Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reality and illusion

click photo to enlarge
In the days before the dark arts of digital manipulation through programmes such as Photoshop many people held the view that "the camera never lies". It was taken as self-evident that a photograph was a factual representation of a scene. Yes, if it was in black and white then clearly the colour had been drained from it, but if it retained colour then what you saw was, people believed, the truth. In fact, "the camera never lies" was never a particularly useful statement because the meaning carried by every photograph is, in some way, altered by both the photographer and the medium. And of course, even in the days of film, deliberate deception was possible in photography. Multiple images could be blended into one, tricks with people and objects near and far could be constructed, people could be erased from photographs, and much else could be done to deceive the viewer.

Today almost anything is possible and "Photoshopping" of one sort or another is widespread. Sometimes the viewer is aware of the alterations, at other times they are not. Yet many photographers - I count myself one of them - prefer to limit their manipulation to essentially those things that were possible with film: tricks such as dodging, burning, adjusting contrast, removing dust on the film/sensor etc. Such people also often prefer to find real scenes that have the ambiguity necessary to deceive the viewer, to make them scratch their head and wonder quite what is going on, rather than spend time altering a photograph using the computer to achieve that effect.

The other day I walked past some wooden fencing in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. It screened a site that is earmarked for development. The fencing has been there for a while, and the economic downturn seems to be extending the period that it is needed. There are painted patterns on the plywood boards and photographs of local scenes, devices that aim to make the utilitarian structure a little more palatable and a little less grim. When I stood and looked at different sections of the fencing the possibility of a few "deceptive" or ambiguous shots came to mind. The first photograph that I took is shown above. It doesn't take long to work out what is going on, but at first glance it is a little puzzling - rather like the bull in the lorry of a few days ago.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm
F No: f7.1 Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On