Fraud or Art

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by blansky, Oct 24, 2005.

  1. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    This page was cut out of The Professional Photographer Sept 205 edition. The Professional Photographer is the trade magazine and premier magazine of professional portrait photographers and is a magazine published by the main organization that professional photographers of portrait, wedding and possibly product photographers belong to. It is the magazine published by the Professional Photographers of America.

    Virtually all portrait and most wedding photographers belong to this organization and the "Loan Collection" is a collection of top, highly rated by judges of their peers, photographs that are judged during their yearly national conventions. The Loan Collection then travels for a year throughout the country for the public to see.

    With all that out of the way, I would like to hear peoples opinions on the ethics of what has been shown and described here. THIS IS NOT AN ANTI DIGITAL THREAD.

    What we have is a photographer who, "didn't want to bother the Amish", dressing people up to look Amish. Then he "did some minor retouching" by moving the fake Amish to the other side of the road because it looked better, and because he obviously didn't think to do it when he shot it.

    Then to top it off, one of the judges gives it high acclaim, in the box at the bottom.

    My problem is, this thing is a fraud from top to bottom, and is acclaimed by the top photographic association for pro portraits types, to be a great work.

    Your opinion?.....

    The shadow on the picture is from a picture on the other side of the page.



    Michael
     

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  2. BruceN

    BruceN Member

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    Perhaps they should create a new award for "best fiction."

    Of course, any photograph can be said to have a bit of fiction in it, but this seems to be more in the Hollywood tradition than most.

    Bruce
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The thing that disturbs me the most about this is the staging, given that there are some serious documentaries about the Amish where photographers have had to gain the confidence of the subjects by getting to know them, and to agree to photograph subjects in profile or from behind in many cases. It seems like he just didn't want to do the ethnographic work. This is just a cheap shot in every sense.
     
  4. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    A great example of Victorian Sentimental Pictorialist Genre Illustration.

    The PPA still promotes this kind of decadent b.s ?

    Rubbish. They should've just painted it.

    .
     
  5. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Funny how the mantra "it's the final image that counts, not the process" sounds particularly hollow in this situation. Apparently the PPPA subscribes fully to that idea. I think it's unethical for a photograph to be made that way, though I'd have no problem with a comparable painting. I know photographs have been manipulated since forever, (it's certainly not new) but the ease and efficiency of it with photoshop makes it all the more tempting, and as we all know from the recent MAS threads, moral relativism rules.
     
  6. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Just a huge abscense of integrity. There is a difference between "staging" a scene (implies deception) and "posing" a photograph (doesn't imply anything).

    CP
     
  7. JHannon

    JHannon Member

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    I agree with David, many cheap shortcuts were made both with the image and with researching and understanding the real subjects. It reminds about an article I read concerning a similar subject and when the author found out it was a computer assisted creation said "Nice work Photoshop".

    Michael, I like the filename you assigned to the attachment :smile:

    --John
     
  8. laz

    laz Member

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    I think it is incredibly ironic that the judge is quoted as saying the dress of the mother and children speak to the life choices they have made!

    It is absurd for this work to be awarded anything anywhere let alone by this reputable organization!
     
  9. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    it all just depedns on cotnext. If someone was trying to pass this off as photojournalism it's rather unethical.

    If it's advertising, portrait or whatever else, who cares - it's all fiction? To think otherwise is simply naive

    What's the difference between this and Julia Cameron dressing her servants up as figures from Greek mythology or whatever

    All photographs are fictions. The likes of photojournalism or scientific or scenes of crimes photography rely entirely on the integritiy of the photographer in their work of conveying a certain number of facts.


    (Add to that whole "judges" comments PPA thing is stuck in some 19th centry salon/camera club thing and has been for aeons, what dop you expect).
     
  10. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I've thought about this and other works that have been created, staged, etc and I have asked myself why I care.

    I look at a picture and "experience" it and mentally decide if I like it. If I don't like it I mentally discard it and move on. If I do like it I kind of absorb it into my being or self, much like an experience that I had in real life. To give an example use Migrant Mother. You look and experience the picture and the times and the emotion of the picture. If you're a photographer you experience the methods or technicals involved. You allow an emotional experience to take over your body.

    If you were to look at a da Vinci painting and "experienced" it and later found out that it was a copy, you would feel cheated. (Of course not half as much as the poor schmuch who paid for it).

    But now it gets interesting. If it was a good enough to fool the experts, it must be a great painting even thought it wasn't da Vinci's. So are you really experiencing what was on the canvas or are you buying into the celebrity. And if you never found out it was a fake, you would not feel cheated.

    So I guess the question or dilemma is, concerning the Amish thing, if you never knew it was faked, would you like the picture. And since you found out it is faked why is it that you feel cheated?

    Perhaps it is the fact that when we experience something, then find out it is not real, we have allowed ourselves to becone emotionally involved, and now feel that we are cheated of that emotional feeling.

    Perhaps it's that human beings resent being manipulated.


    Your comments?


    Michael
     
  11. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    On the other hand, if it were presented as stock photography, we might think it was tacky (like if someone dressed some actors as nuns or orthodox Jews, for instance), but would it be that different from the sorts of photos we see in advertising all the time, where actors or models are dressed in "realistic" situations (well, just like the real world, except all the people are more attractive) in an office, or a kitchen, or catching a taxi, etc.?
     
  12. JHannon

    JHannon Member

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    I do like the photo, I don't feel cheated, just disappointed. But at least they explain what was done.
     
  13. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    why did he bother to photograph in Amish country? or did he? in PPA isn't the staging...the formula poses and the accepted lighting what is important?

    Don't know myself I am not a member....

    I might make myself a desert Amish photo.....or does it only work amongst the cows? the do seem overly interested...like "say what the hell is goin on"
     
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  15. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Hey, Dave, do you see the Amish in Vegas much? Maybe during rumspringa.
     
  16. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    I think the difference is that no one suspected that the Ms. Cameron had actually resurrected any mythological Greek characters. This Amish picture purports to be akin to what George Tice might have taken. Tice met the Amish and established a relationship that comes across in his images. This picture suggests something similar, but it's a fabrication.

    I don't think anyone believes advertising imagery is real...or at least I sure hope they don't.
     
  17. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    No really, Amish cows aren't really that interested in Amish people...it is a mundane thing.....but these cows, now that is another story....they have all stampeded to the fence to see the strange people in the "Amish" clothes
     
  18. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    Nope Dave...not many in these parts...I'm about to change that!


    I did however when I was in high school live for 2 weeks in an Amish home in Arthur Illinois.....
     
  19. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Maybe neither?

    I can't really see the image well in the thumbnail, and I can't read the text either. What I can see, doesn't impress me much.

    I don't know that "Fraud" would be a good label though - if I understand correctly, there is nothing hidden about this being a staged and manipulated image. IMHO there has to be some element of deception for it to be fraudulent.

    It seems to me that a much better question is - is it art?

    The (post-exposure) movement of parts of the image from one location to another in the scene is more cheesy than anything else. It certainly isn't an indication of quality, whether it is done digitally or otherwise.

    It seems to me that photographs which are staged or manipulated involve skills that are particular to the genre. If you like the approach and mind set of staged and manipulated work, then you may like this example, or may not. I have no doubt that the staging and manipulation can either be done well, or be done poorly.

    I think of the photography of Jeff Wall - those huge CIbachromes of staged events - whose appeal is impossible to describe, and hard to appreciate unless you see them in real life, where their scale and their banality, in all its cold detail, have an effect that is both disturbing and fascinating.

    IMHO, with the exception of purely environmental portraiture (i.e. portraiture where the subject is almost unaware of the photographer or the camera) every portrait involves at least some staging. The trick is to make that staging natural and faithful to the subject.

    I choose as an example the portraits I have seen here by Cheryl Jacobs. It is apparent to me that, in a fair amount of her work, what you see in the photograph is her subject's reaction to her and the environment she is working in. Just from looking at her work, I would guess that she has a very strong talent in realizing what environment will bring rise to the necessary reaction, creating that environment, and then capturing the image. That entire process is "staged" in that it is brought about at least in part, if not almost in entirety, by her intervention. The quality of the result comes at least in part from the quality of the staging.

    With respect to the manipulation, if in this instance the photographer had used either analogue or digital tools to remove a distraction like a fire hydrant from the photograph, it wouldn't offend me greatly, provided that the rest of the image was crafted in a professional manner. Moving the people to another location in the image is, however, just a sign of sloppiness at time of exposure.

    My opinion, FWIW, is that this is neither fraud, nor art, but rather just mediocre and uninspiring.
     
  20. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    I don't care how it was made -- Great Art it ain't. If you like it, that's YOUR problem.
     
  21. MikeS

    MikeS Member

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    Actually I like the picture. What is it about the picture that you feel is a fraud? The use of models (something very common I believe) or the digital manipulation?

    As the photographer lives either in Amish country, or very close to it (I can't remember if his town is actually in the Amish country) I'm sure he has some knowledge of their culture, and it was probably easier to get the picture he wanted by dressing up his models to appear Amish, rather than to get actual Amish for it.

    As for the digital manipulation, if you accept that a digital image can be valid art, then you have to accept that the manipulations done to it do require some skills. I could not take a photo I've taken, and moved people across the street as well as was done in that picture. Unless he cut them from an area not in the finished picture, then he did a very good job of covering up where they had been.

    Another thing to consider, lots of professional organizations like to pat each other on the back. When one of their members makes an image like this, they love it, let somebody who's not one of them make the same image, and see how quickly they jump all over it as being trash!

    As always, just my $.02

    -Mike
     
  22. Andre R. de Avillez

    Andre R. de Avillez Member

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    I'm just going to chime in for a few moments, then I have to return to preparing for tomorrow's midterm...

    As a documentary photographer, looking at a photograph that imitates documentary work, I feel lied to. The fact that this kind of work seems to completely ignore (not overcome) all ethical questions I face when I produce work of my own strikes me as wrong.

    "Do I have a right to be here, to photograph them, to show others this point of view? Is this point of view valid? How will this affect the subjects of the photograph?" In one form or another, these questions are with me everytime I work on my documentary projects. The fact that this image ignores all these issues, while assuming the aesthetics of an involved documentary work offends me. I really want to say that it "bothers me," but some offense was taken. Part of the appeal of true documentary work lies in the breaking of barriers on the part of the photographer, and part of it lies on the values that the photographer transmits (willingly or not). A very big part, which in fact should not need be said, lies in the respect for the truth (either of that particular moment or of the "true story", whatever that may be). To fake these aspects seems no more legitimate than to fake aspects of one's own life.

    Anyway, I have to get back to my studies...

    André
     
  23. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Photographers left this stuff behind 120 years ago.

    It took a while, which was reasonable, for the folks who had access to the photographic paraphenalia, and who had the time, to make the necessary progress technically, aesthetically, and morally, to go out and shoot a farmer instead of dressing up a servant, or friend, as a farmer. But by the time Emerson was out and about with his camera photographing real people, the time for sentimentality and social stratification was past.

    The Salons, however were too precious, too respectable, and too arrogant, to catch on.

    Years later, we generally see a photograph and assume it is real. And that's why this is fraudulant, and what is truly wrong with it. Dressing it authentically, and staging it as it were a photojournalistic image, or documentary, is cold and cynical.

    I'd be happier if the photographer hired Amish locals to walk back and forth for an hour. That's contrived, but honest.

    Blansky, and me, and other folks enagaging in portraiture are dependent on one thing: we tell the truth as we see it, or feel it.

    A portrait is about a deeper reality than the surface of the subject. We all use different words for it, I'd call it soul. We risk a lot when we dare look at the person in front of the camera, and we risk a lot when we make the picture. That's our job. And that is why this image should be despised, it mocks our craft and calling.

    String 'em up.

    MB: when you drift out to Toronto next year, bring your skates and come through Detroit: Ted Lindsey still skates 3 mornings a week, and is supposed to be pretty good company. :cool:

    .
     
  24. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    I figured the whole thing was a blatant fraud as soon as I read that.

    Heck, photography was only invented in 1826. Gutenberg Press in the mid-1400s...There weren't any Amish back in 205 either.

    Can't fool me.

    Joe
     
  25. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    A couple of points:

    This thread was not so much about whether you think this particular photograph was art, or even good. More so, it was about the fact that a top photographic organization, would be endorsing this kind of staging, and raving about it.

    The second thing is, in life we sort of have an expectation of truth. Obviously the older we get, the more jaded we get. A child comes in thinking that everything is truth, and soon has to discover that it is not.

    In movies we accept that it is not truth, in advertising we have also come to accept that, although that has not always been so. In photography for years we accepted that it was truth, well maybe just a little enhanced, but still pretty much truth none the less.

    Look at how outraged we used to be when athletes who we admired reached great heights of achievement and then we find out they used steroids etc. Now we almost expect that they cheated.

    I guess I just think it is sad that we must place a mental caveat on everything these days, that don't allow us to enjoy something with the knowledge that it was achieved honestly and without betraying our trust.

    ....here I sit, a sadder but a wiser man.....

    Michael
     
  26. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    It reminds me of the controversy of the "White Band" sales in Japan is somewhat similar to this: Some PR firm ran an anti-poverty campaign for Africa by featuring celebrities (like I heard what Oxfam did in Britain) wearing white wrist bands, but it was a fraud. It turned out this was not directly linked to any of the campaign ads that the aid agencies put out abroad, but the director of this firm(not OXfam) got an idea from them. So only some Japanese, mostly young people who paid 300 yen (about 3 USD) per rubber-made ring got tricked and got quite upset.

    Because on its ads, it had a listing of the names of NGOs and NPOs that're in the business, giving an impression to the public that the money you paid for "White Band" rubber-made rings would directly go to (or be spent on) the countries that are in need. But the most of the money was split beteen the PR firm and the Chinese manufacture for the manufactuing cost and the labor.

    I was wondering why these rings were being sold in convenience stores and record shops most of the time. The most ironic part was that some right-wing advocates including a majoy newspaper, broke out this story because their counterparts were among the names on the list. Later the explanation from the firm was posted as a caution that said something like, "Originally it only intended to send out the message for the public to be aware of the issues on poverty." And now it's onto something else completely.

    I don't know what this was all about, but concerning the ethics on the use of images, I'm hardly surprised by the problems that occur such as this.