Getting things straight for the competition rounds was the subject of our last meeting, covering Resizing (large file) images for Reflex Open Competitions, colour space and getting images printed and framing the results (there is more than one way). The club, being members of the WCPF, follows the template for competitions laid down by the PAGB. This standardises competition rules across member federations across the country.
As we have covered this before I will leave you with the links above, before moving on to an argument that we have touched on, but still bares closer scrutiny as it is fundamental to photography in general and to certain types of photography in particular. It is prompted by two events, one referred to in last week’s blog, that of Reuters announcing a shot-in-jpeg-only policy and an interview in the Guardian of Don McCullin published Friday (27 Nov 2015).
The issue is of the veracity of the photograph, how “true” is it? McCullin talks about the difference between digital and film and his issue is the ease of manipulation the digital allows in comparison to film. He is a man of the black and white, an aesthetic both elegant and brutal in its pairing down to form and shape and shade. His point about being left alone in the dark with his images on film I thought quite poignant, especially given the subject matter he is best known for. This flexibility is the same issue that Reuters have, if expressed from different perspectives, of producer and market broker, but the issue is of trust. Trust is a marketable quality, by which I mean it is a quality that buyers and consumers look for in an organisation. Reuters need to be confident that the photographs they are peddling are truthful representations.
The Art/Science Truth/Fiction debates have been with us since the beginning of the medium and it will go on as long as the medium persists, that is to say there will always be dissenters. That isn’t the thrust of this post, nor McCullin’s point, neither is the truth/fiction argument one that Reuters are trying to conclude – they never will because they cannot because the capacity to manipulate, i.e. post production, will always be there and the photographer’s choice of angles, setting, subject will necessarily be a selective truth concreted in the raw image data.
Trust not truth, then. It isn’t an either or, one does not exclude the other, and Reuters and McCullin, whilst making different points, are talking of the same or similar problem. Truth, in essence, is a statement of fact. Trust is an emotional response that dictates the truth for each of the people involved in an interaction. That means multiple and often conflicting truths. That which is true and that which we believe to be true. Reuters want and need their clients to believe in the integrity of the photographs and in McCullin’s field, photojournalism, that is an absolute. It is one that has been fraught from the off, Roger Fenton‘s photograph of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” as it has come to be known after Tennyson’s famous poem on the Charge of the Light Brigade, is thought to have been staged for the emotional feel rather than battlefield veracity. In 1854 any real-time action photograph would have been pretty impossible due to exposure times. Not so 1938 and the fallen Spanish soldier we talked of (Robert Capra) back in September; lack of veracity got Brian Walski fired from the LA Times and Piers Morgan from the Daily Mirror.
All these were “War” photographs, I use the inverted commas because, whereas they are indeed photographs of war and its collateral damages, war is just the situation they were taken in, moments of humanity glimpsed through the blink of a shutter in a situation stripped of it. What has that to do with club photography? I mean, the club “battles” I have been at haven’t really got beyond the “Canons to the left of them Nikons to the right” level of drama, though all the judges we have had have had stories of metaphorical battle scars from less than impressed entrants and manipulations are deliberate and for effect. Well McCullin also touched on this in the Guardian interview, not camera clubs, you understand, when he talked about the colour reproduction and how it has, in some cases, become garish, certainly unreal. Landscapes, his preferred subject do seem to be going this way. There is one in a current photographic publication, held up as a tour de force to be, I assume, emulated and inspirational. It popped straight back into mind when I read McCullin’s comment: “These extraordinary pictures in colour, it looks as if someone has tried to redesign a chocolate box”. That is a matter of taste, though.
All this could be the influence of the Art World, of which there are many and not always complimentary opinions (in both directions), and comes back to the Art/Science and Mere Mechanics debate, at least in part. The fact is that fashion is an important driving force in setting trends. Changes in technology have democratised photography, and has greatly enabled what the average citizen can do. It doesn’t mean that the average citizen is any better a photographer or producer of images, but the potential is there. How much, then, should the producer of an image be able to say they created to make it theirs? The internet has made a vast and perpetually growing well of images available to an web connected individual. Social media makes sharing very easy. Sometimes people’s idea of sharing goes a little too far. What we enter into competitions we assert that the work we enter is our own. Local photographic clubs don’t often make national newspapers but one did over the summer and the whole club was thrown out of the PAGB competition over the claims of one member to the intellectual property rights of his entry. Trust, plays a part even at the micro level we operate within our clubs. Which is where we came in ….
N E X T M E E T I N G
Skies and how to improve them ….
The WCPF Travelling Critique did a sterling job of standing in without our scheduled speaker last meeting when we looked at the club competition for projected images won by Dorchester narrowly beating Bristol Photographic Society. It suggests two strands I want to discuss in this weeks’ blog. At the end of the series and before we went onto the 10×10 and Mark’s mini photoshop tutorial (thanks to Wendy G, Mark S and Eddie H for making that possible), I was put in mind of my grandfather’s culinary maxim, one which I think will stand for any man not prepared to waste time stuffing a mushroom, that “When it’s brown it’s done, when, it’s black it’s bugg***d”. It has served me well, though black pudding is something of a contentious area. It came to mind given the amount of, admittedly very well executed, post production work that, on the brown-black ancestral culinary continuum (hence forth the BBACC) suggested above, was certainly more brown than black but does that still leave it fundamentally bugg***d?
I have alluded before to the factions of Ye-Acolytes-of-Photoshop and the Get-It-Right-In-the-Camera-istas and in truth both have an argument in context – Dan Thomas (www.danyt.co.uk) talked about the removal of noise when using high ISO’s from poorly lit weddings i.e. when you are being paid to get the shot in conditions that are presented to you and certainly I can’t see a sensible argument against that; I talked about taking time to get it right in the camera when you have the time and luxury of a product shot in a controlled situation and though I am often to be found arguing with myself, I hold to that opinion as a start point. “The right way” (as alluded to in Sir Ken Robinson’s oh-so-right TED talk recorded a couple of years back) is a dangerous place to start in any creative endeavour, so often it is about defending the dominant way, so when we have categories and standards are we enforcing a “right way” that has more to do with fashion than correctness?
From the last WCPF post on prints I suggested that there are frameworks that can be used to give a logical and comparable basis for talking about images and I suggested a funnel that states your:
- First, broad, emotions when presented with the image (because of my….)
- Likes/Dislikes (because they….)
- Provoke these thoughts and feelings (because the handling of…)
- The technical aspects – light/focus/foreign objects/crop/exposure/saturation etc show and – (because the ….)
- Overall artistic impressions of composition, colour, subject matter lead to …. (because these)
- Particular aspects appeal … and (because…)
- Adjusting these aspects would change the image by … (and this all adds up to the image communicating …. because)
- Of these technical and artistic merits.
I don’t claim particular authorship of it – it’s an adaption of something I was given for appreciating poetry some years ago and there is a very similar version on Wikihow, on Examiner.com on expertphotograpahy.com a dozen other sites at least and on the Anthony Morganti YouTube Channel to name but a few. What it is, is a way of being consistent about approaching looking at photographs. So far so not news. It is why there are training panels for WCPF judges (among others) why there are advice notes for RPS distinction panels, et cetera, et cetera. However, as we all know, as soon as you put someone else in the frame, viewer, judge, then the subjective elements become more contentious.
So how do these two things tie in? There were some very well executed images that were patently unnatural in their presentation. So what? All images are artefacts, something made by artificial means. There were some very natural looking images that one suspects were expertly manipulated – despite the WCPF’s best efforts to present the lowest quality image compatible with projection and partially at least, rather diminishing the technical angles, but such is the world of copyright theft that I understand why they do it. So what was being judged, the photography or the post processing?
In part that isn’t really a fair question. A very high percentage of club, any club, photography will have some degree of post production so the only logical answer to the question is both. When viewing a “finished” image it is the final product we judge because it is the final product we are presented with. That is a pretty sterile, and somewhat circular (it is what it is because it is), argument. Move it a little and we might find another answer. Are we judging camera skills and computer skills? Is photography, in the competitive sense, now about painting with light and manipulating with image editing programmes and what is the balance?
This isn’t just idle speculation – only a few of us are capable at our current development levels of producing images as consistently good as the ones that were on display. This actually goes to the heart of club competitions. The judges we have had have all – well those who turned up, anyway – made the point that there are only small gaps between the best of the novice and the advanced category pictures. This in turn begs the question why have the two categories? I believe that there is a need for two categories and that lies in the diminishing number of entries to the competitions – novice print is all but dead on its feet. That is possibly a sign of times and the print/projection categories may no longer be meaningful. It shouldn’t mask the possibility that entering a competition that you have no chance of winning is a futile exercise for some – why put yourself up for a public slating? It isn’t futile, but that comes back to the points made by Sir Ken Robinson and the attitudes to “failure”. The only way we truly fail that way is to not engage, but we want to get it “right”.
This is where the idea of a standard becomes useful. The things you have to get technically correct (in camera preferably) but can also be helped along with a little post processing voodoo. There are compositional things that may look good as t-shirt slogans such as: “Viva the rule of thirds” “Fifths are for Landscapers!” and “Remember the Golden sections!”; “Long Live the harmonies of the colour wheel”; “The midday sun is for siesta not photography”, “Diagonals are dramatic darling”! “Eliminate dead space!”; “Don’t put your subject in the middle of the frame, Mrs Robinson!” and so on. All of which I have and you have, seen smashed to good effect. The general rule still remains you have to be able to make it before you can break it and so, like the appreciation framework, this gives us a guide.
We take those competition rules and we put them into our images and we enter the images into club competitions and get feedback from people who have a lot of experience at giving feedback (even if it is difficult to overcome some of their all too obvious dis/liking for some subjects and treatments). We use that feedback to get our next competition image better regarded. We take all the feedback from all the images in the competitions and we try them out on our own. This is where the community aspect of the club comes in. We enter the competitions to get help others as well as ourselves and the creative sessions and the competitions and the presentations all come together. It has to be a balance between the art and the craft and the competitions. The more entries the better in this regard. Where’s yours?
Small steps, but ones that get us to see more before we press the shutter. We know when this has taken effect when we start framing everyday things in our minds eye as if it were through a view finder – and most of us carry a camera of some sort pretty much every day. And does it matter about the amount of post-production? Well, as a rule of thumb, when it’s brown it’s done, when it’s black, it’s bugg***d.
NEXT WEEK Club Annual General Meeting.