Saturday Evening Post #186 : Seeing is Believing

I had some comments last post about the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”, by Fenton.
The whole truth in media becomes quite apparent when the historian looks at the two images and has to decide which is the accurate and which is the staged version.

Perhaps Rodger Fenton was the first of a long line of photo-journalists that have sought to tell the power of the story with the help of the image being a representation of the event rather than a simple photo reproduction from the moment.

Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer who accompanied E.Shackleton on the ill-fated “Endurance” expedition to the Antarctic also ‘dabbled’ with the moment. It is still hard to explain how he achieved the seemingly night time shot of the Endurance in the Ice. His diary indicates the use of many flashes and the difficulty of making the exposure.

Later Hurley would become a war photographer and many of his images, again, drive historians crazy. He made no bones about making double images, multiple printing techniques and montages. His famous shot of the rescue boat departing for help, is most likely the rescue party returning.

The images of soldiers on the way to the front is thought to be a reversed negative print.

And the one that really gets discussion going is the amazing moment of trench warfare with aircraft, shells exploding and troops advancing seemingly under fire.

Hurley openly stated it to be a multiple printed montage.
In the end he found,
Oct. 1, 1917. Our Authorities here will not permit me to pose any pictures or indulge in any original means to secure them. They will not allow composite printing of any description, even though such be accurately titled nor will they permit clouds to be inserted in a picture.

As this absolutely takes all possibilities of producing pictures from me, I have decided to tender my resignation at once. I conscientiously consider it but right to illustrate to the public the things our fellows do and how war is conducted. These can only be got by printing a result from a number of negatives or reenactment
A good selection of images is here.

Fast forward to Steve McCurry, he of the Afghan girl portrait on the cover of National Geographic. Steve’s later work was found to have ‘Photoshopped” in or out details of some stories and the furore of the net knew no bounds. So much so that he changed his style of photography to account for such story telling rather than image straight from camera. See one of many articles here

Many years back a well known soup manufacturer got into a boil over about marketing shots of its ‘famous’ Farmstyle Vegetable Soup that was ‘packed’ with vegetables. The photograph did in fact show a lovely warm inviting bowl of soup with the veggies all piled high out of the liquid.

However when it was prepared straight from the can, as per the instructions, the hapless cook was greeted with a bowl of liquid with a scant number of veggies sinking to the bottom of the bowl. The clever photographer had filled the studio bowl with glass marbles, and then scooped the veggies over the top and then slowly added just enough liquid to hide the marbles.

And let’s not forget any of the fast-food chains. The chances of getting a burger that resembles the bright crisp item in the photo display is minimal. Again the net is awash with dissatisfied consumers.

So it must be asked if I make some changes to an image, how much is legitimate. Now I’m not talking about Photoshopping Uncle Fred’s face into a daffodil, I’m hoping we are over that.

I’ve been working on some shots the past few weeks making Black and White portraits from a range of photos. I do it because I like the end result. If I share one, it is noticeable as after-all the creature has colour.

I’m not asking the viewer to suspend their credibility or influencing the understanding of the subject. Rather inviting them to explore the nuances of tone, shape, texture and from in a new way.

Perhaps the old adage from the Furphy Watertanker:

Good, better, best
Never let it rest,
Until your good is better,
And your better is best.

Is still a good working motto.


5 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #186 : Seeing is Believing

  1. For me, whether or not an image is an exact representation is only important in the context of reporting. I have seen too many stories twisted and images altered (falsified) to support a viewpoint! Same applies to video footage – it often pays to see what is on ‘the cutting room floor’. If I am looking at a landscape or nature photograph I am not bothered by elements being removed or changed – I’m not keen on seeing things added though. Neither am I concerned with colour enhancement or softening of a background. Presentation is up to the photographer in these cases. Such images are telling a story, not reporting one. It’s all about context. And sadly we are seeing less reporting and more stating of opinion in media currently. Kind of glad I am out of that area these days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, think I needed to get that out of my system. PJ has always been my dabbling spot. The number of times I watch news and say out loud, “Oh, I bet there is more to this story than is shown”.
      Creative work owes of course the ability to make from something, something new. Or to show in a way that the view may not have experienced. However we accept that in the same way the wonderful Archibald Prize had developed such a body of work, but all of it different. Van Gogh barely sold a painting while he was alive. 🙂

      I;ve spent the past week or so playing with the mono in SilverEFX pro and the best ones that emerge from my fiddling about are the ones that have a strong graphic element to begin with. It is in no way a solution for the all-so ran images. (unkindly in my business called by another name)
      Keep takin photos. We do


  2. I agree with Dave. “Faking” things in a photograph only matters if the person is trying to skew the truth of what was happening – photoshopping a weapon into the hand of an unarmed person being confronted by police, for example. But surely it is ridiculous to get indignant over the photographer doing some clone-stamping to eliminate, say, an ugly bit of tree branch which draws the eye from the bird being photographed.

    I notice that some people like to say “straight out of the camera” as if this somehow makes the photograph better than others which may have been cropped or turned into a monochrome portrait, or whatever. However, each to his own I suppose. I think some people over-sharpen their shots, or make the colours hectic, or do that texturing thing – sometimes all three! But if it looks good to them, that’s fine.

    Meanwhile, this monochrome portrait of the PBD is lovely. We look at the eye and the patterns on the head without being distracted by the other feathers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Eleanor, It’s not the blantant ‘faking’ but the little shifts of reality that get to me on some stories I see. I really need to seperate what I see on some tv media and what is printed. The disconnect is quite large I fear.
      I don’t mind the odd bit of hand work stamping, temp change etc. Mostly when I do it and publish here or Flickr I acknowledge that. i once worked with a nature photographer who said, “Oh I do it all the time and don’t care and no one notices” That attitude is outside my work ethic.

      I think the sooc people are trying to make a point, sometimes its about the image, sometimes about their clever camera sometimes its simply about them. If i shoot in mono and add a cyanotype effect in camera I can I guess legitimately say, its sooc.
      Full disclosure I often put up here and Flickr shots that apart from a smidgin of crop are pretty much straight out of camera. Other times over to my old fav Viveza and play at balancing the tones and tints to bring out the best of the form of the bird.

      I said to David, the Mono work I’ve been doing of late all have a strong graphic appeal to begin with. I had no qualms about letting the body feathers form a strong platform for the eye and head marking to stand out against.

      All good. Each image is a learning experience.


  3. Love the good working motto David and have made a copy of it. Yes we do make changes to an image to enhance it and make our subject more featured, which our digital software allows us to do, though many photo comps are very adverse to such enterprise, and want an untarnished image, which can practically be an artistic challenge. Interesting narrative David, I do enjoy your sharing a wealth of photographic history. Though I have an ethic of never using other peoples material without written permission, I feel that once one takes an image it becomes an artwork of the photographer to do as they will, since one may highlight different aspects to another from the same image, making it more an artwork than a true account of the moment.


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