There’s a controversy raging in the photographic world all over a simple monochrome photograph, taken by one Chay Yu Wei, entitled ‘Look Up!‘
Mr Wei’s picture was judged so compelling, that it netted him first prize in a Nikon photography competition, winning him a wheely bag for his efforts.
Except, it turns out that Mr Wei photoshopped his offering (badly), inserting an aeroplane where none actually existed, misled those who questioned the image, and may even have stolen the idea from another photographer who published an almost identical image a year ago. Boos all round for Wei’s lack of professional integrity and for Nikon’s apparent indifference to the purity of the medium they champion.
Deception and plagiarism aside, this is by no means a new debate. Even though it’s become far easier for anyone to manipulate photographs since the advent of digital capture, it’s a practice – many would argue, a skill – that has been around since photography itself was conceived. Anyone who’s ever framed, dodged, burned, masked, overlaid, cropped, tinted or adjusted an image is guilty of the same ‘crime’. Some call it heresy, some call it art, some really don’t care! It’s a debate that will continue and to which there really is no all-appeasing solution.
I think there’s something deeply rooted in the human psyche that compels us to want to ‘improve’ on reality. On a personal level, we’ll adorn ourselves with makeup, or at the more extreme end of the scale, enhance or improve our bodies with cosmetic surgery. Our portraits are studio lit and airbrushed to perfection, tweaked and enhanced. As for the world around us, we’re not averse to a spot of landscaping, adding the occasional water feature, and generally making nature conform to our idea of attractive.
Throughout the ages, painters, sculptors, poets, authors and yes photographers too, have sought to augment, prettify and – on occasion – completely distort reality for aesthetic and artistic reasons, almost to the point that our romantic ideas of perfection seem both eminently attainable and the way things really should be.
That, sadly, is not how the real world works. Every silver lining has its cloud, and the reality is that the raw materials of everyday life, which we have no choice but to work with, are far from perfect.
Unlike SL, where the world itself is essentially a blank canvas – one that presents us with almost limitless opportunities to build perfection… A perfect body, a perfect environment, a perfect world.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet if there’s one thing SL most definitely isn’t, it’s perfection.
Perfection inworld is no different to perfection in RL – it is entirely subjective, frequently divisive, and entirely in the eye of the beholder. No matter how open-minded, relaxed and inclusive you may be, there will always be elements of SL – representing other people’s perfect vision – that will leave you cold and wondering what on earth happened to good taste and an eye for beauty. And therein lies an immutable truth: When human beings get their hands on something and mess around with it, the result is never going to tick all the boxes for everybody.
Not that we should let it stand in our way, because in SL at least, we’re not going to break anything beyond repair. It’s only pixels… And if our pixels should happen to offend somebody else, nobody’s forcing them to look. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said about RL.
As for Mr Wei’s fake aeroplane, it’s no different – he’s simply put his own spin on a reality that, for him, just wasn’t quite perfect enough. Whether you think that’s a travesty or not is immaterial – it’s not your photo, and given the chance, as we are in SL, we’d probably do the same too!
Hi Time magazine hi Pulitzer Prize
Vulture stalked white piped lie forever
Wasted your life in black and white
Manic Street Preachers – Kevin Carter