Monday, December 20, 2010

Photography as evidence

The recurring theme in much of what I am reading about photography concerns the concept of "truth" and the acceptance that there is no such thing as photographic truth. Even in the absence of Photoshop, photographs may be staged and submitted as evidence of activity that has not taken place.  I have done a fair bit of traveling recently, last weekend was a trip home to the UK to visit my family prior to Christmas.  On the return flight I picked up a copy of The Independent and found the following article

Huge amounts of aid money is flowing from the west into Afghanistan and yet the population continue to starve.  Within the article was a short piece that mentioned that a great part of the problem is that aid is being appropriated by warlords and local con men.  A case in point was funding for a tractor repair factory in a part of the country deemed to dangerous for foreign visitors.  The recipient of the aid simply rented a few tractors, a small workshop and hired a few people to look busy.  This was all photographed and the subsequent pictures sent to the Washington agency responsible for the funding.  They were happy that all was going according to plan.  Amazing - even in the age of digital manipulation, such simple subterfuge is believed without question.  Even Daguerre could have pulled this one off.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I recently was asked to work an event as a photographer.  The event was an evening party between HP (my employer) and the German software company SAP.  I have discussed this in the "People and Place" blog:

However there was one activity as a result of the party that is very relevant to Digital Photographic Practice and that stemmed from the following photograph:

A fairly innocuous image (totally uncorrected) of the team that looks after the HP SAP relationship in Germany.  The reason they asked me to take it was that they needed a team photo for an upcoming newsletter and they wanted all 7 team members in a photo. 7?  Well this began the challenge, they forgot one of the team and by the time they realized that, he had left the party and headed to his hotel.  A quick look through the photos I had taken so far threw up the following image, he is the guy on the left.

So the request, well you must be good at photoshop????  Hmm, I have never attempted such a thing, never been really interested in manipulating photographs to the extent of adding or removing people.  Well time to learn.  Luckily the two photographs were fairly similar in tonal properties and the background was unfussy in both.

  1.  I started by removing the missing guy from the second photograph by cutting away everything in the photo but him, setting the background to transparent.  
  2. I then did the same to the left side of the group photo, from the strong black line to the left.
  3. I extended the canvas of the group photo.
  4. To this I added a rectangular panel which I had shaded to the same tone as the wall on the right of the image, using a gradient fill.
  5. All that was then required was to drop the missing guy into the group image.  I adjusted his size and height in the image, based upon what I could recall of his stature.
He looks as if he is not terribly interested in the group photo and I do not think it is a very convincing image, but better than nothing and an interesting exercise. 

What I find scary about this, is that with very little knowledge of Photoshop I have been able to include a person in a photograph they were not present for and produce an image that fooled a couple of people that I showed it to.  What can an expert do? And what does this mean for the veracity of photography - well the answer to that is clear, digital photography has no veracity.