Sunday, August 12, 2007

photographic truths

photography is an amazing medium. and as I begin this post, part of me shrinks back in awe with how complicated the subject really is.

BBC news online published a story about research teams that are developing an algorithm that uses existing online libraries (like flickr) to help recreate photos. The tool would search for similar pictures based on light source, camera position and overall composition.

Alright. so here's the deal.

I generally have no problem with retouching - dust, scratches, bad expressions in a portrait, shadows from trees, crazy wires, distinct lines in the background, nose hair, lack of hair, zits, glass reflection, and a wide assortment of other distractions in a picture. And I feel alright with it because it's not changing the real guts of the shot. I'm generally not replacing a nose or eyebrow, or cinching in some waistline, etc. Now as much as I respect the professional retouchers of the magazine industry, I do think they further perpetuate the myth of the perfect body...blah, blah, another topic. And the subject of photography in advertising/marketing is another post as well.

In this post, I am concerned (yes, strong word) that we would take vacation/family pictures and essentially replace elements from totally different surroundings. I'm not sure who's controlling what, but this idea that our memories should be "tidied up" seems like mind control to me.

Let's be honest - memory is a flaky thing. We all join fragments together, we all can be swayed by the memories of a stronger personality, and we all simply forget a lot. Photographs (and I'll bring in the moving picture at this point) are huge elements to help one remember, to feel, and appreciate that one moment. I hate this idea that we can simply alter realities like that. Yeah, sure, the light conditions, etc, in St. Johns, NFLD, may be similar to some picture from Australia, but I would doubt that they have similar dories and jellybean houses. (sorry, a rash example).

I know this technology is meant to improve the picture in a way that allows the user to emphasize the desired element - and I'm OK with that thought process. Photographers and designers have certainly been doing this for years - we alter color and light, and shape and texture. But I always assume we're doing it for the purpose of art, or to convey some intentional message. We haven't been painting historical pictures, that one would reference to help them remember.

It's tough. Could the general public be responsible users of such technology?

hey, check out the movie "Letters from Iwo Jima" - tremendous movie - not at all related to this post - except that I need to watch it's sister movie "Flags of Our Fathers", which is all about truth and photography.

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