This was a very challenging assignment and far more difficult than I expected, not simply from the skills perspective, but also in terms of thematic design and philosophy. My initial focus was very much on the “Book
Cover”; I did not read the brief carefully enough and failed to take in the following sentence:
"The purpose of this assignment is for you to demonstrate this stance, and the means involve completing a project which lies in the middle ground of the real versus fake argument.”
Subsequently I started to develop an “Alien Invasion” concept that used Blue Screen techniques to add Star Wars models into a local landscape. I spent many hours working on the blend, lighting angles, perspective management, replacing the sky with a tropical sunset and applying split toning to the landscape scene to create an otherworldly affect. The result was very much valued by the local kids who now have it as a poster for their bed rooms. The rather weak Photoshop pun in Clone Attack is intentional!
However, whilst I was very pleased with the final result, carefully re-reading the brief led to the realization that this was very far to the right of the Real versus Fake curve. On the other hand I had much fun building plastic kits for the first time in years and developed a number of Photoshop skills that would be useful in what I am going to submit for Assignment 4. I have included it here as it is a key part of my development in building this assignment.
2 weeks ago I spent a long weekend in Singapore, part Business, part Photography vacation. In addition to my usual bag full of photography books, I took a copy of 1984, rereading it for the first time since my schooldays. The contrast between the bleak landscape of “Airforce 1” and the madly coloured retail driven prospect of Singapore provided the inspiration for this submission. Could I take a retail temple and transform it into the “Ministry of Truth” as a cover for 1984. On this trip I was carrying a new mirrorless compact camera, a Samsung NX100 and a small range of lenses. After working with my Canon SLR and L series lenses this “rangefinder” styled and sized camera was a liberation, enabling me to carry a versatile and capable camera kit pretty much everywhere. The goal for my trip to Singapore was to attempt to document the city, in the end the 33 degree heat drove me inside and I spent quite some time documenting air conditioned space.
One of those images is the following:
20mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 100
This is the interior of the brand new Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Casino and Shopping complex, an almost insanely opulent environment. Somehow the last thing Singapore needed was more shops, but that seems to be the direction their economy is taking. In any case I decided that this would be a great candidate image for a 1984 themed composition. It is complex, but offers several planes, the steel work and exposed concrete has a 1930’s sci-fi look to it and is ideal for my purposes.
I did not have a tripod and so could not ideally frame the image, this is pretty much how it came out of the camera, with just simple colour and contrast adjustments. I would like to have applied some perspective adjustment and also to crop a little, however, this was not possible due to my processing strategy - at the time I took around 8 similar shots with different constellations of people, understanding that I would need to clone out some elements and clone in others. I processed all 8 images in Lightroom to B&W with no other adjustments, selected the best starting point (above) and headed to Photoshop.
My processing goal would be to remove any indication of the shopping centres retail function and replace it with elements from the book, namely the slogans:
“War is Peace”
“Freedom is Slavery”
“Ignorance is Strength”
“Freedom is Slavery”
“Ignorance is Strength”
And most importantly; “Big Brother”. The image of Big Brother presented in the book of an iron hard man with massive moustache and eyes that follow you, is clearly based upon Stalin, so I turned to the web and found the following Soviet poster. The graininess and aspect ratio were ideal for my intended use.
The next step was the gradual transformation of the shopping centre:
- First I decided to work in B&W, this suited the subject well, but also made the processing steps simpler as colour balance would not be an issue
- I cleaned up the interior of the centre, removing some lighting fixtures where I wanted to place slogans, covering up commercial signage, and removing any people from the ground floor where I wanted to add the book title
- I have retained the rather bright lighting, 1984 is dark, however, subverting an open space is as much an element of Ingsoc as the dark spaces
- I mapped Stalin to as many plane surfaces as I could. In doing so I had to consider a number of processing challenges:
- Each Stalin was added as a separate layer in the image
- The image would need to be in perspective, for this I used the Distort tool to warp the images to align with wall and floor edges
- In most cases I changed the transparency of the image to allow some of the interior light to come through. This varied the surface texture and blended the images better
- I adjusted the darkness of the images, depending upon where they were in the composition; the light is coming from top left.
- I also used masking and erasure to make sure that people, banisters, staircases, and other detail was correctly positioned in front of or behind the images
- The large Stalin at image centre was specifically processed with transparency to look like a back lit canvas allowing the structure of the building to show through
- The slogans were added using various text tools to merge them into the building. I have used transparency to retain some shadowing and reflections, especially on the 1984. For the stronger perspective elements I rasterized the text to have more freedom in manipulating the position.
- I then added people back into the image cloned from the other photographs in the sequence, In particular I wanted some people on the escalator. Although very small in the image the 3 men in dark suits on the left hand escalator are important to the composition, I think of them as the Thought Police, particularly the one at the top of the stairs.
- The final processing step was to flatten the layers and export as a TIFF to re-import into Lightroom for a little finishing.
- I considered adding grain, but after a few changes to the contrast and brightness, the image was already looking grainy enough – However, it does need to look a little rough, too clean and the effect would be diminished
- I added a very small amount of Blue into the image using Split toning. Without this I felt the image was too flat, the Blue provided better visual contrast and oddly (to me at least), makes the image look more Black and White than the simple grey scaled version.
What I have attempted to do with this image is to dress a film set electronically. Clearly this is not Real, however, is it a photograph of a film set in which people have added imagery to the walls or has it been done via Photoshop. A close look will reveal that the latter is true, but I hope this needs some thought to figure out.
Ethically, I do not think there is much at issue here, a book cover may always be somewhat manipulated, the image decorating a fiction title is in itself a fiction, however, it needs to be a convincing one. The closer to photorealism that can be achieved the better the message.
The experience of creating such an image had many parallels with creating a more conventional work of art on paper, a key question was when to stop. There are still many plane surfaces in the image and fewer people than I am happy with, however, I found that adding beyond the point above, started to overly confuse the image.
Given more time I would make the following improvements:
- Return and shoot the image at night time, enabling me to darken the roof – I could try this in Photoshop, but it would take a lot of time and I doubt it would be convincing, as I would need to darken each panel selectively, keeping the steel bright as it would reflect the interior light.
- Achieve a slightly better framing, this is nearly centred, but not quite. To do so I would mount the camera on a tripod and very carefully line up the symmetries in the image. One of the blends at the top left is mis-aligned as the camera position shifted a little and I could not achieve perfect alignment.
- Use a better camera-lens combination, although I admit I am surprised by the capability of this little kit.
- With the camera on a tripod shoot many more frames with people in – I would ideally like to have far more people in shot representing the teeming masses of the down trodden (Ideally all similarly dressed and looking oppressed, but that would be too much to ask for – unless I was Gregory Crewdson or Jeff Wall)
- Improve the look of the text, I really struggled to get the alignment and shape right, in places it does not work as well as I would wish.
My final comment is that the “Ministry of Truth” would love Photoshop!