform him that it has certain characteristics, such as shape, texture, size, color, smell, and so forth. When he brings the wax towards a flame, these characteristics change completely. However, it seems that it is still the same thing: it is still a piece of wax, even though the data of the senses inform him that all of its characteristics are different. Therefore, in order to properly grasp the nature of the wax, he cannot use the senses: he must use his mind. Descartes concludes: “Thus what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with the faculty of judgment, which is in my mind.” In this manner, Descartes proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable and instead admitting only deduction as a method.”
Let’s see: “…use of the senses; however, these have previously been proven unreliable…” and “…discarding perception as unreliable…“. Let’s return to my original questions: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? Does it matter if it exists or not? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No and (3) Probably not.” I guess, based on Descartes, the only think I would change is skip the third question and its answer.
My original questions should read: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No.”
Ever hear the joke about him (Bob Hope)? Here goes:
Descartes walks into a bar and orders a drink. He quickly downs the refreshing beverage. The bartender notices his empty glass and asks “Another?” Descartes replies, “I think not.” And poof — he disappears!
And the Monty Phyton version: “René Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink, therefore I am”
Now, what do you think? It’s your turn.
Question 2 – Who is an artist?
Serious question. Not an easy one to answer. In a way, it’s like asking an alcoholic if he is an alcoholic. He will only answer yes if he himself believes he is an alcoholic. I’ve been taking pictures for many years. I never viewed myself as an artist producing art. I just had a hobby, pursuing a completely different career. Then things changed. I couldn’t take that other career any longer. I quit. I thought I might go for the photography thing. I went to school and learned the trade. Then, out of the blue, a second set of changes occurred, some very traumatic. My life changed dramatically.
To my astonishment (and that of others) my photography improved dramatically. I first had no idea why. All I knew was I viewed life and everything around me in a totally new way. Still, I was no artist. Didn’t know what one was. Eventually, though, some photographer friends saw something was going on. They helped me clarify and canalize my direction. They also forced some honesty into me. They guided me. They gave me hell. Then I finally got the point. In my gut, I knew what an artist is. I knew what it takes to produce art. I was an artist. It’s like asking an artist if he is an artist. He will only answer yes if he himself believes he is an artist. And the same for females. In my case, it was a serious change in life style.
So that’s my story. Let’s see what others think. It is easy to find many different opinions. But few seem to go beyond those interviews with basket ball players after a game. In fact I could only find one good article, shown here fully:
“The Artist’s Life (1994)
Rembrandt dies in near bankruptcy at age 63, Rubens in wealth and esteem at the same age. Van Gogh, utterly without hope that his art will ever be understood, shoots himself in the stomach at age 37. Picasso dies an extremely wealthy nonagenarian. Such are some artists’ fates.
Despite the common humanity linking all people, artists are a different breed. They spend a lifetime, as surrogates of mankind’s quest for meaning, truth and beauty, translating into art their feelings and observations of the world that non-artists note only in passing.
While art’s importance to civilization is well recognized, you can’t eat art, sleep on it, keep the rain off with it, or drive it to Toledo. This “impracticality” — the essentially poetic, spiritual basis of art, and humanity’s lack of artistic understanding — sets artists apart from the rest of the world.
In extreme cases, such separateness can result in isolation, conflict and death. In a more pleasant scenario (not without its own pitfalls), the artist may be elevated to culture hero if fortunate and his work supports the positive or negative beliefs of the leaders of society.
A profound, poetic society, spiritually developed and humanistic, may recognize a Michelangelo, a Bernini. If the leaders are materialistic and nihilistic, then artists with those characteristics will gain fame and riches. It is also true that great artists can arise spontaneously, independent of social climate.
In most cases, artists trudge through life in a middle-of-the-road existence, exercising financial brinkmanship. Or they cave in to the fashions of the day, turning out products to meet art market demand.
A well-known New York art dealer once said, “If Rembrandt walked into my gallery today, I couldn’t (translation: ‘wouldn’t’) give him a show.”
The “reasoning” behind this absurd statement was that the dealer already had too many artists (the universal gallery excuse for not taking on serious artists. To which we might reply, “Yes, you have too many artists. Too many lousy artists. Make room for some good ones.”).
The dealer’s other reason was that Rembrandt was too “hot”, expressing intense feelings in his work, while the dealer only exhibited — and could only accept psychologically — the “cold” art of pop, minimalism and photo-realism.
The genuine artist’s challenge is two-fold. First, is the immense, life-long effort to develop and evolve a significant vision that expresses both his feelings and those of his era in the context of timeless human experience. Then, once the work has been created, begins the task of getting it out in the world, trying to make gallery people and collectors understand what has been achieved.
There is no doubt that the genuine artist — not the run-of-the-mill commercial hack — is ahead of his time, is the point-man for his society. Most of humanity is at least a generation behind the greatest artists. The irony and horror, of course, is that, with amazing regularity, these bringers of truth are condemned or ignored by their contemporaries out of fear or ignorance. Fear of the insights and inherent changes the artist is bearer of, and ignorance of their timeless implications.
Great artists’ clarity of vision shreds the fads and fashions that are the substitute for thinking in any era. Once safely dead and hallowed by history and myth, their artistic and spiritual truths can be cautiously approached, digested and integrated.
But significant, living artists are a threat to the aesthetic, psychological and financial status quo. Who wants a Van Gogh or Cezanne in their rough workmen’s clothes barging into a posh auction house to question what is going on with multi-million dollar prices for paintings they could only sell in their lifetimes for a pittance, if they could sell them at all?
One sometimes hears the vile nonsense, clearly an ignorant rationalization, that it is better for artists to suffer because it forces them to work, to produce better work. As if the artist is a freak or subhuman species that doesn’t feel the way “real” human beings do.
Artists who happen to be poor, like Van Gogh, produce IN SPITE of the hellish strain of not knowing where the next franc or dollar is coming from, not because of it. Think of a syphilitic, homesick, 55-year-old Gauguin dying in the tropical Marquesas, the last painting on his easel, a snow-covered, thatch-roofed Breton cottage later turned upside down at a sale of studio contents and sold as a waterfall by a smart-aleck auctioneer.
Was Gauguin better off as an artist and human being because of his suffering? Not likely. Would any comfortable middle to upper-middle to upper class individual or family want to trade places with him? Not likely.
“Where do we get such men?,” wonders actor Frederic March, as the admiral in the movie “Bridges at Toko-Ri”, about the fliers on his aircraft carrier as they roar off in their jets, having left civilian life behind to fight in the Korean War.
Such a question can as justifiably be asked of the men and women throughout history who devote their lives, as long as they can hold out, to the search for, and expression of, the timeless truths by which humanity must live if we are to remain sane and humane.
In a world concerned with financial issues, power, prestige, keeping up with appearances and the status quo conventions of life, what kind of people are these artists who are willing to go off in a completely different direction, that few non-artists will ever understand, in order to express the poetry in their souls that echoes the poetry they see in the common things of daily life and the infinite spaces between the stars?
These magnificent artists do not, cannot — could not — live by bread alone. They seek a clue, a link, a oneness with the greatness of life, of nature and of man through forms and images in paint and stone as true as the world itself. What a compelling, rewarding and dangerous task this is.
Copyright by Don Gray” Source: here
Forgive me, Don, if I violated your copyright. Terrific article.
Question 3 – What about metaphysical existentialism?
Wow – not sure I know a thing about this. But let’s try. Apparently it is the opposite of being Materialistic. Hmm. So let’s consult some quotes as starters.
“Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the nature of the world. It is the study of being or reality. It addresses questions such as: What is the nature of reality? Is there a God? What is man’s place in the universe?”
“A more nuanced view is that metaphysical statements are not meaningless statements, but rather that they are generally not fallible, testable or provable statements (see Karl Popper). That is to say, there is no valid set of empirical observations nor a valid set of logical arguments, which could definitively prove metaphysical statements to be true or false. Hence, a metaphysical statement usually implies a belief about the world or about the universe, which may seem reasonable but is ultimately not empirically verifiable. That belief could be changed in a non-arbitrary way, based on experience or argument, yet there exists no evidence or argument so compelling that it could rationally force a change in that belief, in the sense of definitely proving it false.”
Materialism or naturalism:
“Naturalism is any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that do not distinguish the supernatural from nature. Naturalism does not necessarily claim that phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural do not exist or are wrong, but insists that all phenomena and hypotheses can be studied by the same methods and therefore anything considered supernatural is either nonexistent, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.”
“Distinctions are sometimes made between two approaches, the first being methodological naturalism or scientific naturalism, and the second ontological naturalism or metaphysical naturalism. The first approach underlies the application of the scientific method in science, which makes the methodological assumption that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes, without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and hence does not accept supernatural explanations for such events. The second approach refers to the metaphysical belief that the natural world (including the universe) is all that exists, and therefore nothing supernatural exists.”
“Existentialism is defined by the slogan Existence precedes Essence. This means: 1. We have no predetermined nature or essence that controls what we are, what we do, or what is valuable for us. 2. We are radically free to act independently of determination by outside influences. 3. We create our own human nature through these free choices. 4. We also create our values through these choices. The Existentialist View (We create our own nature.): We are thrown into existence first without a predetermined nature and only later do we construct our nature or essence through our actions.”
Does this give me a headache? Yes, it does. But still, let’s see if we can make any sense out of this. Again, remember the original questions that triggered this – they are the same as in the Descartes piece, now shortened to: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No.” I suppose my short answer is – yes, some of the above probably apply to some elements in these posts. I think this philosophical stuff is off the point though. I use “materialistic” views to prove something “metaphysical”. So what?
I have no trouble at all with the two first questions. Valid points and hopefully satisfactory answers. I am not comfortable with question 3 and can’t really be coherent about the subject. Sorry. Perhaps some one else can clarify, in particular, its relevance to the current discussion. Maybe the graph above will help. Maybe. I’m just a photographer.
Let’s return to Earth next time. Thank you.
Part 3 of this series (see below or follow this link) contained seven photographs, all except one image either staged or faked in some manner. I thought maybe you’d like some background on each of them. So here is the story of each of the photographs, noting the the accounts of each may differ – after all, we are dealing with legends.
Please note: This post is quite popular and I decided to update and expand it. Follow this link to reach the new, expanded post of Jan 9, 2007.
The first picture shows the execution of a prisoner. It is not a fake – the man really died after being shot in the head by South Vietnam Lt. Colonel Ngyen Ngoc Loan, Saigon Chief of Police. The picture was taken by Eddie Adams in 1968 Saigon. So what is wrong? Well, the execution was originally to take place inside a nearby building. The Colonel decided that the collected photographers needed more drama and better angles and light (not to mention keeping the inside of the building cleaner). So, the execution was staged on the street with a careful setup of the photo opp. Apparently it was important to the Colonel how his profile was displayed. Mr. Loan became a General, was evacuated to the US where eventually he died in peace. Mr. Adams won a Pulitzer Price. The prisoner simply died and disappeared. His wife never found out what happened to him. No trial and no one seems to know the exact crime committed. Incidentally, the photo as shown is cropped.
The second picture (two actually) is the root of the current Hajj journalism crisis. It is the “After” version paired with the “Before”, original version. It’s been thoroughly discussed below. No need to add anything. I still think the original version is far superior to the fake one. Not that either is that great.
The third photograph shows Bigfoot, or something, laboring away in the snow. There are dozens of Bigfoot pictures as there are photos of UFOs, Loch Ness monsters and other legends. These pictures invoke strong passions in some people. Documentaries are made for TV. Museums devoted to the subject pop up. Self proclaimed experts make speeches. Souvenir shops make money. Photographically, all or most can easily be explained as faked, staged or both. They may even be “real” enough to be explainable by natural events. They are part of a photographic trend going far back. We will examine that in more detail later. To me, this picture may simply show a heavily clad man climbing a snowy hill, shot by a focus challenged photographer.
Picture number four is one of the most famous of all times. It is – rightly so – a living symbol of courage, triumph, the American spirit and victory over evil. It certainly is a phenomenal image – taken by Joe Rosenthal on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. It earned him a Pulitzer Price and everlasting fame. Three of the six Marines died shortly after the flag raising. So what is the controversy? Here is what Wikipeda has to say:
“Following the flag raising, Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed and printed.  Upon seeing it, AP photo editor John Bodkin exclaimed “Here’s one for all time!” and immediately radiophotoed the image to the AP headquarters in New York at seven A.M., Eastern War Time.  The photograph was picked up off the wire very quickly by hundreds of newspapers. It “was distributed by Associated Press within seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it—an astonishingly fast turnaround time in those days.” 
However, the photo was not without controversy. Following the second flag raising, Rosenthal had the Marines of Easy Company pose for a group shot, which he called the “gung-ho” shot.  This was also documented by Bill Genaust.  A few days after the picture was taken, back on Guam, Rosenthal was asked if he had posed the photo. Thinking the questioner was referring to the ‘gung-ho’ picture, he replied “Sure.”
After that, Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent, told his editors in New York that Rosenthal had staged the flag-raising photo. TIME‘s radio show, ‘Time Views the News’, broadcast a report, charging that “Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted… Like most photographers (he) could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion.”  As a result of this report, Rosenthal has repeatedly been accused of having staged the picture, or covering up the first flag raising.
One New York Times book reviewer even went so far as to suggest revoking his Pulitzer Prize. For the decades that have followed, Rosenthal has repeatedly and vociferously refuted claims that the flag raising was staged. “I don’t think it is in me to do much more of this sort of thing… I don’t know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means.”  Genaust’s film also shows the claim that the flag raising was staged to be erroneous.”
Besides, there are many “versions” of the photo: here are two of them – the lower one to the right is the same as that shown in Part 3, the upper one to the left is published in the Wikipeda article quoted above. Now we are back to the “Reality” thing. Apart from the general controversy, which of these versions represent “Reality”? Both of them are manipulated as you can clearly see, one by a liberal dose of dodging to brighten the center, the other by (at least) an ugly, excessive border.
What about picture number five? Robert Capa was one of the most famous of war photographers. He covered just about every war from the Spanish civil war to the early part of the Viet Nam wars. His D-day photos, most of which were destroyed in a London lab, are some of the most harrowing war pictures ever shot. They famously inspired Steven Spielberg in the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Capa was killed by a Vietnamese land mine in 1954. Yes, there was a Viet Nam war that early.
Now, examining the picture, it looks real enough. The soldier is shot in the head. Part of his brain is shattered as shown behind his head. Clearly a dead man. The trouble is that some sources report the man being well and alive after the allegedly staged picture was taken. In fact, it is said he thoroughly enjoyed his evening meal but was killed shortly thereafter. No one knows the truth. Mr. Capa led quite an interesting life. He always stayed in hotels – never had a home – and was constantly broke. He was known to misplace his Leicas, requiring the delivery of new ones from suspicious editors. Whatever the truth of this photograph, no one disputes he was one of the best war photographers of all time. Personally, I think the photo is real.
Let’s continue to photograph six. It is from 1840, France. This is a rather tragicomic affair. The apparently dead person is the photographer himself, Mr. Hippolyte Bayard. Magically, he could take his own picture after dying by drowning . He also managed to drag his dead body out of the river into the pose in the picture. Even more astonishing, he managed to send the death picture to his antagonists with a suicide note attached to the back. Apparently, Mr. Bayard was jealous of more successful inventors of photographic processes and choose to make a strong stand. I suppose you can call this a fake photograph. Incidentally, if the picture is indicative of his photographic process – we did not miss much.
To my astonishment, doing the research on this particular photo, I found that death hoaxes like this are quite common. Most might be somewhat more believable than Mr. Bayard’s pioneering effort but faking death happens all the time. Live and learn.
Photo number seven dates to the American Civil War. The war coincided with photographers becoming sufficiently mobile to do field work. Maybe some other time I’ll get into the history of photography during the time. I guarantee it is both hilarious – the tragedy of the war notwithstanding – and indicative how a new craft can go berserk in pursuit of fame and money. There is an incredible amount of faked, staged, altered photographs from this era. It’s not just an American phenomena – the same thing happened in the Crimean War. Alexander Gardner is the photographer of record of this Confederate soldier killed in the Gettysburg battle of 1863. The photograph is quite famous – in fact, it is viewed as one of the best to come out of the Civil War. Yet it is a fake. Here are some quotes:
“Of course, I had seen the photo of the dead “sharpshooter” lying before his stone wall between the large boulders many times over the years. It really is doubtless the greatest photo shot of a dead soldier to come down to us from the Civil War. And it has become more known since it was “discovered” to be a fake. Until 1995, I wasn’t aware of a stereo view that also existed showing the same scene. The four photos taken down the hill were new to me also, and I was, of course, in awe that the photographers had moved the body to make them.”
“Frassanito further wrote that the body was first photographed DOWN the hill and then, on inspiration, the photographer’s carried the body some 75-yards UP the hill to make the much more interesting composition at what would become known as “The Sharpshooter’s Home”. Source: here
So there you are – knowing, perhaps a bit more about photographic history and how fakes and stagings are age old tactics. They seem to be driven by a mix of tragedy, comedy, greed and stupidity. Coming up, we’ll look at more examples and reasons for these manipulations. So please stay tuned. Leave comments as you see fit – I really appreciate them.
August 14, 2006
My “On Reality” series started out with a modest, but to some, controversial issue: the fallacy of “Reality”. I aimed for three installments, all about our brain’s interpretation of “reality” based on all kinds of distortions around and inside us . The brain’s view is flawed in a great number of ways. That is principally due to simple physics.
The funny thing is that I already have been branded as an “existentialist” and subject to “metaphysics” because of, mostly, views expressed in “Reality – Part 1″ below. I can’t wait for thecomments on the rest of the series. “Lock the madman up”? Fair enough.
I guess it is OK to say “what I see, receive, touch, create, hate, study and capture is as real as it gets and that is good enough”. I “know” reality. I deal with “it” every day. Further, consider the reality of global warming, the death of US soldiers, birth, death, the rape of earth, poverty, love, cancer, drugs, overdrawn checking accounts, the price of oil, Enron, ingrown toenails, misery, Al Quada, IED’s, Beirut and AIDS.
All of these things are “real” enough in our minds.
Warning: Photos in this post are faked, staged or worse!
Why do I do this blog? I’m a documentary photographer. This subject is central to my profession, inspite of my statements seemingly to the opposite. I can’t do what I do without a solid stand. It is that simple. Not to mention the rights of Free Speach that seem a bit ignored here and there in our lively discussion.
Do our perceptions really pick up “Reality”? Will we, on occasion, do the wrong thing because we misinterpreted “Reality”? How come AIDS is not cured? Do we really know about any of the above issues? There are nuances in any big issue. There are contradictions. I accept that. What about your opinion?
There are contradictions in Wade vs Roe, Intelligent Design – Evolution – Creationism, Whaling, Seal hunts, the mind of our government and the thoughts of my dog. Each viewpoint defines a version of “Reality”. Curious given we really have no idea what true reality is.
Heck, we went to war in Iraq based on misinterpreted “Reality”.
Perhaps I should mention that most of my images are heavily adjusted in either a dark room or in Photoshop. The purpose is to maximize the artistic quality and the message contained in the image as I perceive it. I am very much a proponent of a conscious and disciplined work flow. Each step is carefully planned from spotting the photo opportunity, formulating a plan, shooting the shoot and performing all the post production steps. I know from the start what I want in the final result. There is very little room for chance (mostly). Certainly I have my own rules about what is “OK” to do. Of course, I’m an artist so I can do what I want. Besides, no one can fire me! I do not try to mimic Reality. I produce impressions, moods and ideas as perceived and created by me. I’m not a journalist.
As it stands, my plan for three installments in this series has been upped to about ten installations. Three are done. This installment will discuss three recent newspaper articles mainly dealing with Adnan Hajj. Then, I’ll get back to my original plan and discuss distortions of reality in general. Then I plan to publish five posts on photo manipulation in its many different forms. The tenth post will attempt to summarize what I’m trying to tell you.
Suddenly, this Adnan Hajj fellow popped up. The guy added Photoshop smoke to a picture of an Israeli attack on Lebanon. He implied that dropping flares from an Israeli jet fighter killed innocents. Editors, once they realized the crime, reacted decisively. The camera man’s intention obviously was to make Israel look bad. This, then, is a politically motivated distortion of a journalistic reality. He was promptly fired. All his photos were banned.
The news organization (Reuters) went into the “We’re sorry” act. They published their guidelines for what photographic “corrections” are ok and which are not. My last “Reality – Part 2 ” installment (which actually was picked up by Reuters) criticized these guidelines. My point is and was that the guidelines are naive and inconsistent. They are no guarantee that the accuracy of the original image or subject is preserved.
I am by no means saying it’s ok to manipulate journalistic pictures to encourage biased, unfair or inaccurate conclusions. Any journalist has a duty (naive as I am) to provide accurate, fair and objective accounts of events. That does not mean that Reality is reflected by such accounts. Reality is a fleeing, slippery, hidden, distorted, subjective, scientifically non-existing subject. That is what this series is all about.
A quick, digressing example. the Hubble telescope, way up in space, is helping scientists produce the most amazing shots of space ever seen. Great science and truly fascinating to most of us. What could be more unbiased, generally free from human hands as it is up there? Do the final pictures reflect a new frontier of “Reality”? Perhaps a new frontier, absolutely not reality. These images go through the most rigorous, complex, bizarre, computerized set of amplifications, filtering, corrections, general surgery and who knows what. The result is brilliant but has very little, if anything, to do with what the Hobble scope “saw”. The pictures are simply some scientist’s fantasy of what may be.
On three articles about Adnan Hajj
Here are quotes from today’s three articles. The three articles are from 1) Slate, 2) New York Times and 3) Washington Post. They were all published Thursday – Sunday this/last week. I provide links to all three at the bottom of this post.
New York Times
NYT most likely used standard sources to provide little original insight in “Bloggers Drive Inquiry on How Altered Images Saw Print”. As expected, it views bloggers as one line of defense to photo distortions. It was a blogger that originally raised the alarm. Not that is was a difficult task. Mr. Hajj’s skills as a Photoshopper are not overwhelming.
The fake photo is 1) easily spotted because it is simply done badly, and 2) not as good as the original anyway. How exciting.
The article also mentions the plight of overworked photo editors, making quality control difficult. I bet you that a well made manipulation of the most grotesque kind will and do pass any of these simple minded controls. It seems there are two ways the “fakes” are caught 1) poor quality (such as that of Mr. Hajj) and 2) implausible content. Example: placing Oprah’s face on top of Ann Margaret’s body, then publishing it on TV Guide’s front page.
“Mr. Hajj, a Lebanese photographer based in the Middle East, may not be familiar to many newspaper readers. But thanks to the swift justice of the Internet, he has been charged, tried and convicted of improperly altering photographs he took for Reuters. The pictures ran on the Reuters news service on Saturday, and were discovered almost instantly by bloggers to have been manipulated. Reuters then announced on Sunday that it had fired the freelancer. Executives said yesterday that they were still investigating why they had not discovered the manipulation before the pictures were disseminated to newspapers.
The matter has created an uproar on the Internet, where many bloggers see an anti-Israel bias in Mr. Hajj’s manipulations, which made the damage from Israeli strikes into Beirut appear worse than the original pictures had. One intensified and replicated plumes of smoke from smoldering debris. In another, he changed an image of an Israeli plane to make it look as if it had dropped three flares instead of one.”
“As a safeguard, he said, any pictures that The Tribune considers for its front page are printed out in color, 8-by-10 hard copies and displayed on the wall of the Page 1 conference room so that editors can review them throughout the day. ****
“Mr. Hajj told Reuters he was merely trying to remove a speck of dust and fix the lighting in the photos, Mr. Holmes said. Several bloggers have contended that Mr. Hajj was driven by a political agenda, critical of Israel. Mr. Holmes said Reuters was trying to contact Mr. Hajj but he was not responding to messages.”
**** This is my favorite comment! I thought people went to conference rooms to meet and discuss matters. Apparently, though, people might be bored enough to check the walls and put in their dime’s worth of prime quality control. Hey, CIA, this is how you check those bin-Laden tapes for accuracy. Forget about that analysis crap.
This is a somewhat better article, partly because it does not single out photo issues but also hits on general journalistic problems. It does have a clear bias against photos/articles from the Near East. That bias may not be valid in light of the overwhelming historical evidence that news manipulation is a world wide, and quite old, phenomena. The photos in this post, going back some 140 years, should prove that point.
There is little real insight in the article beyond the obvious, conventional misconceptions. The author – Deborah Howell – inspected a number of photos and did not spot manipulation – possibly because there was no manipulation (unlikely in my view) or because the changes were well enough done for an untrained eye. What’s that prove?
A few quotes:
“Pictures of pain and suffering, especially on Page 1, can have a profound and emotional effect on readers. Jonathan Javitt of the District asked: “When will you get tired of being manipulated by Arab propaganda stunts?” Other readers questioned whether photos were staged. The Reuters news agency’s admission that a freelance photographer had altered two photographs — neither used in The Post — stoked readers’ suspicions.”
“The way the two Reuters photographs were doctored — to make smoke darker and add flares dropped from a plane — was “beyond stupid,” Elbert said. Post policy prohibits altering photos. “We don’t use tools to change reality,” he said. Reuters said that the freelancer, Adnan Hajj, had been dropped and editing tightened.”
“Robinson-Chavez was in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon for five weeks. He explained why readers don’t see pictures of suspected Hezbollah guerrillas, whose stronghold is southern Lebanon. They are recognizable because they’re young and bearded and have walkie-talkies — and don’t want to be photographed. He said they intentionally are not armed when photographers are around. He was detained by several one day and then released.”
Here is by far the best article. It provides true insight in a careful, measured way. It’s headlined “Don’t Believe What You See in the Papers – The untrustworthiness of news photography”. The author Photography: From daguerreotypes to digital” which is a promising subject right off the bat. The article does not disappoint., the author of three novels, most recently, The King Is Dead. The section is labeled as “
Here are some quotes:
“…I heard the latest in photojournalism’s long line of mini-scandals, this one involving a Lebanese freelancer named Adnan Hajj who was working in Beirut. Hajj altered at least two photographs: In one he cloned a plume of smoke rising from buildings that Israeli planes had bombed; in another he altered the image of an Israeli F-16 to make it look like it was dropping more ordnance than it was. Both pictures were bought by Reuters, which sent them out on its photo service. When the forgeries were pointed out, the agency pulled the pictures, dismissed the photographer, and issued a statement asserting that such fakery had no place in the news business.”
“It may not, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen regularly. Two days ago, the AP got caught sending out a crudely—and nonsensically—altered photo of an Alaskan oil pipeline worker; last month, the Charlotte Observer fired a photographer for changing the color of the sky in a picture of a firefighters; the same week, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald acknowledged that a picture of prostitutes in Havana had been cobbled together from two different shots; in 2003 the Los Angeles Times sacked a photographer for combining two pictures from Iraq, taken moments apart, into one. In fact, it’s beginning to look as if every major institution that prints photos has printed doctored or manipulated photos: Time and Newsweek, the New York Times and USA Today, Harvard University and Science magazine, and the 2004 Bush campaign. (There’s a good rogue’s gallery here.) Some of these were quite serious attempts to mislead the public, and some were relatively trivial, but all of them undermine the public’s trust in the reality of photographs. And so much the better, because that trust is badly misplaced.”
“What, after all, do we believe when we believe that a photograph is true? That it mimics what we would see with our own eyes, if we were standing where the camera was placed? But a camera sees quite differently: For one thing, to take only the most obvious features, photos are rectangular, whereas the human eye’s visual field is an ovoid blob. Moreover, “normal” vision is roughly equivalent to what you get from a 35 mm camera lens set somewhere between 42 mm and 50 mm zoom. Anything longer than that shows details no human eye could see; anything shorter shows an unnaturally broad vista. And cameras are notoriously crude when it comes to dynamic range: Highlights get blasted and dark areas become muddy.”
“Perhaps, instead, we should judge a news photograph as a collection of purported facts about the world that is accurate if its claims are true and inaccurate if they’re not. But photographers make editorial decisions all the time: where to point the camera, of course, but also how to frame the shot, whether to crop and if so what, how long a shutter speed to use; and all of these can affect the facts a picture presents, without falsifying the image. And anyway, which facts are relevant? Last week the Times ran an impressive graphic showing before and after satellite photographs of a bombed Beirut neighborhood, but the “before” picture was in blooming color and the ‘after’ picture was in black and white. Many people would say that the black-and-white shot was more “realistic” because monochrome seems to offer a kind of sobriety. But of course color is closer to the facts, and even color is unreliable.”
“To make matters more complicated, news photographs are made by more hands than the photographer’s. Editors at home will sometimes crop a picture, or clean it up, and they’ll often flesh out captions, which can radically change what we think we’re looking at. Hajj’s photo of the Israeli F-16 bore a caption that said the jet was dropping missiles; in fact they were flares, but who could know that just by looking? What you see when you contemplate a news photo is what you’re told to see.”
“None of this would be especially pressing if we didn’t still believe that pictures offer up a different kind of truth than prose. But photographs are supposed to be self-validating, to be, in some profound sense, proof. Believe it? Hell, I’ve seen it done! It’s a myth, of course, and it always was, but it was an easy one to believe, especially when film was the medium. Old-fashioned analog cameras were relatively straightforward machines, and the images they made existed in a simple causal relationship to the scenes they were pointed at.”
“The switch from film to digital has made the distinction between What the Camera Saw and What the Photographer Did almost entirely moot. Even the cheapest chip-based pocket camera lets you set white balance, color effects, aspect ratio, and a dozen other parameters and automatically interpolates pixels based on its best guess as to what came through the lens; and such tweaking isn’t tampering, because the image doesn’t exist until these decisions are made.”
Needless to say, news photographers shouldn’t doctor photographs any more than reporters should make up quotes. But “doctoring” is a slippery concept, and
photographic truth is an illusion. Realism is a special effect like any other, and the sooner we realize as much, the better off we’ll be; the decrees of photo editors—no post-processing!—only serve to shore up a faith in photographic evidence that was never justified to begin with. Someday we will approach each photograph we look at with the condign skepticism we bring to each story we read. In the meantime, these useful scandals remind us that we’re complacent and credulous, and that photography is rife with paradoxes, which can’t be solved with hand-waving and apologies.”
Well, what about that. Great work, Jim Lewis (whom I do not know). There are also several good comments attached to the article.
The articles quoted today in “Reality – Part 3″ and in my earlier post “Reality – Part 2″ point out the ignorance, misconceptions, naivety and disregard of the challenges of photography or truth in general. Granted we are dealing with a complex issue. Granted those with real interest and the knowledge of the subject are probably quite few.
But we show and comment on articles from Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post and Slate – all giants in their business. I find the first three articles disappointing given the stature of each paper. The Slate article is a pleasant surprise and shows the power and possibilities of great reporting. In fact, our next installment will expand on many of the subjects brought up by Mr. Jones. Barring some other exciting development in the “Reality” field.
Till next time, keep searching for that elusive, perhaps non-existing “Reality”. Comment if you like,
Karl, the rumored metaphysical existentialist
August 11, 2006
In the first installment (below) of this series, I pointed out a few facts: 1) we humans never see objects, what we see is light emitted from or reflected by objects, 2) light is a force that makes us “see” things. But light is typically distorted in ways that impact our mental image of the objects significantly. So how can we tell, based on vision, what reality is since we never have seen a true, unbiased view of ANYTHING.
My intention was to follow up in a Part 2 debunking popular perceptions of Reality. Then this AM I read the following article that may help clarify (or perhaps confuse) the issue at hand. Source here.
- News photographers routinely process images using Adobe Photoshop software. But there has been a basic premise in the world of photojournalism that what was allowed in making prints in the pre-digital days of darkrooms is all that is acceptable today.
- Back in the days of the darkroom, we used very basic tools to develop prints. In black and white printing, the contrast of a picture was controlled by a paper’s grade. The higher the number of the paper, the higher the contrast. In the wire agency darkrooms I’ve worked in, we typically used grades 3,4 and 5. We allowed “dodge and burn” to lighten or darken areas. A dodge tool was made by taping a small piece of cardboard the size of a quarter onto a paper clip. A burn tool was a piece of cardboard the size of an 8×10 sheet of paper with a hole in the center. If a print had dust spots caused by a dirty negative, we used Spotone, a photographic paint that was dabbed onto a print with a very fine paint brush to eliminate the unsightly marks.
- One other tool that was allowed when printing color pictures was changing color balance. This was done by placing filters between the light source of the enlarger and the paper that the image was being printed on.
- When we moved to scanning negatives and then to shooting digital, we began using Photoshop. This program allows us to do the same things we did in the darkroom. Changes in contrast, dodging and burning and color balance are now done with software. The most controversial tool in Photoshop that we use is the cloning tool. The only accepted use of this tool is to clear dust from the image. We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to using the cloning tool to change content, and by that we mean removing something that exists in a photo, moving or replicating it or adding to a photo.
- The tools we use in Photoshop are levels, curves and saturation for changing contrasts; color balance to bring the image back to the way the natural eye would see the color. Here is what we tell our photographers in the Handbook of Reuters Journalism.
- Photoshop is a highly sophisticated image manipulation programme. We use only a tiny part of its potential capability to format our pictures, crop and size them and balance the tone and colour. For us it is a presentational tool.
- The rules are – no additions or deletions, no misleading the viewer by manipulation of the tonal and colour balance to disguise elements of an image or to change the context.
- Photoshop is a powerful image processing program with many more tools to help photographers produce the best quality image they can for the type of photography they do. There is not a Photoshop program for use by news photographers and another for advertising, where image-changing is tolerated. What we in the news photo community need to regulate is what tools are used for photojournalism and what are not.”
Please note – I have absolutely no issue with these rules. They are great. Let’s do our best to preserve “reality”. Noble goal.
But let’s think. “Dodge and burn” can easily alter a picture dramatically. In fact, you can render a picture all black or all white, destroying any “real” content easily. This is true whether using Photoshop or a traditional darkroom. The same is true of using color correcting filters or – digitally – white balance. Frowning on – or even single out – the “clone” tool seems a bit naive.
So what is the point? Photo manipulation has gone on – by journalists and others – for some 150 years. Sometimes this manipulation is to make the image “more real”, sometimes the opposite. The article admits camera images do not reflect “reality”. It says journalists should pursue and be accountable for presenting “reality”. Some defined manipulation is “ok”, some is – pretty arbitrarily – not. In fact you can get fired if you move a pyramid a foot or two. Or an inconvenient hill side. Heck, light alone can move the perception of a pyramid. Fog or smoke can obscure a hill side.
Then these “rules” per the article, well meaning as they are, seem a bit like hearing the story of the alcoholic sitting in his favorite bar drinking soda all night. Not that I imply photo journalists are alcoholics (well, maybe a few). But to expect any photographer NOT to use appropriate tools to make better images is – in my mind – both wrong and naive. To say some rules – as above – somehow preserves “reality” is plain foolish.
Journalism is about presenting unbiased views of current events. The who, what, where etc. business. It’s, of course, hotly debated whether or not journalism does that – but it is a stated goal. Nothing wrong with the goal. And nothing wrong with the goal of presenting fair, unbiased journalistic images. But “fair, unbiased” does not reflect some naive definition of “reality”.
Stay tuned for installment 3. Thank you – Karl
August 10, 2006
Most of us know Stan Kubrick as a great film director. He made films such as Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Less well known is his brief and early career as a photographer. From his official Warner Brothers bio: “When he was just 16 and in high school, Kubrick shot a photograph of a news vendor the day after President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and submitted it to Look magazine. Look printed the photo and soon hired him as a freelance photographer.” (Source: here )
I managed to lay my hands on (downloaded) a few of his images and they are absolutely fantastic. Perhaps I’m biased – his style is close to what I call “Camera Noir” which is one of the center cores of my work. The full set of eight images are available from here. They are all shot in Chicago where apparently he operated at the time. “In the summer of 1949, Look sent him to Chicago to shoot the pictures for a story by Irv Kupcinet. He brought back 40 rolls of film and a rare record of his own education as a filmmaker” (source: here ).
Another statement: “Like any good photographer, Kubrick had great reflexes. He knew just when to hit the shutter. Kubrick also had an uncanny ability to connect with his subjects, regardless of race, age or occupation. Through his photographs, we eavesdrop on the college kids flirting in the jazz club shadows, we share the suspense on the trading floor with a young trader, we watch the South Side kids watching out for each other.” Source: here ). I say… but his stuff goes beyond simply “connecting with his subjects”.
There is a book of his photos on Amazon. I don’t know how good it is – it seems to be covering more issues than his actual photography. Such as his fame. Such as his family.
I find it amazing how many artists have major talents beyond their principal fame. To name a few: Cartier-Bresson and his paintings, Film maker Gordon Parks and his photography. Tony Bennett and his paintings. Stan Kubrick and his photography. The list is long.
Here are a few of Stan Kubrick’s photos:
August 3, 2006
I just put up a new site intended for the art lover with little patience. The site is entirely devoted to images and multimedia samples from my portfolios. There is very little text to hold you back as you speed browse my stuff in a soothingly ad free environment.
I’ll add images and multimedia shows as we go along. Enjoy and please pass back any comments through this blog. Thank you
August 3, 2006
I’m a documentary photographer. So I have a particular interest in “reality”. Many people seem to expect that documentaries reflect reality. Right out the bat, an earlier entry of mine debunked that expectation. A documentary does not have to reflect “reality”. It may be biased by a personal view or cause of its producer. Another common view is that using an essentially mechanical device such as a camera records reality. We’ll come back to that. But it is simply not true.
So, what is reality? Does it even exist? Does it matter if it exists or not? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No and (3) Probably not. I’ll try to lay out what I mean by that, recognizing I’m just a simple photographer, not in competition with Stephen Hawking. Or anyone else for that matter. But let’s go on a little mind journey.
What is light?
Suppose there was no light. Everything would be black. No features would be visible. No doubt a very boring environment, reality would then be viewed as “black”. Nothing else. So let’s assume light has something to do with what we are seeking. The simple fact is, we don’t see objects. We see light emitted – directly or by reflection or both – from those objects.
Light is produced by light emitters, reflected by certain objects and consumed by other entities. Light is a form of energy emitted by certain combinations of atoms, molecules and other low life’s. Light has many characteristics such as wave length and intensity. A lot of light comes to us from the universe. Other forms of light comes from various local chemical processes such as those used by some low level organisms. Mechanical devices such as a light bulbs use energy to produce artificial light.
So if we have light, then we can see and what we see is reality? Slow down. Not that simple.
The many kinds of light from space
Let’s examine light from the universe. Obviously the sun is a major source of light. This light is essentially coming from a massive nuclear reaction that has been going on for billions of years. Even so, we all know that sunlight in the early AM is very different from that at noon or in the evening. Not to mention, sunlight at night may be a reflection from the moon. Any object viewed in these different light conditions will look different. Which version is the real thing? Since we can’t “see” the object – only its light of many different variations – how can we tell anything about the object itself?
Light from space is not a simple thing. Apart from there being many different light sources, magnetic fields in space actually bend light, space storms distort light, black holes does who knows what with light and sun flares send out a lot of energy. “Northern Light” produces its own version of light. The moon does not produce any light at all but acts as a giant reflector. Finally, our own atmosphere greatly impacts light from space. There may be clouds, dust, pollution, inversion layers and no doubt a lot of other factors.
Light from universe and the energy it brings upholds our lifes. And threatens it through global warming or skin cancer. It sure helps us see. But it is not ONE thing. What we actually see and perceive as reality are many things, based only on the variability of “space light”. So what we see is a distortion. So based on “space light”, what is reality? How do we know?
To be continued
I’ll stop here for now. To recall the major points to be examined – there is no “reality” that we as human beings can “see” or “feel” or even record. So from a simple physical point of view, there is no reality. It probably does not matter to most of us. But as a photographer, it matters to me as it should to anyone interested in photography. Stay tuned for the next installment.
August 1, 2006
Many a time have I mentioned multimedia in my blogs. Yet, all images presented so far on my site have been still images – just like in your grand daddy’s days. Well, no more. I finally present some samples of my multimedia work. To be honest, I have struggled with this a bit.
On the one hand, I could have gone for streaming video like so many others. But I just hated the thought of submitting my work to the low quality video that entails. It may be ok for newscasts but really not for fine art. On the other hand, I could go for downloadable video files that can be played on a variety of devices and platforms. This is a bit more of a hassle and band width eater for you, the user, and your system.
I wish I could say the result would be great quality. Unfortunately this is not the case. The mpeg1 format is not great quality although far better than streamed material. And the files are big. This is not something for dial-up people. I could go for mpeg2 which is far superior but even more of a hassle for you. Such as, the files are twice the size of mpeg1. Not so good. The good news, though, is that better and better solutions are coming along.
So I compromised. The various samples I’d like you to try are mpeg1 files. There are instructions on the site. The good news is that the stuff looks passable in full screen mode. The bad news is the files are big.
So what are these samples? The first four are extracts from my Symphonie Noir show. These extracts are about one third of the real thing and, again, of substantially lower quality then my DVD originals. To accommodate the shorter running time, the music score is different from the original as well.
The fifth sample is brand new. As I write this, the photos were shot just two days ago (mostly) during Seattle’s Torchlight parade. New as the show is, it contains some rough edges. Also it is just Part one of two. Part one is all digital. Part two is all film and still in development and scanning. As almost always in my work, I target some mundane subject and try to provide a fresh look at it. Simplicity and emotion are my mottos.
So there you are. Enjoy and provide feedback if you like. If you know of a dynamite way to do fine art video over the net, let me know! Incidentally, I’m not a great Flash fan. While you are at it, check the regular still image portfolios as well on the site. I always (well, almost always) appreciate your opinions, folks.