Imagenation

No… it’s supposed to be spelled that way.

As promised, this is part two of whatever it was i started yesterday – don’t you just love consistency? We’ll dwell a little longer on the subjects of photography and imaging the virtual world.

The field of photography is positively riddled with numerous debates in which opinions tend to be diametrically polarised, with only a brave few daring to suggest there may be a middle ground, or for that matter, that opposing sides of an argument may be equally valid. A few spring instantly to mind… film -v- digital; opportunist -v- posed; observer -v- intervenor… this last, in particular, can ask the photographer to make sometimes impossible moral and ethical decisions – Kevin Carter and ‘that’ photograph are brought to mind; i won’t publish it here – it’s a disturbing image, but if you want to find it, a Google search of ‘Kevin Carter’ and ‘Pulitzer’ will throw it up. Carter’s story itself gives rise to further debate that is of enormous relevance to documentary photographers, but is rarely discussed: career -v- vocation. Carter’s own suicide note demonstrates the stark reality of that distinction:

“I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist…depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners… I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

Certainly, it’s a vexed question and one to which there are no easy answers – the debate will continue, although rarely in the open.

Leaving aside all those things, there’s another debate that probably causes more argument than all the others put together – to ‘shop or not to ‘shop.

Photoshopped?

It speaks volumes that ‘to Photoshop’ has become as ubiquitous and generic a term for post-processing of images, as ‘hoover’ has become for vacuum cleaners. Perhaps it would be useful at this point to provide a little clarity – photoshopping per se is not an evil thing: the vast majority of professional imagery you will find in day-to-day life – if not all – will have received some sort of treatment – at minimum, a quick once-over for contrast, levels and saturation but, more likely, the full works and beyond. Without this, much of the visual content of the world around us would look very different indeed and i think it would be very difficult to argue that image manipulation doesn’t have a role to play. Where the debate rages unabated however is when post-processing is used to alter the original in some way to make it ‘better’. You may say it’s ok to clone out a stray bit of litter that’s messing up your beautiful landscape, but is that any different from adding an eye-catching stormy sky,  changing the time of day or adding a few cows for effect? Purists would say that such things can be achieved in camera and by the good old-fashioned methods of learning the ropes, doing the legwork, attention to framing and exercising one’s patience. i refuse to get involved here – if you fancy battling it out, feel free to use the comments! Personally, i think it’s a moot point – no matter what your views, photographers have been doing it for years… they were doing it before digital existed, i bet even Fox Talbot was playing around with his images way back in the pioneer days of photography!

What, you may ask, does this have to do with sl?

Well, if i’m honest, not a lot – however, i’d suggest that the nature of sl imaging lends itself naturally to manipulation both before and after the shot is taken, but very much without the attendant baggage of whether or not it’s right to do so. There’s no such thing as making a faithful reproduction of the original: how we individually see our environment – the ‘original’ – may be completely different to those around us and our environment is completely tied to our own personal experience. Windlight, preferences, graphics settings, time of day, even screen size, shape and resolution are determined by us and are almost infinitely variable – and all that’s before we hit the ‘capture’ button! The traditional concepts of waiting for the shot we want to come to us are irrelevant – in  sl, we engineer what we want to see… something in the way, we de-rez it; need something extra, we add it;  wrong light, we change it – there’s no worries about being in the right place, with the right angle; we can put our cam precisely where we want it and click away to our hearts’ content. Having taking our shot, if it’s still not quite right, we can ‘shop it as much as we want, secure in the the knowledge that we’re not committing any cardinal sin against preserving the original scene. Let’s not forget too, personal preference and foibles – image manipulation can be taken to the most ridiculous degree and, although the end result may be considered lacking in taste by some, for others it’s pretty and, whatever form it takes, it’s no less valid than the ‘original’ capture, which of course is no more real that the final outcome.

Coming to think of it, we’ve absolutely no excuse for producing stunning shots every single time!

All of which brings me to one of my pet peeves. Most viewers now, including the official one, give you some glorious options for beautifying your images – reflections, shadows, depth of field and, with the Exodus Viewer, tweakability of pants-wetting proportions but for the vast majority of us, this wonderful functionality is so demanding of our systems and internet connections that they’re forever denied to us. It’s a big like being a child stood in the crowd on the wrong side of the Wonka factory gates, whilst Augustus Gloop smugly waves his golden ticket at us from the other side.

Sometimes i see the lovely pictures posted by other bloggers, with their gorgeous shadows and misty bokeh and i want to strangle them with my bare hands weep, knowing that if i even attempt to do the same, i’ll crash with the finality of a piano dropped from a great height. It’s all very well for Torley to wax lyrical about his soft focus piccies with ambient light and projectors, on his 36 inch monitor, (i measured it!), but it doesn’t amplify my own particular awesome in the slightest!

OK – i’m calm now. So, where does us leave us? Well, it’s very simple – play with your sl photos as much as you like… manipulate, alter and doctor them to within an inch of their life, it’s all perfectly acceptable. Just do me one favour… if they end up better than mine, keep them to yourself!

s. x

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
And I almost believe that they’re real 
The Cure – Pictures Of You 

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