When Ethics Become Semantics

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by thuggins, Nov 27, 2010.

  1. thuggins

    thuggins Member

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    There have been a number of interesting discussions in this forum regarding the ethics of presenting a computer generated illustration as a photograph, and a recent posting here uses the term "fauxtograph" to describe this practice. I have never understood what would lead a person to misrepresent their work. But it seems we have now reached the point where respected organizations will publish fauxtographs by weasel wording the definition of what is real and what is not.

    Many folks may have seen the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest images. There are some truely remarkable shots in this collection - some the result of pure luck, some the product of a great deal of skill, and some so photorealist that they are painful to look at.

    But the ones that really caught my eye are several shots of the night sky, brightly lit with stars, with some interesting terestrial object as a counterpoint. Every one of these is obviously a fake. Anyone who has tried to photograph the night sky under the best conditions (high altitude desert, no moon, dry cloudless night) knows that even with the fastest lens (f1.4), with the fastest film (ISO 1600 or equivalent sensor thingy), these uber-bright skies require somewhere between a 1-2 minute exposure. Since a 50mm lens will show star trails at 30 seconds, these shots can only be made with a tracking mount. This, of course, requires another stationary image of the foreground to prevent the mount movement from blurring the "stationary" earth.

    It seems that all that was needed to transform such a composite image from a direputable trick into an art form was to give it a fancy new name - High Dynamic Range. Now you can take as many shots of a scene as you want, keep what you like, get rid of what you don't - basically piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle. Voila, it's a photograph.

    Don't get me wrong. This isn't a criticism of the image, per se. Some of these are very creative and interesting. I certainly don't have the patience or the skill to sit for hours, blending together pieces on an image. So why do some folks deny their creativity with one medium (Photoshop, et al) by misrepresenting their work as photographs?
     
  2. bvy

    bvy Subscriber

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    I made this statement in a digital photography forum: "Photography begins and ends with the release of the shutter. Everything else is... well, something else." Needless to say I was blasted for it. The Photoshoppers came out in droves (an exaggeration) to protest my suggestion that what they do isn't photography.
     
  3. chriscrawfordphoto

    chriscrawfordphoto Member

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    So is Jerry Uelsmann's work not photography? The fact that he combines images in the darkroom instead of photoshop doesn't change the fact that his photos are fakes; the scenes not real. Made from combining images. HDR for digital photography isn't near as fake, its simply a way to overcome the technical limitations of the digital camera, since its dynamic range is limited compared to film. The original poster has no room to talk about others anyway. Look at his website, all the photos there have had the saturation bumped way up in photoshop, no film gives that kind of color, not even Velvia.
     
  4. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Who cares what "photography" is? Just shoot and print good shit, and be happy about it. Sure; it's bullshit work. I agree with you...but that is just an opinion based on taste, with all the lack of import that any opinion carries. Can any of us do any better, and if so, why don't we do it or shut up (or both)? Really. Who cares. I am tired of people on the Internet trying to define terms as if they really mean something anyhow. Just shoot. Print. Have fun. The world is full of assholes and idiots. Just let it lie. Bad and misrepresented art is not going to kill us.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 27, 2010
  5. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Agree. Not even worth discussing, really.
     
  6. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Jerry Uelsmann's work is photography because he photographs several black and white negatives on a single piece of paper-backed photographic emulsion. This process is conventionally, and often unthinkingly, called "printing" but it is photography all the same.

    There is nothing about a negative that prevents it from being the subject of a photograph.

    There is nothing about photographic paper that prevents it from being used to take photographs.

    There is nothing about placing multiple exposures on a single piece of sensitive surface that prevents the result from being a photograph.

    Jerry Uelsmann's photographs of negatives that do exist can be read as pictures of scenes that don't exist. There is a big difference between "picture" and "photograph". Some photographers don't spend much time fussing over the difference and I guess the digital world can't conceive there is any difference.
     
  7. Maris

    Maris Member

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    The people who care what "photography" is are the ones who look at a photograph and take the mental journey to connect the photograph with something in the real world. This journey is not something worth doing with paintings, drawings, or digi-graphs because they don't offer an indexical relationship between subject and picture. Photographs (uniquely!) do offer this indexical relationship.

    It is perfectly legitimate to embrace pictures at first reading and accept them as a beguiling pattern of marks on a plane surface. Suspending enquiry, suspending disbelief is a pleasant entree to a comfortable world of fictions were "seeming" is indistinguishable from "being".

    Photography is a ticket out of this world.
     
  8. phaedrus

    phaedrus Member

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    I think HDR digital image manipulation easily leads to these discussions because it is a *poor* simulacrum of our perception of a scene with highly different luminosities. Like objects in the "valley of uncanniness", it disappoints an unspoken assumption that a photograph should look like our perception of the world. Artistically, we need this base as a backdrop against which we exert our creativity, thereby moving the picture away from pure representation. If a technique does that on it's own without our interaction, we're a bit miffed.
    BTW, I'm in the Cole Porter camp: "Everything goes".
     
  9. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    Except I happen to think that HDR digital image manipulation is a MORE accurate simulacrum of our perception of a scene with highly different luminosities. The reason HDR is jarring is because it frustrates our visual memory which is/has been based on photographs and regular digital images, not because HDR is actually a poor representation of our visual reality. The human visual is capable of taking in and compressing a very high scene brightness range.

    I find it interesting that most people, in my experience, upon seeing HDR for the first time, say something like "it looks like a painting" or "it looks like a videogame". Both paintings and videogames are completely constructed imaging techniques; when asked to draw reality, people draw something with more compressed tones than photographs.
     
  10. chriscrawfordphoto

    chriscrawfordphoto Member

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    Well you've dug yourself in a hole on that one, because there have historically been photographic printing processes that did not involve the final print material being light sensitive. Edward S. Curtis printed his photographs in an etching press from copper plates. By your definition, they're not photographs. Problem is, no one who matters agrees with you. Every history of photography ever written, ever museum that includes his work, every gallery that sells them calls them photographs. Because they are.

    The insistence that there is 'one true path' in photography is born of ignorance. Study the history of photography, if you do you'll drop the bigotry against digital work because photography, like painting, is a broad collection of related art media. All types of photography, including digital prints, have in common the use of a light sensitive initial capture. There are a number of different chemicals used for this to make films, plates, papers, and digital sensors. A digital sensor is just chemicals that give off electricity when light hits them, arranged in a grid and filtered for color and connected to electronics that count the amount of electricity produced by each spot.

    I would suggest that most people who get all upset because someone is 'cheating' by using a computer or digital camera would be better served worrying about the quality of their own work. If it sucks, no amount of whining and running down those using a different media will make you look good. It makes curators and dealers walk away from you. If your work is good, then you'll still be turning off educated people whose help you need to succeed, thus ruining your efforts at making good art.
     
  11. phaedrus

    phaedrus Member

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    Interesting, I'll have to think about that. Anyone got the tonal curve of the brain at hand? :wink:
     
  12. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    To my mind, it would only be unethical if someone tried to pass off a digitally-created photograph as a silver gelatin photograph. I only wish that the term "photograph," when used to describe a picture shown in a gallery or magazine, was more accurate, as in "digital photograph."

    Just this week, I was talking with some people about one of my photographs for sale in the coop gallery to which I belong. One woman asked if it was digital, and seemed happy to hear and seemed to appreciate the photograph more when I told her it was "old school:" taken on film, printed in the darkroom.

    Therein was a good news/bad news conundrum: good news that some people value silver gelatin photographs more than digital ones, bad news that some people now assume all photographs to be digitally produced until told otherwise. I try to have my photographs accurately labeled, but I am not in control of the labeling process and am not always successful.
     
  13. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    And if you don't get it right at the release of the shutter, then the best you can hope to do is salvage the mistake.

    I like what you say here.

    And remember, if the print looks manipulated, you didn't do a very good job no matter what you did.
     
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  15. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    When does maing a print as good as you can go too far?

    In some sense dodging and burning are like HDR, you are changing the dynamic range of the negative for the final result, in this case a print. Masks, sandwiching negatives and other traditional darkroom techniques similarly do more than a straight print. Heck, even using multigrade contrast filters is stretching things, the most contrasty filter yields scenes no pair of sunglasses will render for a person.

    What about multiple exposures? What if you take two exposures, a flash exposure of the foreground object and then a second long exposure for the stars with a driven mount? That could work yet it would still be fake.
     
  16. thuggins

    thuggins Member

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    Apparently your perception of color has been atropfied by the all consuming blandness of the midwest. Most of my work is shot with VS, and while I am the first to admit that no scan or digital representation can approach the color intensity and fidelity of this wonderful film, the scans are as close to the originals as the limitations of the technology will allow. If you're ever in Dallas, stop by and I'll pull out the slides to show you what the real colors of nature looks like (and, BTW, I don't use photoshop).


    --> Since I only work with transparencies, all the talk of printing is interesting but misses the point. Maris really hit at the core of this issue. A photograph implies visual truth. You should be able to look at a photograph and know that some combination of medium, aperture, shutter speed, time of day/year comprise the image, and that you could reproduce the image by reproducing those parameters.

    It's like a jackalope. It's one thing to present it as a joke, a fanciful chimera that exists only as the result of the taxidermist's art. It is entirely different to insist that jackalopes are real animals, and oh, by the way, I shot that one myself on a hunting trip to west Texas.
     
  17. chriscrawfordphoto

    chriscrawfordphoto Member

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    I lived in Santa Fe for several years. Honestly, the midwest is much more colorful than the southwest. You scans look like they have the saturation boosted in an editing program. You do use some editing program, if not Photoshop, because you are posting scans..digital images. If your scans don't really look that way, then you need to calibrate your screen. On mine, which is a self-calibrating monitor made for graphics work, they look bizarre. I've shot E100VS and it scans just fine. If you cannot get scans that match its look, you just don't know what you're doing. I've found a lot of the 'digital anything sucks' crowd are just that, people who never learned to work with digital and since their results suck, they assume everyone's results suck.

    I'm here because I shoot 100% film. I don't even own a digital camera anymore, but I get tired of the ignorant bashing of other people's work. Only a fool thinks a photograph is visual truth. You can make a photo lie using purely 'straight' techniques just by choice of lens and position you shoot from. Photographs can tell the truth or they can be made up, just like any other form of art. If all you want to do are make record shots for the archives, fine, but don't bash people who are making art. Seriously though, you need to calibrate your monitor or pay someone who knows what they're doing to scan your film for you.
     
  18. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    The true original (in film) is the negative or transparency. Most people would rather view a positive so one could say that unless an
    un-manipulated contact print or transparency is presented the print is the photographer's interpretation of what was seen. I guess the contact print on more or less contrasty paper could be considered a manipulation. The capture in digital is also the original but we need to view it. There have been many discussions on this subject. My personal opinion is they are all valid presentations and are images on different media of the photographer's choice. I understand that the purpose of this website is to present analog photography as close as possible to a wet darkroom print.

    Jerry Uelsmann does not misrepresent his work for which he is a master at his technique and produces flawless prints that I doubt all but the masters of PhotoShop such as John Paul Caponigro can come close to.

    i say do whatever you want to photographs to present your vision and enjoy that of others just don't misrepresent.

    http://jeffreyglasser.com/
     
  19. largely

    largely Subscriber

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    I agree 100%
    To quote a famous American "can't we all just get along?"

    Larry
     
  20. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Chris,

    You got it all 100% correct. These arguments are always tiring and, at the end, going nowhere/counterproductive.

    And, Tim, not to pile on or anything and with all due respect, I do work on a Eizo hardware calibrated monitor and your images are absolutely not natural. Just as Chris said, something is wrong somewhere along the line, ie: poor scans, non-calibrated monitor (although I don't think that can be attributed to colors that wild).
     
  21. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Photography has never being a realistic rendering of reality. Reality is not in Black and white, in reality we have an optical system which behaves differently than a large wide lens or a telephoto lens, since ever photographers have put diffuser filters in front of lenses when portraying young woman, portraits have always been made with two, three, four light sources which in nature is basically impossible, polarizing filters have been "abused" in the last decades to obtain supersaturation of colours and "dramatic" skies etc. etc.

    There are various levels of "truth" in photography. News agencies do not accept a scan or a negative which is even minimally manipulated. Ceremony photographers do photoretouch images to a degree that reflects the way we perceive persons and reality. It is legitimate to portray a woman with a diffuser filter because, in real life, even if we can see the single spots and wrinkles on the face, we do not concentrate on them and we do not remember them, so that in a portrait said spots and wrinkles would make the person appear "much worse" than how we remember it.

    By the same token, certain scenes in HDR look quite natural because they are closer to how we experienced the scene.

    What is "unethical" is, in my opinion, lying about the process. Saying it is film if it is digital, saying it is "unretouched" when it is, saying a scene was "happening" when it is posed.

    Provided one is sincere about the process, any picture however manipulated is valid and legitimate within the ends and the scope which justify its existence.

    Anyway, the "all-too-fake" digital wave might spur a revival for film, which in the future might be perceived as a more genuine kind of photography.

    Fabrizio
     
  22. billbretz

    billbretz Member

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    Tim's getting slammed pretty unfairly. We've got lots of people making assumptions about what Tim is saying and bringing up straw arguments.

    The image he is referring to is immediately questionable in the contest format. Who cares about this discussion? Nat Geo. It's their contest some of us are talking about here. And from their site:

    "The world is already full of visual artifice, and we don’t want the National Geographic Photo Contest to add to it. We want to see the world through your eyes, not the tools of Photoshop."

    The debate is tiring? Click elsewhere.
     
  23. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    The word "Photography" have had many definitions over the centuries. It will continually change. It all comes down to us accepting the definition. It all semantics. I try not to be too dogmatic about photography. I know some pros that have done photography for over 3 decades and they swore off film, while some young new comers to photography have discovered the mystery and magic if film. How we shoot and what we shoot is a state of mind. It's my hope that my hope that my mind will remain open as I get older. There lies the challenge.
     
  24. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Bill, the way I read the original post is that this kind of manipulated works, as artistic as they can be, cannot be called "photographs", because they are "fake". The reference to the NG photo contest seemed to me a passing reference to exemplify the kind of pictures over which debate is proposed.

    Without "slamming" anybody, some of us expressed the view that up to a certain extent photography has always been "fake" and, although new digital techniques have pushed the boundaries of "forgery" further, there is an obvious difficulty in drawing a line between "photography" and "something else".

    I then personally expressed the opinion that to me the line is in the sincerity of the photographer regarding the technique used. If you lie regarding the technique, you make a fake. If you don't, you don't. To me a photomontage has always been "photography" and the dying legionnaire photographed by Capa supposedly while being hit by enemy fire has always stinked as "fake".

    I hope it was not me that you detected "slamming" the OP as it certainly was not my intention.

    Fabrizio
     
  25. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    To be frank, this thread has become the epitomy of its own title. We have gone from ethical into the realms of quivelling over the semantics of just what constitutes the meaning of fake.

    This public service announcement brought to you by the governmental department of redundancy department.
     
  26. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I have to ask .....

    What is "quivelling"?

    :smile::whistling: