Reality and photographs (rules, part 2)

When conspiracy theorists want to prove that the US never landed on the Moon, they attack the photographs from the Moon landing. The Soviet government censored and edited photographs based on their political needs over a substantial period of time. Britney Spears has shown that while she certainly is a gorgeous woman in real life, she looks substantially different in photos before and after airbrushing.

The list could go on and on, and ties into the old discussion of Art vs. Reality. Is photography a creative medium through which the photographer expresses herself, or a medium for faithful representation of reality? The answer to this question, obviously, is both, depending on your viewpoint. Me, I was struggling for a while to find out which viewpoint I wanted to take.

About two years ago, I discovered the HDR-ish editing effect in Picnik. HDR images were all over flickr, and I was thrilled to be able to get a similar look on my own images. Here is the image I posted:

Morning ritual

Nowadays, I find this image to be rather dreadful. At the time, however, I had come much shorter than now in developing my own photographic eye, and was drawn between, on the one hand, the excitement of all the different editing options available to me, and on the other hand, the percieved ideal of being able to produce images straight out of camera that would need little or no editing.

I have described before how my motivations for taking photos have changed, from wanting to preserve memories of holidays to creating stories with my images. As my visual storytelling skills develop, I have learned to use whatever editing tool I need to bring out the story. Equally important, I have stopped feeling guilty about editing my images.

In a sense, the Soviet censors did the same thing. They were storytellers too, and used their editing tools to present their political tales in the best way they could. The difference is, of course, that I have absolutely no desire to present my stories as “true” in any way when they are not.

One of my favourite stories is Dracula by Bram Stoker. Parts of this book takes place in Whitby in England:

There was undoubtedly something, long and black, bending over the half-reclining white figure. I called in fright, ‘Lucy! Lucy!’ and something raised a head, and from where I was I could see a white face and red, gleaming eyes. Lucy did not answer, and I ran on to the entrance of the churchyard. As I entered, the church was between me and the seat, and for a minute or so I lost sight of her. When I came in view again the cloud had passed, and the moonlight struck so brilliantly that I could see Lucy half-reclining with her head lying over the back of the seat. She was quite alone, and there was not a sign of any living thing about.

When we visited Whitby, we of course went to see the church outside which this scene takes place. Sitting in front of my computer at home with the images I took there, I edited one of them with the holga-ish effect in Picnik, to bring out in the image some of the mystery and spooky atmosphere present in the book:

St. Mary's Church, Whitby II

The Holga is an eighties toy camera that takes medium format film. I don’t have a Holga myself, but I do have a Diana+, a remake of a toy camera from the sixties very similar to the Holga. Using black and white film in my Diana, I get images in much the same style as with the digital holga-ish effect:


In a sense, the digital Holga photo is a lie, just as much as the airbrushed photos of Britney Spears or any of the other examples mentioned above. Like other digital vintage effects, the holga-ish effect is intended to create digital images that resemble old-fashioned film photography. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this so long as the photographer is honest about how the image was created, just as I want to trust that news photos show reality and to know that celebrity photos are airbrushed.


About Jenny Graver

Living in Oslo, Norway, with her partner and their infant son, Jenny struggles for balance between all the things that makes life worth living - her family, her job in university administration, her writing, learning and her photography. View all posts by Jenny Graver

3 responses to “Reality and photographs (rules, part 2)

  • Kat

    Wonderful post! I think you are right, all of these different effects – whether film or digital are a “lie” if you expect it to be an accurate record. But if you define it as art (and I do!) then it’s a completely different conversation. I love what you did to your photo of Whitby!

  • ashinbleu

    great post! I try to leave most of my images as is but some do “call” out for more enhancement, to “tell the story as I saw it in my mind”.

  • Marji

    Love your post. Interesting to think about. So rarely do we really get something we are happy with SOOC. Always need some adjusting somehow – so is it a lie or is it art? Great processing of your photos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: