March 31, 2014 in censorship, Citizen journalism, digital cameras, digital literacy, digital media and teaching, digital photo ethics, digitally altered pictures, DSLR photography, First Amendment, image ethics, media accountability, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, Media representation, Moral complexity, national press photographers association, photo digital manipulation, photo digital manipulation survey, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, propaganda, public journalism, Social Media, social media, technology | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Suzie Linfield, a professor at New York University, argues in a recent Op-Ed, “The photographs, which document the deaths of some 11,000 detainees, were taken not by the opposition but at the behest of Mr. Assad’s regime. Wouldn’t such a government — wouldn’t any government — want to hide its crimes rather than record them?
Well informed and written primarily from a critical/cultural perspective, Linfield’s position provides a framework for understanding how these recent images are part of a pictorial legacy of shame and moral debasement. Historically, as she points out in her essay, images of suffering, what she calls “torture porn” are not new. In this case, the images may play an important role in the Syrian negotiations as well as in the court of public discourse.
At the same time, more, much more, a conversation considering the relationship between authoritarian regimes and the atrocities they commit, must begin with an understanding of a cultural pathology of pain, apathy, anguish and the collective unconscious.
While observing schizophrenic patients at the Burgholzli psychiatric hospital in 1900, psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung began to develop theories to shine some light on why people act they way they do toward one another.
Jung’s concept of collective unconscious, in the case of photographs such as those made in Iraq, Sierra Leone, or Cambodia in the 1970s, may edify why people being tortured and killed constitute a type of archetypal layer within the human psyche.
In his essay, “The Structure of the Psyche”, Jung observes, “The collective unconscious … appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents.” Jung goes on to suggest how the collective unconscious can be examined in two ways, “either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual.”
For Jung, the collective unconscious is comprised of archetypal images - forms or representations manifest in dreams, fantasies, or cultural influences. Jung describes an archetype as a predisposition, which transforms a person’s consciousness through inherited symbolic thought and images. Archetypes such as the shadow, can affect ethical, moral religious and cultural behaviors.
As early as 1870, people have been using photographs to record the spectacle of the shadow archetype. The shadow or “black side” of a personality, in this case the perpetrators of abuse and torture project upon others repressed fantasies such as sexual conquest. Linfield’s use of the term “torture porn” certainly makes this connection. Susan In her book “Regarding the Pain of Others” Susan Sontag observes, “To take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.”
In the 1870 hand-tinted postcard depicting the lynching of J. L. Compton and Joseph Wilson in Montana, a group of vigilantes pose dutifully for the photographer. As a symbol of frontier justice, torture and death reveal a form of Jung’s shadow archetype. Even though the lynching picture, as well as all images depicting suffering, demonstrate a dispassionate bearing towards the human condition, the collective unconsciousness irrevocably tied or our “dark side” prevails. Today, the image surfacing from the Syrian situation is considered by many as morally and irrevocably despicable and shameful this may not have been the case in the lynching photographs made throughout the late 1800s and through the mid-1960s.
Another difference between the Syrian images and those of public lynching is symbolic consciousness. Symbols occupy the mental images of the mind and inform attitudes and beliefs. Moreover, symbols have an implicit and explicit influence on self and national identity as well as social order and organization. The authority of pictures depicting torture and death subsume or invalidates a victim’s archetypal sense of self/being and places them in a class often dismissed by the abusers as either incomprehensible or incredulous. For example, Syrian governmental claims pronouncing how the images of brutal beatings and strangulation were digitally manipulated demonstrates both the collective conscious and unconscious state of denial and denouncement.
Illustration: Dennis Dunleavy/Credits:TIME/via Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
February 04, 2014 in Current Affairs, Dennis Dunleavy, digital photo ethics, iconic images, images of violence, Media Criticism, middle east, middle east unrest, photo digital manipulation, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Politics and Photography, prisoner abuse, Susan Sontag, Syria Torture Images, Syrian peace talks, Torture, visual culture citicism | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Jarle recently commented on the post "Crazy light", in which I wrote: "We are constantly challenged to
make scenes that are less than interesting, more interesting." The question that this raises, however, is when and how are the conventions of honest visual reportage bent for the sake of making images more compelling?
Correct. We all strive to make our photos more interesting. But, ethically and philosophically speaking, isn't this in direct conflict with the "our pictures must always tell the truth" mantra?
There's often a thin line between photojournalism, "art" and subjective, commentary photography.
And, playing the devil's advocate, what's the difference between adding motion blur in Photoshop and using a slow shutter speed?
I'll start out by agreeing with much what Jarle has said here. From a purist perspective, "Straight" photography should be a style of photography that records what the eye witnesses without elaboration or embellishment. For the most part, this form of photography, what is photojournalism today, has remained pretty much true to form. At the same time, it is possible to find quite a few examples of photojournalism from the 1980s to the present day, that deviate from the normal conventions.
Photo Credit: Craig Aurness/National Geographic
As Jarle notes, "ethically and philosophically speaking, isn't this in direct conflict with the "our pictures must always tell the truth" mantra?"
According to the NPPA Code of Ethics, photojournalists should "Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects." The language here seems a bit vague. The language is vague because ultimately it is up to the photographer or his or her editor to determine what "accurate" and "comprehensive" really mean within a specific context. Is Aurness' image and honest, fair-minded and "accurate" representation according to National Press Photographers Association guidelines? In a sense, Aurness has created for the viewer an image that human eye is incapable of seeing. The human eye captures motion at 1/10th of a second, but it also has the capacity to follow a scene without disruption. The optics and mechanics of a camera far exceed the eye in this manner. Therefore, in a case like this, what constitutes a comprehensive and accurate representation?
This issue may actually be more about cultural tastes and values than it is about ethics. Cultural conventions and tastes change over time, but at the heart of any photographer/audience relationship is whether or not the image is deceptive and misleading. Digital manipulation has created a crisis of conscience for many photographers, simply because it has become so cheap, fast, and easy to embellish, construct, and correct images. So much depends on the context in which the picture is made. Motion blur in news photography has been an accepted practice for many photographers for decades. Motion emphases action and helps to make the reading of a scene more meaningful and comprehensive. Just as depth of field can add 3-dimensionality to a two-dimension image, adding motion is a "trompe le oile" or a photographer's way of tricking the eye. However, is it appropriate or ethical to create motion after the fact -- in PhotoShop? Most photographers would probably say no, it's unethical to manipulate images in order to produce an effect after the picture was captured.
Analyzing the image above, can we say unequivocally that a breach of ethics has occurred? Has the context in which the event took place been manipulated by my choice to employ a slow shutter speed? Is the scene somehow more inaccurate and less comprehensive a representation give the fact that the human eye is limited by how much motion it can see at a given point in time? Should photojournalists be required to photograph scenes at 1/10th of a second or higher to ensure that they are more truthful to the human eye?
These questions, and so many others, evoke a great deal of thought and emotion. At the same time, this "thin line" between photojournalistic convention and subjective "artistic" approaches mentioned by Jarle remains unresolved, because ultimately the decision resides with what the photographer believes to be right or wrong. So much of our decision to frame, freeze and fix a moment in space and time depends not only on context, but also on our motivation for being there in the first place.
December 01, 2008 in altered images, camera flash, digital cameras, digital literacy, digital media and teaching, digitally altered pictures, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, national press photographers association, photo digital manipulation, photo fakery, photographic ritual, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: digital manipulation, image manipulation, photo ethics, photography, photojournalism ethics
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Sometimes there needs to be a distinction between what people believe to be an ethical decision and a matter of taste. There are lots of disturbing images that may be distasteful to some, but not unethical to run in a newspaper or online. Cultural values and taste, not ethics, increasingly play a significant role in the decisions being made today about what picture see the light of day.
There is a tremendous amount of self-censorship going on in the news today. Many papers will not run disturbing images, not because they are afraid to tell the truth, but simply because of the push-back they get from advertisers and the public.
More than 70 percent of Americans feel they no longer can trust the news they get; and, they can't trust the pictures they see either. Reaction to this reality from editors is to be extremely cautious about running anything that might offend someone, especially advertisers. It wasn't always this way. Editors have been pushed into a corner in terms of how decisions to run controversial images are handled. I imagine that even a "corporate suit" or lawyer may be consulted before a picture is used today.
The impact of poorly made decisions -- ethical ones -- comes down to perception. The currency of journalism has to be believability, creditability and legitimacy. Without creditability the line between what you see in the National Enquirer and what you see in the New York Times is blurred. If you can't believe what you see in the New York Times, why believe anything at all?
One really good example of ethical principle related to the positioning and placement of graphic images is how newspapers around the world handled a graphic picture of the 2004 Madrid bombing.
What I really like about this example iof ethical-decision making is how so many newspapers came up with different choices in terms of how to display the image. In some papers you can clearly see a severed limb. Is this unethical? Who is to say what "ought to be" here? What is right and what is wrong about displaying the picture as a moment of truth. This is the reality -- 192 people were killed on the train and bodies were blown to pieces. In other images, editors decided to make radical crops to avoid showing the limb. The editors were probably using the old "breakfast test" here -- a logic that believes that nothing put the front page should make people lose their breakfast over. Is the crop unethical in the sense that they are hiding the bloody truth from readers?
We could look at this from any number of ethical perspectives, including what's in the best interest of the public, what is in the best interest of the advertisers, what is in the best interest of the publishers, or what is in the best interest of the victims of the bombing. Where do our loyalties lie in running such a disturbing image? What are the consequences of running it? Is it right or wrong to run such a picture? Clearly, all these editors had differing opinions on this issue and we can see them for ourselves here.
In others cases, editors chose have the image altered or deleted from the frame. To falsify an image by removing an element is, by all photojournalistic standards, unethical. It is unethical because it is a deception. The strange thing about this type of logic is that even though the paper is lying to its readers, it still expects to be believed as a creditable source of information. The editors might argue how the bloody limb does not really contribute all that much to the story, or they might say they were afraid to offend readers. Even if the limb was not deleted from the scene, some editor opted to darken the limb in order to make it blend in with the background. With headlines reading "Massacre" and "Platform of Death," this type of manipulation makes the display almost ironic. Is toning an image to make it more acceptable unethical? Some editors would say it is. In 2003, Patrick Schneider of the Charlotte Observer was fired over manipulating the color in some of his award-winning pictures. It appears, then, that tolerance for any type of manipulation has become more rigid in this digital age.
Are there any clear guidelines for editors in these situations? How should newspapers and Web sites deal with graphic images -- images that might offend viewers? Making ethical decisions in journalism is a critical responsibility of the press. The public deserves a press that is consistently honest and ethically principled. Having an on-call citizenship committee of peers and the public to help editors decide what people might perceive as right or wrong about using a disturbing image is a good idea. Some publications do have such committees to call upon. Further, communicating with the public about the ethics of using such images is also an important issue. Journalists need to educate the public about their responsibilities as eye-witnesses to acts of great compassion as well as acts of terrible injustice. Today, much of the corporate/consolidated media, however, avoids such accountability when. Therefore, it is no wonder the public has lost confidence in the press when it comes down to making decisions that require insight, empathy, and ethical reasoning.
November 11, 2008 in altered images, digital literacy, Fair Use , images of violence, media accountability, Media Bias, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, photo digital manipulation, photo fakery, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, Press Freedom, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual violence, war photography, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Pictures have weight -- sometimes they crush. The social function of news images reside not only
in their capacity to inform, but also in their ability to entertain. In our increasingly visual culture, pictures must draw and hold the viewer's attention. Perhaps it is for this reason that editors believe pictures must be packaged and repackaged for us.
The social function of news images is grounded in the rhetoric of persuasion. Just as a lawyer may seek to sway a jury to his or her side of an argument, a picture, through its variety of visual cues, establishes a context of understanding that shapes perception and constructs a sense of reality.
"Mr. Clemens" -- the subject -- the sign -- in soft-focus foregrounding leads the eye upward to a carefully framed center of Mr. Clemens.
Pictures, as David Fleming (1996) eloquently contends, cannot be in and of themselves seen as arguments, but inevitably they seem to be able to cause a few.
The pictures freezes, frames and fixes in our memory a moment in time that can conjure up other memories. With the stoppage of time the persuasive determinacy of the picture emerges. Pictures may be a species of rhetoric, as Susan Sontag (2003) claims, for the very real sense that they appear before us as rational and orderly entities of time.
In this case, Clemens' testimony before Congress on steroid use may bring to mind other high-profile hearings such as in Iran-Contra with Oliver North or Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court. The low camera angle is iconic in that it produces a recognizable perception in which the subject is made to appear larger-than-life.
The camera angle is not trivial or a trick since it modifies our sense of a normal eye-line match. In other words, speaking in terms of grammar, the camera angle acts like an adverb -- it modifies the subject. Further, the sign, in this case, "Mr. Clemens," is indexical and points toward formality, courtesy and solemnity. The gesture is wholly symbolic. Clemens' look away from those questioning him, his raised hand suggesting defense. In addition, the essential framing of Clemens with his pseudo-archangelic lawyers. The gestures of Clemens' lawyers speak louder than words. Here we have the million-dollar pitcher in the proverbial "hot seat" and is million-dollar lawyers act as his intellectual bodyguards.
As mentioned earlier, news images function to both inform and entertain, but the real objective of making pictures is to make us think. Any object in the world, and pictures are objects, that can make us think about bigger ideas and issues can't be all that bad. We shouldn't have to settle for someone else's interpretation of the world if what is represented only serves to reinforce a status quo. The ultimate objective of a news image should not only be to serve us a preconceived packaged reality, but to wrestle with convention and conscience.
Recently, this point was brought home on the Magnum photo site when Christopher Anderson's bare-bulb approach to photographing presidential candidate Mitt Romney came under fire from some viewers. Anderson's approach was the "anti-photo op." Tired of making the same stale and banal images that most of the press pack gets of the candidates, Anderson blasted Romney through what appears to be a rain-splattered lens.
Click to go to Magnum's Picture of the Week
In his defense Anderson commented:
These events are rather ridiculous. they are staged and repetitive....It was a conscious decision to flash with this technique. It is as if throwing too much light on it might somehow expose these campaign photo ops for what the really are. The designers of these events want us to make a pretty picture. but a pretty picture to me felt like something that would be false to this event. I almost thought of the flash as being like an xray that would reveal what I really see at an event like this.
Anderson brings up one of the biggest challenges faces photojournalism today -- mediocrity. If news images do not seek to edify they run risk of becoming nothing more than someone else's spin. What we are tasked with here is to understand the relationship between the art of making news pictures and the larger implications of how these pictures function in society.
February 18, 2008 in Photo-ops, Photoblogging, photoblogs, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, propaganda, semiotics, signification, teaching, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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An inordinate amount of attention is being paid to Hillary Clinton's emotions these days as people search for ways to separate her and her Democratic contender, Barack Obama.
Headlines recounting Clinton's emotions such as, "For Crying Out Load: Hillary Turns on the Tears Again", "Hillary's Crying Campaign: The Tears of a Clown" and "Hillary Clinton's Crocodile Tears," signify how gender bias impinges on this year's presidential campaign, at least on the Democratic side. Pictures showing Clinton wiping her eyes or attempting to control her emotions in front of the cameras continues to set off a media frenzy, with bloggers leading the way.
Where is the substantive news value in repeatedly running pictures of the candidate rubbing her eyes or blowing her nose? Are we to assume that an individual would not make a good president if they cannot control their emotions publicly?
It is difficult to say conclusively that coverage focusing on Clinton's emotional displays is having a negative impact on her chances to become the next president, but in a world that remains dominated mostly by men, it doesn't seem to be helping her all that much.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Anthropologist Catherine Lutz notes that emotions are culturally constructed as signs of danger, irrationality, and weakness – characteristics commonly associated with women. Please note the term "culturally constructed" because this is where many of our interpretations come from.
When a picture captures the viewer’s attention, it puts into play cultural beliefs and values associated with gendered emotional displays. Some right wing media have jumped on Clinton for her emotional moments claiming that she is using tears to garner sympathy and votes. New York magazine, for example, began an article about Clinton with the lead, "Yep, it's official. Hillary Clinton is running to be Crybaby-in-Chief," and The New York Post, not known to be overly kind to liberals, began their reportage with "It was another two-hanky day on the campaign trail yesterday, as Hillary Rodham Clinton teared up at an event targeting female voters on the eve of the Super Tuesday." elections."
Robinson (2002) suggests, “Most work on gender and emotion has stressed how a gendered rhetoric of emotional control reinforces women’s subordination within societies that privilege rationality, self-control, and the stable boundaries between interiority and exteriority that emotions appear to breach.”
This may help explain how some media have turned on Clinton's outward expressions of emotion as a sign of weakness. But, research describes emotion not only in terms of the physiological changes of an inner-self, but also as social, cultural and linguistic operator (see Catherine Lutz's research).
The two images shown here exemplify the antithesis of the “boys don’t cry” stoicism of the American male experience -- a domain which Clinton threatens to disrupt if she were to become president. The photographs suggest a turn away from American middle-class "emotional culture" promulgated by the belief that men, not women, are obligated to control emotions for the greater good of the country.
Cultural morays and beliefs are inextricably bound to emotion. As Catherine Lutz argues, “Western discourse on emotions constitutes them as paradoxical entities that are both a sign of weakness and a powerful force.” To show emotions makes the person experiencing feelings weaker or deficient in character.
Hillary Clinton is not only running for president this year, she is challenging a male dominated paradigm which preconditions public performance and cultural outlook. Tears, in this case, threaten the stability of this paradigm because we believe that emotion is irrational and unstable. Could it be that the recesses of Hillary Clinton's inner life, through the pictures we see of her, undermine her opportunity to become our commander and chief. Perhaps, in the end, America is not mature enough to handle an emotional presidency, since individuals who wear their hearts on their sleeves are often considered unfit to serve.
February 14, 2008 in Campaign pictures, Dennis Dunleavy, Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, pictures and emotions, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, presidential campaign, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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I wrote another blog piece for Black Star Rising about Tim Hetherington's World Press Photo "Best of" picture. Some of the comments offered by the judges started to make me think about what this picture really means, culturally and politically.
February 11, 2008 in Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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There is little doubt that pictures affect how we not only understand the world around us, but also how we feel about it. I have been wrestling with coming to terms with the relationship between pictures and memory. I think there is a connection between what we see and what we remember. It is the memories that are stirred up by a picture that trigger emotion. In turn, emotion is closely associated with beliefs, values and norms. From our beliefs we begin to act toward something. Since pictures can be emotionally charged objects, the individual processes feelings both subjectively and objectively.
I am thinking of John Moore's image of a man reacting to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In the image, the man's outward expression of shock and disbelief is carefully framed symmetrically, with a tangle of mangled bodies on the ground behind him. If an image could sum up the emotion of grief, this one would do well. There is little ambiguity about this image, despite attempts by mainstream broadcast media to blur out the bloody bodies.
What memories does this image trigger for us?
Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images
Susan Sontag, in Regarding the Pain of Others, observes, "It seems that the appetite for showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked." Memories of the collapse of the World Trade Center and a century of countless images of calamities from around the globe come to mind. Memories, as Sontag suggests, alter the image, according to memory's need to confer emblematic status on things we feel worthy of remembering. The emotions associated with images depicting emotion are complex. We may feel shame, fear, anxiety, disgust, anger, sadness, and remorse. But there is also another side to emotional control -- one that conjures up relief that such events as the Bhutto assassination do not occur in our neighborhood. There may also be feelings of alienation, disconnection and disbelief. Here we find the image to activate a memory-emotion-belief cycle. This cycle assumes that for someone to experience an emotional response to an image there must be some value belief system behind it. We feel, because we believe in larger, more abstract and symbolic constructs, than physical pain. Belief systems underpin our emotional responses to the images we see. The norms and values we hold for ourselves and others are constructed by the cultural norms we share. We are taught that violence is wrong, yet wars and killing remain a reality. Images of violence do not seem to deter us. Media, from video games to Hollywood films continue to celebrate the objectification and degradation of the human body and spirit. How, then, could one picture -- such as the one John Moore has made -- move us from the belief that violence is wrong to a call for action?
This is a morally complex question since many people might argue that there is little or no connection between what we see and what we end up doing about what we see. At the same time, I believe that cultural norms are in a state of constant negotiation between the essential self and the social self. If more people took the time to reflect upon the values held closest to the center of who they think they are, the essential self, then, the possibility of changing our social self would emerge. The social self is the outward expression of who we present ourselves to be in our every day life -- who we think other people think we are. If we are truly moved in our essential self by an image to act, then our social self will change.
One way to think about the tensions between the essential and the social self is to consider symbolic behaviors. In Moore's picture, despite cultural, ethnic and religious differences, the symbolic behavior of grief and horror is clear to us. Pictures, as a visual language, transfer symbolic behaviors across the cultural and linguistic barriers that often divide us. At the same time, we remain divided and disharmonious species.
Unfortunately, the habitual ways we are conditioned to respond to violent image influences our capacity to separate reality from fantasy and fiction. Our habituated ways of seeing, understanding, and acting, also impinge on our ability to respond emotionally to images depicting violence and suffering. Pictures are indeed a form of agency, they goad us to think and act out of the feelings that they conjure up for us. But our visual culture has become so saturated with such pictures that the capacity for images of violence to shock is diminished. As Sontag contends:
"Making suffering loom larger; by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to 'care' more; It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention."
We live in a world where sentiment and emotion is exploited by external forces. How much control do we really have over our feelings? From this perspective, images desensitize our capacity for compassion. In this way our memories appear to fail us as we can longer distinguish between essential experiences and socially constructed realities.
February 07, 2008 in Dennis Dunleavy, photographic ritual, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, pictures and emotions, Politics and Photography, semiotics, signification, Susan Sontag, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, visual violence, war photography, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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It was only a matter of time before an increasingly number of computer scientists began wrapped their heads around digital imaging in a big way, at least in their spare time. That's exactly what Carlo Baldassi, a student in computational neuroscience did, after looking at some pictures of his girlfriend that appeared too constrained and out of proportion. Baldassi has created an automatic photo-editing software tool that always the user to stretch an image without it looking stretched. Peter Wayner's article in The New York Times quotes Baldassi as saying, "Reality is a lie." Nice quote perhaps, but the implications are much more far-reaching as software such as the one Baldassi has made becomes commonplace.
Automated tools like Mr. Baldassi’s are changing the editing of photography by making it possible for anyone to tweak a picture, delete unwanted items or even combine the best aspects of several similar pictures into one.
The tools are giving everyone the ability of the Stalin-era propagandists, who edited the photographic record of history by deleting people who fell out of favor.
Wayner's last statement is a bit troubling. Sure, we have the tools now to seamlessly stretch the truth, but do we need to? In my on-going survey on digital manipulation more than 40 percent of respondents indicated that they could tell when a picture had been altered.
2007-2008 snapshot of the photo manipulation survey related to whether people can tell if a picture has been altered.
2006-2007: Note that the sample sizes differ considerably.
During my time surveying people about digital photo manipulation, a fairly high percentage of people report they can tell when a picture has been altered. I find this opinion interesting, because in my own experience I am not as skillful.
In my own experience, I find myself having less time to carefully scrutinize pictures. I do assume, though, that there is an increase in altered images in the media with the introduction of digital technologies, but because of the volume of pictures flooding our consciousness, I tend, like many people, to just scan images quickly. I tend to judge the authenticity of a picture on the context and source in which it is disseminated. For example, I would tend to trust the authority of a news image in The New York Times over an advertising image any day. This means that I wouldn't typically spend time looking for manipulated images in The New York Times, while I just assume that most advertising images have been altered to varying degrees.
Getting back to Baldassi's software, which is based on the seam carving work of Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir, it makes sense that many of these tools will become commonly accepted by people over time. In the future, we will just expect that the images we see have been enhanced in some way and that the notion of objective reality is nothing more than a passing fancy.
February 03, 2008 in altered images, digital cameras, digital literacy, digital media and teaching, digitally altered pictures, Journalism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, New York Times front paqe, photo collage, photo digital manipulation, photo digital manipulation survey, photo fakery, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, propaganda, seam carving, sustainability, teaching, technology, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Photo Credit: Alexander Roberts/ Via AP/ Richard Strasser
He is among the most venerated war correspondents in American History. When Ernie Pyle died in April 1945, covering the battle of Okinawa, the country mourned his loss. Pyle was in the prime of his journalistic career and had developed a style of war-reporting that was riveting and heart-felt. Richard Pyle of the Associated Press reports that pictures showing Pyle's death were censored by the government and then lost to memory for more than six decades. Recently, Alexander Roberts' image of Pyle's body resurfaced. Historically, the image is important in that it reminds us of the sacrifice people pay for freedom. Pyle knew the risk he was taking in covering the war, but this picture reminds us of what that risk would ultimately mean.
February 03, 2008 in Ernie Pyle, photographic ritual, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, war photography, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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There is something exciting about a new snow fall. The things I take for granted on my walks suddenly come in to focus so much more clearly. My ways of seeing the world change. It's too bad we couldn't see the world around us the same we see the world covered in snow. I would imagine that if you live in a snowy place and suddenly find yourself in the tropics, the experience might be the same.
I would like to continue thinking through what I introduced the other day about how expectations and advances in technologies are changing the practice of photography. A low-level photographic practice was described as a snap shot, but it could also be what news photographers call the "grip and grin" or the "shin plaster." Low-level practices often do not consider the essential characteristics of making a photograph compelling -- immediacy, intensity and intimacy. Expectations are directly linked to how satisfied an individual is with the photograph they make, of course, but there is also the social function of the image to consider. One way to think about low and high levels of photographic practice is by considering how tolerant the viewer is of the ambiguities in the frame. A tolerance of ambiguities is essentially a heuristic process -- a way in which meaning is made through discovery.
Since pictures are so heavily context dependent, a person's tolerance of ambiguities would change depending upon familiarity, memory, and emotional attachment to the subject. Low-level photographic practices other privilege content and context over composition and technique. Suffice it to say, that in high-level photographic practices, the photographer is more conscious of not only the content, but also acutely aware of compositional and technical matters as well.
Increasingly, people are becoming more visually literate about the persuasive nature of images. People are becoming more away of the importance of technique and composition in the process. And the cameras are making this all the more easier.
In addition, with photo-sharing on the Internet, communities of photographers have formed to offer advice and support for improving photography at all levels. Even digital point and shoot cameras offer a level of sophistication that allows people to move beyond just snapping a picture to think about what's in the frame.
The distinction between low-level and high-level practices in photography is changing. Pictures uploaded to the Web from just about anyone can now end up illustrating a news story or selling a product in an advertisement. At the same time, this doesn't herald the death of professional photography or photojournalism. It simply means that photography is getting a whole better.
January 26, 2008 in Photoblogging, photoblogs, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, technology, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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When you ask people about photography they'll sometimes tell you that they just can't do it. Pictures just don't seem to come out right, they confess. Many people believe that, like drawing or painting, you have to have natural talent to take pictures. Historically, the reason why photography took hold in society so early after its development was the simple fact that it didn't necessarily take all that much talent.
What photography really takes is a little patience. I guess in today's society we seem to have so little of it. The predominant attitude seems to be that If you can't get perfection on the first attempt, then the effort just isn't worth it.
When pressed to describe the reasons for the "I can't take a decent photo" rationale, people typically talk about pictures in technical terms such as, being too light or too dark, out of focus, too noisy, or having too much movement in the frame. Beyond these concerns, many folks simple lack the vocabulary to articulate other important characteristics of photography such as composition and content.
As a culture we are conditioned to behave and think about photography early on in life. We learn to smile for the camera and "say cheese" out of a sense of obligation to the person holding the camera. We are taught that if the picture is worth making, then we should get on board with the process even if we really don't want to.
It might even make sense to set up a help group for the photographically impaired -- In case of a photographic emergency dial 1-800-CLICK.
After thinking about this for a while, I realize that a lot of this issue is about not being able to meet an individual's expectations of what a "good picture" is in the first place. We have it in our minds that a picture must meet a certain criteria, which in turn appears to be about the technology.
It may be possible to explain our expectations in terms of high-level practice and low-level practice. Most people compare their personal low-level snap shots with the high-level media images they see all around them. With all the technological advances in digital cameras, the difference between low-level photographic practices and high-level practices may be now closing. At the same time, the camera is still just a tool and it will take some time to educate people about the ability to tell compelling visual narratives that are aesthetically composed. If there's any doubt about my assertion, just take a look at what people are doing on Flickr or other photo-sharing Web sites. When people begin to understand that photography is more than point and shoot technology, the gap will close even more.
January 24, 2008 in Dennis Dunleavy, digital cameras, digital literacy, digital media and teaching, Photoblogging, photoblogs, photographic ritual, photography, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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In our rush to adopt new skill sets in photojournalism -- that is, adding video, audio and the web to our bag of tricks -- we sometimes miss the point that whatever we do, we are still telling stories.
Richard Koci Hernandez's new book "Multimedia Journal" inspires photojournalists to explore the rich and layered world of multimedia in compelling ways. The idea for the book came after nearly a year's worth of conference presentations across the country about how the San Jose Mercury News photojournalists are generating multimedia stories for the Web. Koci Hernandez explained that many journalists expressed fear and reservations about using new technologies to tell stories.
"From top to bottom there is a huge debilitating fear about multimeda and video," he said.
In his book, which features more than 50 exercises, Koci Hernandez explores ways for journalists to tap into their creative energies and translate stories through words and images in new and dynamic ways. One thing he discovered during his travels was that many journalists were afraid to think of themselves as artists. However, in his approach to teaching multimedia, Koci Hernandez tries to convince people that they can still tell stories effectively and be creative at the same time.
From the traditional perspective, he says, "It’s like trying to paint with the same brush with the same color all the time."
"Journalists are afraid to fail and they never want to feel like their approach was wrong. I think that right now is the most exciting time in journalism ever.
"We have an opportunity to do things in ways that we never had before. If people don’t seize the opportunity we are going to miss out," Koci Hernandez said.
For photojournalists, multimedia can re-energize them and make them better journalists,
"What multimedia does is make you think in a longer format. It makes you ask more questions and makes you slow down more," he said.
"It has made my storytelling better. The words "creative" and "artist" are being infused into my work."
"Previously all we had as a journalist was the printed page – that was the only vehicle we had – and we did try to make emotional connections. But now, the platform has completely changed," Koci Hernandez said.
Marcus Bleasdale/VII on Media Storm
Recenlty, I showed some of the multimedia journalism being produced and presented by Brian Storm at the MediaStorm Web site. Halfway through a slideshow on drug abuse one student got up to leave the room. I stopped the presentation in anticipation of such a strong response as a way of emphasizing how important the work being presented online is becoming. One question that was raised in class, was why we don't see this sort of work on television, especially cable. On cable television there is no shortage of violence or sex, but when it's real and presented in both still and video, with a photojournalist's voice narrating the story the message is different. Many of the projects one might watch on MediaStorm fail to be commercially viable. The content is either too close-to-the-bone disturbing or it doesn't appeal to the wider target audiences commercial interest covet.
Marcus Bleasdale's recent work on Media Storm about the Democratic Republic of Congo is a case in point. If we didn't know or care about what is happening to this African nation before Bleasdale's voice and pictures, it's time we did. Advocacy photojournalism has a strong tradition in our culture and there is no reason why it should go away, even if every thing seems to be about making money and consumption. The main reason why so many people go into photojournalism is that they can tell stories that make other people care.
Bleasdale's photography wrenches reality into our consciousness in ways other media cannot do. The images speak to the powerlessness of a people, especially the children, that are forced into lives of desperation and despair so that leaders in government and the warlords can reap enormous profits. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 5 million have died in the DRC since 1998. The country seems to be feeding off its own flesh, yet international outrage about the conditions there seldom enter our world view.
January 21, 2008 in consumer culture, Current Affairs, Democratic Republic of Congo, Documentary Photography, Human Rights Watch, images of violence, Journalism, Marcus Bleasdale, Media Bias, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, MediaStorm, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, VII, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, visual violence, war photography, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Black Star, one of the world's leading photo agencies, is making its blog more public. For a time, the blog, Black Star Rising, was primarily a vehicle for Black Star insiders, but now everyone can enjoy its offerings of industry news, advice from the pros, and commentary. Recently, I was asked to contribute to the blog on a regular basis. I'll be writing one or two posts a months for the Web site, and I look forward to the opportunity. Black Star just posted my first piece on why some journalists are still timid about embracing multimedia for the web.
Speaking of blogs, earlier this month I contributed a piece about my experiences as a technology nut at the Exterminating Angel Web site. For me, this writing was far more personal than I usually get. However, I went into the exercise as a way of flexing the few literary muscles I possess. My article, "The Internet: One View," is accompanied by a rebuttal from editor and publisher Tod Davies.
Hail to the cliché.
Just when pictures of Barack Obama on the campaign trail were all looking about the same -- like they could have been taken in Iowa or New Hampshire -- up pops Jonathan Ernst's picture of the candidate holding a baby. Candidates holding and kissing babies is a widely accepted trope in visual arsenal of political campaigns. Babies make good props for the media. Babies aren't controversial and they show the candidate in as a compassionate human being. That said, this picture may tell us something more about Obama then anything he says from up on the soap box. First and foremost, even though candidates and babies are cultural commodities, this picture shows some genuine emotion. It's not the usual display of stoicism we've become accustomed to.
Photo Credit: CBS/via AP
Political campaigns increasingly rely as much on depicting a candidate's personality as much as they do on getting substantiative messages across to voters. It's all part of the package.
Making candidates appear affable and emotional in public is a major part of a campaign's strategy. Of course, it is difficult to always manage how a politician will appear in the media and the reactions they engender, but one thing remains constant -- the universality of the visual cliché.
January 21, 2008 in Barack Obama, Media Criticism, Media Manipulation, Photo-ops, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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It's more than ironic that the flap over Golfweek's controversial race-bating cover would fall around the same time our nation takes a moment to remember civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Despite the suspension of a Golf Channel announcer who made a racist comment on air, as well as the sacking of the Golfweek editor who approved the illustration above, nothing seems to escape the fact that our predominantly white-controlled media remains, at times, clueless when it comes to reproducing offensive stereotypes. Playing fast and loose with stereotypes, and in this case a visual metaphor, only serves to remind us how much work we need to do in order to come to terms with our legacy of cruelty and inhumanity toward blacks and peoples of color in this country.
From a Piercean semiotic perspective, it is possible to see the relationship between icon, index, and symbol in action as they construct meaning. The icon, a swinging noose, points toward a powerful symbol -- one that resonates memory and emotion. The visual language operates through symbolic action -- pictures trigger emotion, and emotions trigger beliefs. This explains some of the failings of Golfweek's editorial process. The editors knew they were working with a powerful symbol by selecting a noose to illustrate the TV commentator's lynching remarks, but they failed to make the deeper connections between the symbol, the emotions this symbol conjures up for people, and the belief systems behind the emotions.
I wonder what Dr. King would have to say about the controversy?
Clearly some strides toward reconcile and reform have been made since Dr. King's day, but the sad truth is that we still have a lot work to do in understanding just how powerful words and images are in shaping public perception and constructing our social reality.
January 21, 2008 in Golfweek, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, politics, Politics and Photography, signification, stereotypes, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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They're convenient, cool, and irresistible - iPhones on the campaign trail. Mother Jones magazine Washington Bureau Chief, David Corn recently posted an essay of pictures he made with an iPhone while covering the New Hampshire primary. Hardly a photojournalistic coup, Corn's access to the candidates, his infatuation with the new technology, and his status as a bureau chief at the magazine give him an inside track on publishing pictures that probably wouldn't make it beyond the picture desk at our local newspaper.
Corn isn't a photojournalist, but having an iPhone might makes him one -- well, almost. It seems to me that the pictures shot from ringside at many of the campaign stops in New Hampshire count more as novelty and curiosity then they do as serious visual reportage. Nevertheless, Corn's approach is most likely something that will remain with us in an age where anyone with a camera phone can snap away a kilter and publish the results instantly. This certainly doesn't suggest that photojournalism is doomed or ever dead, it simply indicates that the field is rapidly changing. Even if the pictures aren't perfect, they still count as a visual record of events. The more people like Corn remain enthusiastic enough to play around with the iPhone at major events, the more extensive the visual reportage becomes. And that isn't all that bad.
January 20, 2008 in camera phones, Campaign pictures, celebrities, Citizen journalism, consumer culture, Current Affairs, diffusion of innovation, digital cameras, iPhone_, Photo-ops, Photoblogging, photoblogs, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, public journalism, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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In the theater of political campaigning, emotions play a prominent role in a media frenzy always hungry for ways in which to distinguish between candidates. When so much of the mind-numbing campaign rhetoric floods the consciousness, the coverare turns personal. How Hillary Clinton does her hair all of a sudden becomes "big news." For example, Clinton's recent "soft" moment, a welling up with a few tears, reverses the perception that she is a cold-hearted, calculating political machinist.
In Hendrik Hertzberg's recent commentary, "Second those Emotions," in The New Yorker goes a good ways in describing how politicians have banked on emotional displays to humanize themselves in the court of public opinion. Pictures reproduce cultural values and beliefs by capturing emotional displays. The stereotypes of "boys don't cry" and women are emotional beings play increasingly important in the horse-race of campaign politics.
It appears that many of the pictures showing Clinton have presented her as an intense individual -- something less-than-womanly. It could be argued that these sorts of images accumulate in the collective memory of the public to negatively shape perception. Pictures do elicit emotional responses from readers and news images have a significant role to play.
January 20, 2008 in Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Photo-ops, Photoblogging, photoblogs, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, pictures and emotions, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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In their book, No Caption Needed, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites argue that images convey emotions by "activating vital repertoires of social behavior." People respond to images in which a universal human condition, such as sorrow, joy, or anger, is captured for the viewer to experience. For example, when we examine the image here the narrative being played out is persuasive because it activates feelings within us. As Hariman and Lucaites explain, "These emotional signs and responses operate reliably and powerfully because they are already presented within the society's conventions of display...." (p.35).
There are a wide array of emotions that may be triggered for us in such an image. The emotions that come to mind here are anxiety followed by sadness, disinhibition, and guilt. Although the natural way to analyze such an image is to describe or explain what is being shown, I liked go beyond this to explore the relationship I have with the image. It is through the relationship of the objects and emotions signified in the image that leads to meaning making for me, the viewer. We interpret the event through our feelings and beliefs based on our own experiences and cultural understandings. Even those the photographer plays a role in constructing the substance of our experience, it is still up to us to select out and make sense of the image. There is a powerful relationship between the image, the event, and our beliefs, emotions, and behaviors.
Now I should explain further how these emotional responses register within. The constructs of anxiety and guilt are to be found within the contextually broader framework in which the picture is displayed. Anxiety, sadness, and disinhibition, however, are more immediate, personal and visceral interpretations. These are my own emotions, which are projected through my interpretation of the image. The image cannot stand alone. It must be recognized has having several layers of meaning. First, there is the personal layer of meaning made -- the feelings I have concerning family and leaving home for the uncertainty of war. Secondly, there is the larger ideological context in when the image resides. After more than five years of war in Iraq, I have become desensitized to seeing such images. The pictures have become a naturalized aspects of my media landscape -- they are ordinary and predictable. It is through the naturalization of these images in my visual repository (my brain), that feelings of guilt and powerlessness emerge.
January 05, 2008 in photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, pictures and emotions, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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The media, it has been said, may not tell us what to think, but it does tell us how to think about things. When the media frames a story in a particular way it also helps to shape our perceptions about an event or an issue. The recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is no exception. Now we are learning that some media crossed the line when major networks digitally blurred the background on images showing the devastation surrounding the assassination.
Obliterating reality and censoring the truth is probably the most damaging thing the mainstream media can do to itself. It is interesting, that in a culture of violent movies and video games, the gatekeepers at the major networks felt compelled to clean up and sanitize the message before sending it out to the public. Was the self-censorship caused by a concern over offending our sensibilities or was it because the networks didn't want to rankle their corporate sponsors and possibly see a dip in their ratings? In this instance, the media is no better than any other instrument of censorship. Mano Singham observes:
Propaganda is far more effective when there is no overt control or censorship of journalists but where they can be persuaded to self-censor, because then everyone, reporters and reading public alike, think that what they are getting is 'objective' news and are thus more likely to believe it. Implementing such a sophisticated propaganda model requires some overt pressure initially, but reporters and editors quickly learn what they can and cannot say if they want to advance their careers.
It is far easily to leave all this mess behind and retreat into the chaos of our own lives, but images speak to us, especially those that are powerful enough to rock us out of the deep sleep of our day-to-day worlds.
Wonkette, the popular political buzz blog, got it right in writing about the assassination photos:
I think we see a hell of a lot of graphic fake violence at the movies, in video games and on the news and we know that it’s not real and there’s so much of it that it has lost its power to offend. But, when it comes to real violence to real people, we all turn away and thus make it less real than the fake violence. These are pictures of real violence, and of the horrible things people all over the world will do to one another, and it isn’t conveyed by seeing the reaction of another person. This look of this man’s pain, and shock, and horror doesn’t do justice to the carnage at his feet, even as real as that pain on his face is.
Emotional images such as those made in Pakistan should make us stop, drop, and roll, as if we were on fire. However, when exposed to such pictures from around the world, especially given the feeling that the media is holding back the reality from us, all we are left is a sense of powerlessness, disdain, and apathy.
The pictures showing graphic violence and the extermination of human life should lead us to action. But what action can we take to make sense of the senseless bloodshed in the world? Should we take to the streets, march on Washington, gather in communities to discuss alternatives, or come together in other acts of non-violent protest? Will our elected representatives really listen to our concerns?
Pictures, have throughout history, helped to move humanity into action. The dead at Gettysburg, the squaller of 19th century tenement life, child labor, and the dust bowl, are all example of pictures that help to raise awareness about issues.
Today, unfortunately, I am not confident this holds true. How many pictures of starving African babies do we need to see before we feel pressed into action to stop the madness? Now we are presented an image, one that is being sanitized for our protection, of a man crying out in grief and shock in the middle of a sea of blood and bodies. Will this picture soften our hearts and make us work for peace in the world. Inevitably, some people that truly feel the pain of this man and his country enough to take action, but what of the majority?
I return to the image of the distraught man repeatedly not out of repulsion or morbid interest, but out of fear. I fear that the day will come, or has already come if you think about 9/11 or incidents of school violence, that I too could be this man. That this man is already inside me.
The reality of the media sanitizing our news should be another wakeup call -- we should care -- we must care -- about the images we see. We must recognize that these images form a constellation of points on our horizons -- they create for us the conditions of knowing we need in order to make decisions about our lives and the world in which we live.
January 02, 2008 in Current Affairs, Dennis Dunleavy, images of violence, Journalism, media accountability, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, pakistan, photo digital manipulation, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, Political pictures, Politics and Photography, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, visual violence, war photography, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters
In a political cycle of relentless photo-ops, countless handshakes, hugs and flag-waving hoopla, it is refreshing to see beyond the candidates to the more human side of life. Young's picture, showing two tired children holding campaign signs in Winterset, Iowa on December 22, offers some comic relief at a time when everything we see and hear out of Iowa or New Hampshire these days seems to little more than create more apathy toward the political process. Thousands of images are transmitted to news organizations each day, but what do they really say about a candidate?
One assumption is that the pictures say very little about the candidate's ability to lead a nation. Instead, what most of the images represent are more about the what the campaigns and media thinks the audience wants to see. At times, there is a glimpse of a human side of a candidate, but for the overwhelming majority of pictures just tastes like a spoonful of cold canned peas. The candidates attempt to project and protect his or her political image, something often proscribed by media handlers. The media, for their part, dutifully carry the message and image, out in the public domain. But increasingly, the message lands flat or is met with incredulity and suspicion.
Pictures frame, freeze and fix a moment in time -- a moment, which has traditionally been grated a lot of credit as a faithful representation of reality and truth. In a political climate where there seems to be more similarities than differences between those seeking power in this country, pictures become a form of mind-numbing anesthesia.
The same thing could be said for other events. How many images have we seen now of President Bush visiting the hospital beds of soldiers injured in Iraq. Is there anything significant in Bush's patting the head of a bed-ridden Army Sgt. John Wayne Cornell of Lansing, Mich., and posing for a photo-op?
Photo Credit: White House
One way of looking at the image is that president would like us to see how much he really cares about the soldiers fighting in the Middle East. Another way of looking at the picture is as propaganda: Go to Iraq, get hurt, get a pat on the head from the Commander-In-Chief.
It's hard not to be a little disrespectful or cynical at times when photo-ops masquerade as reality. In fact, this critique should not be viewed as another Bush-bashing ploy. It doesn't matter who's in office -- the response, and the pictures that represent the response, are almost always predictable.
December 26, 2007 in Barack Obama, Current Affairs, digital literacy, George W. Bush, humor, Iraq, Iraq War, Journalism, media accountability, Media Bias, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, President Bush, presidential campaign, propaganda, Reuters, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, visual violence, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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This year, in a refreshing way, you won't find any pictures of a sports super hero dancing into the end zone, nor will you find pictures of the baseball steroids scandal gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated's Pictures of the Year issue.
Instead, the popular sports magazine captures the true spirit of sport -- the jubilation of a college football player in a moment of great joy.
Photo Credit: John Russell/AP
Russell's image of Carroll University junior linebacker Brandon Day celebrating in the mud after his team won the NAIA football championship recently is a perfect example of a decisive moment. Everything, all the game action leading up Russell's picture seems inconsequential. Not only is the moment decisive, but it is also iconic. In 1979 and 1980, tennis great Bjorn Borg went to his knees after celebrating wins at Wimbledon, and in 1999, Brandi Chastain dropped to her knees with her shirt off in celebration of the Women Soccer World Cup victory of China.
What separates these moments, as well as firmly etches them in our collective memories, is the physical gesture of kneeling. The emotional association between kneeling in victory and praying cannot be missed or understated. This is what this genre of sports photography is all about -- capturing quintessential and universal gestures that every audience can relate to. Kneeling, according to a 1912 article on medieval hymns in the New York Times, was a "manifestation of the emotions..." One picture editor's "nice jubi" is another person's quaint and self-sacrificial gesture. Editors know that what makes people respond most are pictures that stir human emotions. That's why pictures of animals and children are perennial favorites with audiences.
It's not surprising that Russell's image would strike a chord with the SI editors. Many of the classic visual tropes that trigger an emotional appeal are clearly present -- mud, rain, pumping fists and bended knee.
People respond to not only context, but also aesthetic content. In this case, what the makes the picture significant is not necessarily Carroll's victory in the NAIA championships, but the universal emotional connections made between victory and sport.
December 19, 2007 in Associated Press, Dennis Dunleavy, digital media and teaching, photographic ritual, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, pictures of the year, sports photography, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Photo Credits: Jim Cole/AP, Jose Luis Magana/AP
What can we learn from looking at pictures? The signification of these two recent images of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is striking. On the left, we see a close-up of Clinton caught in a "real" and unflattering moment, while on the right, we get what one might expect from most media managed events -- the santized moment, flags, the powerful gesture.
Human beings are symbol-making animals. We use symbols to make sense of the world and photographs increasingly contribute to meaning and consciousness. When we think of objects, ideas, and constructs, our brain transforms these things into symbols so that we can share our experiences with others. Symbols connect us through language. When we use the words such as reality, love, peace, justice, terror, poverty, pride, or patriotism, images come to mind – images associated through convention with the words we choose to describe our every day experiences. Kenneth Burke reminds us that when we think of reality, what we are relying on has been built up for us through our “symbol systems.” Burke observes, “What is our ‘reality’ for today (beyond the paper-thin line of our own particular lives) but all this clutter of symbols about the past combined with whatever things we know mainly through maps, magazines, newspapers, and the like about the present?”
When we view an image in the media we are given to substituting the meaning of the image with something connotative and symbolic. A presidential candidate stands before a giant American flag, which in turn produces a symbolic relationship. The candidate is by proximity of the flag immediately associated with notions of patriotism, loyalty, duty, public service and sacrifice. The flag is reduces to a backdrop – a symbol that condenses and naturalizes how the viewer should look upon the candidate. Symbolicity is emphasized through the shape, size and colors of the flag. Burke may argue that the language (words) used to describe this scene act as a sort of screen or filter on meaning.
Many years ago, in a cathedral in Texas, there was a wall covered with pictures and petitions from the faithful. The first Gulf War was underway and people used the wall as a commonplace for pictures of loved ones, alive and deceased – a symbolic collective prayer. Images hold within their frames many symbols.
Looking again at the variety of images made during Hillary Clinton's campaign stops, it is hard not to imagine the intensity and determination of the candidates as they are beseiged under the glare of the media. At the same time, we are inudated by "the clutter" of symbols and struggle to understand and draw meaning from one picture to the next.
December 15, 2007 in Campaign pictures, consumer culture, Current Affairs, Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, media accountability, Media Bias, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, Photoblogging, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Can you tell if this picture was digitally altered?
In it's second year, the annual survey on digital photo manipulation seeks the participation of photojournalists and photographers, professionals and enthusiasts, from around the world to help us understand how attitudes toward digitally altered images may be changing.
Last year, more than 745 respondents participated in the annual survey on digital photo manipulation. Part of the study seeks to clarify how photographers define photo manipulation and another part explores how attitudes toward image altering my be changing over time. The study is part of a long-term evaluation of attitudes people have toward accepting digitally altered images in the media and elsewhere.
For example when asked, "I can tell when a photograph has been digitally altered," 42 percent of respondents (n=738) agreed or strongly agreed that they could tell the difference last year. However, 58 percent either disagreed or were undecided about whether they could tell a picture has been altered. Could it be possible that over time, given advances in image editing software, more people will be unable to tell. The survey encourages the participation of both professionals and amateurs photographers and explores other issues such as if it is okay for images of Hollywood celebrities to be altered but not okay for images of politicians.
In terms of defining what constitutes digital photo manipulation four questions were presented:
1) I define photo digital manipulation as changes to the content of a picture after it is made through electronic means.
2) I define photo digital manipulation as a process that helps to make the picture better aesthetically.
3) I define photo digital manipulation as a process that helps to make the objects in the picture more visually interesting.
4) I define photo digital manipulation as a process that changes the content of a picture by adding or removing visual elements from the original.
Other areas worthy of tracking over a long period of time include how photo digital manipulation is defined and whether the issue remains important in the public sphere.
More than 87 percent of respondents agreed to define photo digital manipulation as changes to the content of an image through electronic means, while 44.9 percent believed it to be process that helps to make the objects in the picture more visually interesting. When asked if photo digital manipulation helps to make the picture better aesthetically, 37. 8 percent disagreed, 23 percent had no opinion, and 38 percent showed agreement. In the last question, "I define photo digital manipulation as a process that changes the content of a picture by adding or removing visual elements from the original," more than 85 percent expressed agreement with the statement.
Although these results do not reflect any true surprises, it is important to help clarify how people define the terms they use to describe phenomena. When polled about whether participants feel photo digital manipulation is an increasingly important issue in society today, more than 85 percent agreed that it was.
(Answer: Nothing was altered on the picture above, but it sure looks like it could be. I made this picture at a home leisure booth at a county fair and there were a lot of odd things around the girl taking a nap.)
December 13, 2007 in digital cameras, digital literacy, digital media and teaching, digital media_, digitally altered pictures, observation, photo digital manipulation, photo digital manipulation survey, photo fakery, photoblogs, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, Picture Editing, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Discussions concerning photography's demise as an art form are always problematic and provocative. If we consider how digital technologies have influenced photography in the past two decades, we need to place the debate within a larger context. Consider how painters must have felt in the mid to late 19th century when photography emerged as a viable alternative to capturing realistic representations. At that time, photography was the "new technology", which surely stirred up lots of emotion.
For centuries, painting was far from experimental. Artists were concerned, in large part, with realism -- the ability to make objects in the world appear real on a two-dimensional surface. Many portrait artists lived off the making visual likenesses of their patrons with paint on canvas. Photography's influence on painting cannot be overstated. With the invention of photography, painters were released from the constraints of realism. For example, the early impressionists of the 1860s, artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and others, were inspired by candid photography. The impressionists were able to take chances with form and style. Photography's realism filled a niche -- it was faster, less expensive, and more accessible than painting. Further, you didn't need to have extensive training in drawing and painting to produce a representation of the world around you.
Photography is not dead, it's just changing. Just the same it changed in the 19th century for traditional artists.
Today, the commonly held perception that a photograph provides a reasonable likeness to what is seen in the "real" world is changing. Digital technology, with its capacity to reconfigure reality, is viewed as a threat to the status photography once enjoyed as a form of conveyance -- one burdened by the responsibility of being perceptually accurate. We now have cameras that can make people look thinner, remove blemishes, correct color and tone, and sharpen the clarity of the pictures produced. Visual veracity is now in the mind of the beholder. Pictures, however, may still be worth a thousand words, but what makes the medium difference today is that the technology is increasingly able to determine what those words may mean.
Whoa... Newsweek's Peter Plagens is beating the photography is dead drum. Plagens' article titled "Is photography dead?" takes the same tone we've been hearing about with photojournalism. Photoshop makes realism anachronistic. Photography, the argument goes, has lost its way in the world -- "It's hard to say "gee whiz" anymore," Plagen notes.
"Art and truth used to be fast friends. Until the beginning of modernism, the most admired quality in Western art was mimesis—objects in painting and sculpture closely resembling things in real life."
Plagen's argument seems warranted because of photography's relationship to the apparent "real" in front of the lens. Now, with digital processes, what's set before the lens, as we are quickly discovering, is not always real at all. Nevertheless, to raise the question of photography's death is a bit of an academic cul de sac. Going in, doesn't mean you'll get very far.
December 10, 2007 in photo digital manipulation, photo digital manipulation survey, photo fakery, Photo Mechanic, Photoblogging, photoblogs, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Appropriation artist Richard Prince has made a fortune in the art world by copying the work of other photographers in magazine advertisements and blowing the images up for exhibition. Call it post-modern whatever -- but is it art?
Randy Kennedy's article, "If the copy is an artwork, then what's the original?" in The New York Times provides insight into how photographers who have had their work ripped-off by Prince feel about appropriation as an art form. According to a blurb from Prince's exhibition now showing at the Guggenheim Museum of Art:
Prince's technique involves appropriation; he pilfers freely from the vast image bank of popular culture to create works that simultaneously embrace and critique a quintessentially American sensibility: the Marlboro Man, muscle cars, biker chicks, off-color jokes, gag cartoons, and pulp fiction.
On the left is Jim Krantz's 1997 photograph called "Stretching Out", which was used in a Marlboro ad. To the right is Prince's appropriation of the same picture blown up to 61 x 32 inches. Nowhere does Prince credit the original work or the photographer. Perhaps one reason for this oversight is that in doing so Prince would have to share credit with the creative force he mocks in his own art. In other words, Prince doesn't have a very high opinion of the commercial images he appropriates from magazines because he only sees this form of art as an extension of capitalism, and not as a form of expression. This then brings up the whole "high art" or "low art" debate.
What makes Prince's appropriation interesting is that the iconic nature of the Marlboro pictures signify the cultural pathology of a society obsessed with self-indulgences, individualism, identity and consumption. By appropriating the images, Prince is taking a poke at the very same "high-art" culture that is willing to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work.
Prince has taken a once negatively viewed practice, the reworking of well-known art and images, and has turned it into his own celebrated art form -- one that demands its own value as a commodity. See any irony here?
Where this practice leaves those photographers who work to produce pictures for commercial purposes is anyone's guess. However, in the end, we can assume that in the eyes of Richard Prince, the status these photographers occupy is pretty low on the food chain of public perception in terms of what counts as art in America. Yet, these are the very pictures that have shaped the culture we have today.
December 10, 2007 in consumer culture, Copyright, Current Affairs, intellectual property, jim krantz, photographic ritual, photography, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Richard Prince, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Jack Shafer's article yesterday in Slate Magazine explores the dangers publishers have been encountering with their reliance on using stock photos. Shafer points out that with today's access to web-based stock picture agencies it has become increasingly difficult to make sure the context in which pictures are used match the words. This happened recently when Nature Medicine ran a picture accompanying a story about foster children in Harlem being used as human guinea pigs for HIV drugs. The stock photo used to illustrate the article turned out to be from an orphanage in Ethiopia. Ooops.
Stuff happens, but at what cost?
In an age of instant
communication, as well as the pressures of commerce, design decisions
run the risk of further encouraging the common public perception that
the media cares more about shock value and making money than it does
about getting the story straight. All apologies aside, the damage is what it is -- people aren't always buying into the notion that what they see and read can be trusted.
Picking the "wrong" photo for a magazine story was a lot harder back in the old days, before the Web-based photo agencies got going. The job of picking images usually went to experienced photo editors, people who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of photography and photographers. They had to assign photos or know how to find the picture they needed in the fat books of stock pix they kept on their shelves.
December 08, 2007 in consumer culture, Dennis Dunleavy, Design, Journalism, media accountability, Media Bias, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Photo Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham at a campaign stop
in Iowa. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post writes about
how candidates are keeping their distance from the media.
Media critic, Howard Kurtz, has an insightful piece from inside the machine today. Kurtz suggests that media following Hillary Clinton's campaign are kept at arm's length from the candidate. The Clinton campaign apparently fears being sidetracked from off the "daily sound byte" message or from doing a Howard Dean. What is clear, is that the political process as well as the media's role in it continues to disintegrate. The cultural condition of spinning and spoon feeding pictures and words to Americans is alive and well on the campaign trail. Clinton has apparently mastered the great media brush-off.
"Such is life spent trailing the Clinton juggernaut, where reporters can generally get close enough to watch but no further, as if separated from the candidate by an invisible sheet of glass."
November 30, 2007 in Campaign pictures, celebrities, consumer culture, Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Howard Kurtz, Journalism, media consolidation, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, Photo-ops, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, presidential campaign, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Since August of 2006, I have been collecting responses from readers concerning attitudes toward photo digital manipulation.
In order to sample changing attitudes over time, I am relaunching the survey and will begin to compare results. Anyone can take the survey and all participation is voluntary, confidential, and anonymous. For instance, a respondent's IP address is not stored in the survey results, which protects the identity of the individual to some extent.
The intention of the survey is to understand the way people think about digital manipulation over time. In 2006, more than 735 people weighed in on the issue. One of the questions I would like to track is whether or not people can tell if a picture has been manipulated. Many people believed they could. Is that claim still true a year later? Let's find out.
November 27, 2007 in digital literacy, digital media and teaching, digital media_, digitally altered pictures, Journalism, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, new technologies, photo digital manipulation, photo digital manipulation survey, photo fakery, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, Picture Editing, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Photo Credit: Lauren Victoria Burke/AP
There are poignant moments in the life of a politician which become iconic -- even if it is for a moment -- a moment before it fades from public consciousness.
Each day photojournalists seek out images of the powerful, and even the not so powerful -- images that tell stories beyond the typical sound byte and the banal rhetoric of politics.
Even though this image was made more than a month ago, it has been given legs again because of Lott's decision to resign his seat in the Senate before the end of the year. Lott, the Republican Senate Minority Whip from Mississippi, is ending a 35-year-long career in Congress and plans to start a new career as a lobbyist.
The image was made by the Associated Press on Capitol Hill on Oct. 24, 2007, after the Senate confirmed Judge Leslie Southwick to the federal appeals court in Mississippi. The picture was also used by the Washington Post.
November 26, 2007 in Associated Press, Dennis Dunleavy, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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James Estrin's coverage of the life of Jeffrey Deskovic, a man vindicated by a DNA test in a rape case, epitomizes the importance of journalism in American society. Estrin's images are thoughtfully layered with bits of information or cues about a world Deskovic has stepped back into after 16 years in prison.
What makes Estrin's photography so powerful is the ability to capture, with great patience and detail, the moral and emotional complexities of one man's struggle to persevere despite the hardships he has endured. There are no camera gimmicks -- chopped up frames and off-kilter horizons -- in Estrin's work. There's no reason to employ anything less than straight up visual reporting -- the sort of work that takes a lot of time and understanding to complete. Estrin does not appear to try to make something more than what he sees as an eyewitness to the human condition. There is value to his work because it comes across as compelling and insightful.
In Estrin's frame we see Deskovic riding the subway, head down, fingers barely grasping the support above him. To the right, there are two couples -- one kissing, and the other, appearing to be looking down at Deskovic. What does such a scene signify? Are we to infer that the image represents or symbolizes, in some important way, a lost soul trying to make sense out of a shattered existence?
We look toward the image as proof that what we hear and read or even see for yourselves is true. The signification of a human life, however, can rarely be captured in one frame. The frame is just one moment among countless moments. But nevertheless, there it is -- life -- 1/60th of a second -- in a subway car -- in one of the biggest cities in the world. It is easy to underestimate the commitment journalists like Estrin engage in to share such stories with others.
You can read the NY Times story here.
An interactive feature on exonerated prisoners can also be found here.
November 25, 2007 in photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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For nearly 19 months, the has held Bilal Hussein, right, an Iraqi Associated Press photographer, in detention for allededly taking part in insurgent activities, including making bombs.
Hussein, who was seized by the military in April of 2006, is now caught in a battle not only for his freedom, but for the rights of a free press. The government alleges that Hussein had links to terrorists and that an Iraqi court to decide his fate. AP, meanwhile, feels they have sufficient evidence to counter the allegations.
The ramifications of Hussein's trial will be far-reaching. At issue here, beyond the photographer's life and livelihood, is how the U.S. press has become so extraordinarily dependent upon native in-country staffers and stringers for its news. It's not clear how well Americans really understand how much of the news is actually produced by foreign journalists. Typically, wire services, in places like Iraq, have to outsource their news gathering capabilities, especially photojournalism, to people with better command of the language and the culture.
The at the core of this issue is one of trust and credibility. In August 2006, for instance, Reuters discovered that one of its stringers, Adnan Hajj, had manipulated images during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebannon. The Hajj incident has had the effect of placing doubt in the minds of an already skeptical public about the authenticity and credibility of the news we receive from overseas. Utlimately, it is hoped that justice and truth will prevail -- however, in times of war -- both of these ideals are at risk when power and politics are at stake.
November 21, 2007 in Associated Press, Dennis Dunleavy, First Amendment, Iraq, Iraq War, Israeli Lebanon conflict, Journalism, Lebanon, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Picture Editing, Politics and Photography, Press Freedom, visual culture citicism, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, visual violence, war photography, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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This picture reminds me of one of those famous credit card commercials:
The scene: A food bank in Anywhere, USA
Roll Camera: The President, with a sour expression, stands before the camera.
Voice Over: The melodious baritone voice of the announcer comes in.
The Irony of a Presidential Photo-Op: Priceless
Is the president really mugging for the camera with a can of beans? Could the visual metaphor be any more perfect at this time of year?
As Americans prepare to gobble up more than 1.6 billion pounds of turkey, 1 billion pounds of pumpkin, and more than 800,000 tons of beans this Thanksgiving, the photo-op signifies what appears to be another surreal moment for the Bush presidency.
While, Bush symbolically pardoned the White House turkey this week while more than 35 million Americans, including 12.6 million children, will experience hunger. Further, more than 38 million Americans will be eligible to receive Food Stamps. In 2006, The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that requests for emergency food assistance increase by 7 percent across the country.
There is a significant different between how images denote and connote meaning. As cultural theorist Stuart Hall suggests, pictures are encoded with symbolic meaning. But it is ultimately up to the viewer to "unpack" or decode what the symbols mean. Much of this decoding is determined by context, convention, as well as the disposition of the viewer. Ultimately, the ability to make sense of a picture becomes contingent upon how that picture resonates in every day life for the viewer. For me, the expression "full of beans" comes to mind. Originally, "full of beans" originally meant to be full of energy and high spirits, but over time the phrase has come to represent something more akin to someone who is being less than genuine or honest -- basically someone who is "full of it."
Ultimately, any analysis of this sort probably won't amount a "hill of beans."
Nevertheless, pictures should provoke thoughts, and in turn, hopefully, thoughts will lead to action.
November 21, 2007 in Bush, Current Affairs, Dennis Dunleavy, humor, Media Criticism, Photo-ops, Photoblogging, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Political pictures, politics, Politics and Photography, President Bush, signification, visual journalism education, visual perception, Visual Rhetoric and Metaphor, ways of seeing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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