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Entries in Ethics (9)


Images Matter

When reporting the news images really do matter, and this is a great example of how image and text can sway public opinion. The image on the left is of a protestor throwing a Molotov cocktail, and the other image is of a peaceful protestor begging for answers with police in riot gear in the background. Both have the same headline: "All Hell Breaks Loose." PDN has a great article up about how readers on Twittr disliked the image, which eventually led to the paper changing the picture to the one on the right.

The images reminded me of another controversial trial in America that dealt with race - OJ Simpson. These images of his mugshot were published by Time and Newsweek at the time of his arrest, and were on newsstands the same week.

There is a great deal of discussion about the manipulation of this image related to the ethics of digital photography. It is just so easy to darken or lighten skin, put heads on different bodies, etc. However, through the years of teaching about this image of OJ, I have noticed something else about it. Newsweek has the lighter skin, but notice the caption, "Trail of Blood." Time is the same picture with darker skin and the text reads, "An American Tragedy." In the end, to me anyway, it seems like both point the reader to the same conclusion just in different ways.

The television has been in our living rooms since the 50's, and the camera has been around since the late 1830's. We still only teach our children the alphabet and numbers, and never say a word about images, which are incredibly persuasive. I'm sure this makes the advertising industry really happy, but I think it is way past time that we started teaching media literacy in grade school.

Photo Credit for top image: PDN news via Philadelphia Daily News


Totalitarian Aesthetics

What a silly example of photo manipulation. A film crew is removed from the funeral procession for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. The reason seems to be one of wanting everything tidy and orderly. Read more, and larger images, at NYTimes Lens Blog.

Photo Credit: Screen Shot from NYTIMES, (orginal source: AP via Kyodo News; European Photopress Agency via Korean Central News Agency)


Long Beach Police & Photography

The Long Beach Police are now in the position of determining whether or not a photographer's images have any aesthetic value....

"If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery," says McDonnell, "it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual." McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.

McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer's subject has "apparent esthetic value," officers make such judgments "based on their overall training and experience" and will generally approach photographers not engaging in "regular tourist behavior."

 I don't even know where to begin....

Photo Credit: A photograph shot by Sander Roscoe Wolff on June 30 before he was detained by Long Beach Police

This is a beautiful image, and IMHO most snapshots lack any aesthetic value. But I only have 7 years of art school and 15 years of teaching experience in aesthetics, the officer on the beat has zero, so what do I know.

And one parting shot - since when is a photographer's role in society strictly limited to aesthetic value?


How Not to Get Ripped Off - Online

This is really great advice from Gwenn Seemel and food for thought regarding orginality, ideas, technique and creative process.

1) Be original. I aim to make art so original that no one will question who made it.

2) Sell only live art. I've given up on the idea that art in reproduction is for sale and I focus on making work that is better in person than in reproduction.

3) Pursue credit in innovative ways. No one has ever claimed a reproduction of my work as their own, but when I've known about images of my work being used without any mention of my name I've approached the situation as a teaching opportunity or used it as an illustrative point.

4) Embrace the copying of style. Lots of people make originals that resemble mine somewhat, and it makes me feel pretty good about my work.

5) Don't assume that anyone is copying style. It's usually pretty difficult to be sure that anyone is copying anyone else. That said, if another artist was making and selling works that I was certain were copies of my paintings, I would probably talk about them on my blog. It would drive Internet traffic looking for them to me.

6) Be clear about what you want from the world and from the Internet. I make sure everyone knows where I stand with regards to copyright. At the bottom of every page of my site, there's a smiley face instead of a ©. Click on the face and it takes you to a page that fully explains my beliefs.

h/t Boing Boing


Copyright and the Photograph

I recently entered a competition that had the following clause:

Each artist warrants that he or she has obtained all necessary releases from models and other subjects featured in photographs selected for exhibition and any additional releases required with respect to names, trademarks, designs, or works of art depicted in the photograph and that the creation, display, or distribution of the photographs will not violate any law.

This made the editing of my new project, "City Walls" extremely difficult, even though all of the images were shot on public sidewalks and were technically public domain. In the end I pushed the edit to nearly total abstraction. 

Recently I posed this question in class: Can a photograph be made that is not appropriation? I ask this with all seriousness. Considering the clause above - can a photographer make even a still life without releases from the corporations that manufactured the object in the still life? In graduate school one of my peers was sent a cease and desist letter from Mattel for using her Barbie from childhood in the photos. Students have been run out of parking garages for making aerial views of the city, because they own the view. 

Thinking back on photography's invention and how daguerreotypists invaded the world making photos of anything and everything. Then, the world was thrilled and enchanted by this new invention. Now almost 200 years since Nicéphore Niépce made the first photograph of his courtyard, photographers are routinely sued even when they have releases, and oftentimes they lose the case.  This litigious shift in photography regarding privacy and ownership combined with the possiblities of digital technology are radically shifting the role of the photograph.

In Vince Aletti's essay on the topic "Is Photography Over" he offers his thoughts on the matter:

What's over is the narrow view of photography — the idea that the camera is a recording device, not a creative tool, and that its product is strictly representational — not manipulated, not fabricated, not abstract. ... Photography over? More often these days, it feels like it's only just begun.

Although he was talking about photography in general, one aspect changing in the medium is permission to make the photograph. While I found the editing challenging, it made me focus on the formal attributes of the work and freed me from representation. In the end this was a gift.

Photo Credit: Rene' West, Riot Gear, from the series City Walls © 2010


300 Years of Copyright

This year marks the 300th anniversary of modern copyright laws in England. The original document was entitled the Statute of Anne, and its purpose was stated in the opening line: "An act for the Encouragement of Learning..." The British Council has asked a wide-range of professionals to submit their thoughts on the purpose of copyright and how it could be improved upon. So what is current copyright law? What is the purpose? Does it meet the needs of the artist and society in today's world?

A brief overview:

In 1710 the Statute of Anne was adopted in England to put a stop to monopolies in the printing industry. A copyright was in effect for 14 years and could be renewed once, for a total of 28 years. After that the creative work went into public domain and could be used by anyone. The thinking was that this knowledge could then be expanded on by others, for the betterment of all.

1790 the United States adopts similar law with the same purpose, "the Encouragement of Learning. " The duration was identical to England.

Looking at the graph above - every time the copyright laws changes it is extended for a longer period of time. The last extension is pejoratively referred to as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act," due to extensive lobbying by Disney Corporation.

Current copyright is now: 70 years after the creator dies or 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier, for corporate creations.

Mickey was published in 1923 so my guess is around 2015 lobbyist will want extensions again. Since what they really wanted in 1998 was forever. What this means in practical terms is that almost all of the 20th century is still locked up in copyright and cannot be used without permission and royalties paid.

To put this in a different perspective if 28 years was still the length of copyright - every song the Beatles ever recorded would be in public domain. Every movie, photograph, painting, sculpture, song, and literary work created before 1982 would be a part of public domain and free to use for any purpose. My mind spins with all the possibilities for mash-ups.

Should artists be able to cull from the cultural archive for creative purposes?

When should a creative work pass into public domain to be expanded on by others?

Science fiction writer, Cory Doctorow, was asked to submit his thoughts on copyright to the British Council: He posted his essay on Boing Boing.

I learned to write by copying. In 1977, when I was six, my father took me to 'Star Wars'. I couldn't figure out how a made-up story could be so exciting, so I went home, stapled some paper together and trimmed it to book size, and wrote out the story as best I remembered it, doing it over and over again as I strove to unpick it.

Today, I earn my living by copying: taking ideas that excite me and combining them in ways that are mine, but never wholly mine.

If copyright law is to truly nurture art and creativity, rather than merely lining the pockets of the last generation of copyists who now declare themselves to be pure of all replication and wholly original from the first word to the last, it *must* recognize and celebrate the wonderful thing that is copying.

This idea of learning by copying, and creating by copying, is an ancient concept in the arts and I am reminded of the often quoted "good artists borrow and great artists steal" which actually comes from this quote by TS Eliot (h/t Nancy Prager):

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

300 years ago copyright was established as a means of breaking up monopolies. The companies were not happy about it, and have been fighting these laws every since. As the British Council revisits copyright laws should the value of public domain be given more consideration? Artist's need to earn a living, and societies need to adapt creative works for other purposes. These works become a part of the collective experience, and in order to use them for "the enhancement of learning" they need to become public domain at some point. Why does an artist still need money 70 years after they are dead? Could corporations get by on 50 years instead of 95? Do current laws nurture art and creativity? These questions seems worthy of discussion.

Embedded Viddie: Annie Lennox and DJ Earworm Mash-up

Graph Credit: Wikimedia Commons (Vectorization of Tom Bell's graph, which shows expansion of U.S. copyright law. See fuller description at the original website).

Other mash-ups


Consider the possibilites!


Retouching Gone Wild

"No Wonder Our Perception of Beauty is Distorted" - Dove Evolution

I've started this article with the video of the "Dove Evolution" PSA because it really de-constructs the amount of enhancement done to the face for a national ad campaign in today's world. Not so many years ago there was a limit to the amount of manipulation and retouching that could be accomplished on a photograph, and it was a highly specialized field that very few people excelled in. However, since the invention of Photoshop and other advancements in technology all that has changed.

Teaching digital imaging has made me aware of trends in both art and commercial photography. My eye is always searching for examples that can be shown in class. Lately it seems like everyone has a digital camera and editing software, and just can't resist the temptation to fix the image in some small or large way. I see badly shopped work on the sides of trucks, church flyers, band posters, and the glossy pages of catalogs and magazines. Sometimes it's just lazy like using a feathered lasso to make quick work out of a complicated form. Other times it is a third hand or a missing leg that is so obvious it makes me wonder if the person designing it really thinks I won't notice. But perhaps the most amazing aspect is how much of this actually makes it past art directors, and VP's, and into the press.

WebUrbanist has a collection of 15 botched Photoshop jobs found in advertising campaigns that are laugh out loud funny. The timing could not be better since this week in digital imaging the topic is retouching, enhancement, and modifications. Teaching this section is fun for me, because not only does it cover useful techniques but also enlightens students about the degree of manipulation in fashion images. There is a difference between benignly knowing that images are manipulated and becoming aware of just how much alteration is done to the body in contemporary ads. It's like pulling back the curtain on Oz.

Two of my favorite sites that are dedicated to chasing down Photoshop failures are:

Photoshop Disasters (credited with outing the lollipop girl on the cover of Ralph Lauren) and Photoshop Mistakes. 

For more information go to the Links page and look at Retouching.

And Photo Tampering Throughout History, is a good place to start looking at the history of image manipulation.


Xeni on Rachel Maddow

In the last post, I mentioned Xeni on Boing Boing critizing an advertisment by Ralph Lauren where the head is larger than the pelvis. It seems RL tried to force Boing Boing to take down the post and they refused. Rachel Maddow interviews Xeni about the ongoing issues regarding her post and the lollipop-like model.


Ethics and Photography

Photo-manipulation is nothing new. It’s just a matter of where you want to start and how you want to define it. When Hippolyte Bayard posed as a drowned man in 1840, he was stretching the truth by staging the photograph. Oscar Rejlander in 1857 created the seamless combination print, The Two Ways of Life, out of 17 negatives (some say as many as 32). Insertion, adding images to the photograph, has been employed since at least 1865 when Matthew Brady added General Blair, to a photograph of Civil War officers. In the early 20th century, the half-tone printing process brought about a proliferation of photo magazines, and the Dadaist of Germany started making photomontages from the photographs found on the pages.

Digital photo-editing programs like Adobe PhotoShop make the possibility for image manipulation easier and perhaps more tempting. As early as 1990 in his book, "In Our Own Image," Fred Ritchin wrote about the potential of digital images to flawlessly manipulate photographic space and called for a need to label image composites in publications. In the book he gives an example of the pyramids being moved to create a vertical image, out of a horizontal photograph, for the cover of National Geographic.

The power of all of these strategies relies on the inherent nature of a photograph to be perceived as truth by the viewer. The idea that a photograph represents an indisputable truth and the debate about image manipulation starts at the inception of the medium and continues to this day. In Germany, Brigitte magazine has implemented a policy effective 2010 to use normal people (instead of size zero models) for images and not retouching them. In France the politician, Valérie Boyer, advocates passing laws that require enhanced photographs to have warning labels. She says, "These images can make people believe in a reality that often does not exist” which can lead to lower self-esteem and eating disorders. Since most advertising images, and many other images, are frequently manipulated there is naturally resistance to this movement. Currently there is a fight brewing in the blogosphere between the blog, Boing Boing, and a Ralph Lauren advertisement. Xeni, a regular contributor on Boing Boing, criticized the image because the model's head is larger than her pelvis, and Ralph Lauren rather than address the criticism has demanded the blog remove the post claiming copyright infringement.

While these trends are important, perhaps the most effective weapon to use against the persuasive effects of the photographic image is to teach people how to read photographs. In the 1940’s Laszlo Moholy-Nagy said that "... the illiteracy of the future will be ignorance of photography." But over 50 years later, media literacy is still not part of the school curriculum, and considering how many images the average person views in a day, it seems like there ought to be some attempt to teach people how to read those images.

Additional resources:
Dove Evolution
Top 10 Doctored Photos
Photo-tampering Throughout History

´╗┐This article was original posted at Art21 on KACV blog.

Photo Credit: Oscar Rejlander, Two Ways of Life, 1857