Picture perfect

I have met very few people who truly live by the motto “I don’t care what I look like, and I don’t care what other people think of my appearance.” It was easy proclaiming this as a “rebellious” teenager in junior high trying to break the stereotype of ascribing to certain characteristics to fit in with a certain group of a certain look. But the thing is, NO ONE REALLY FEELS THAT WAY. I mean, the mere act of dressing in a certain way to rebel against a stereotype is in and of itself a means of dressing to cause a specific reaction. What I’m trying to get at here is that image is important. And all the more so with today’s modern conveniences where phones have cameras and images can be transmitted to public viewers around the world in a matter of seconds.

If it weren’t enough to be under constant watch of a photographic lens in every possible situation, there’s the added degree of digital Photoshopping and photo alterations that can send mixed messages about the subject of the photo. When it comes down to it, the results of excessive Photoshopping reveal our value of image as a society. What makes a photo editor cut away at someone’s jawline or add shadows to a portion of the thigh in order to “enhance” a photo? We are a body-conscious culture so much so that how we portray beauty does more to promote body-negative attitudes than anything else.

Take, for example, the most recent cover of Vogue Magazine. Adele, who is beautiful and talented in her own right, appears on the cover and is almost unrecognizable due to the angles, lighting and clear over-use of photo-alteration programs. As an artist who has been asked about how she views her self-image as a celebrity on multiple occasions, it’s disheartening to see a news outlet portray her in a way that is untrue to her as an artist and subject of the magazine’s cover story. This kind of portrayal has not come without criticism from other news organizations.

On the other hand, there are others who see this problem with modern photography and advertising. In 2009, Brad Pitt appeared on the cover of W Magazine with untouched photographs taken by Chuck Close. As a rejection of how most photo shoots airbrush out the flaws of the subject matter, Pitt requested that the photos run without any kind of enhancement.

Photo editors may not realize it, but the decisions they make in portraying the icons and artists of our day transmit messages to those who look up to said celebrities and affect how they view themselves. In its most basic form, individuals take into account how they are perceived physically to the world around them in photographic form. Writer Brianne Garcia wrote about how social media has affected how she presents herself to the online world, no doubt in some way or another framed by how she views photos of highly publicized figures of today and how those altered photos demonstrate our perception of appearance.

It’s easy to laugh off really bad Photoshop jobs as misguided marketing ploys and even worse judgment of photo program usage. But if we’re going to use advertising tools that also prevent the public from viewing reality for what it really is in appearance, then that’s when things go eschew and problems with body image arise. I mean, if public figures who have passed can’t even escape the airbrush wand for a cover story, what hope is there for the rest of us?

1.3

What are the elements of good photography? How much does the quality of the photograph depend on the equipment that is used to capture it?

Several years ago, I heard about Joel Grey. The award-winning actor turned photographer had just released a publication called  “1.3: Images From My Phone,” in which he uses a 1.3 megapixal camera built into his phone to photograph the urban life surrounding him.

So, are cell phone images just as good as those caught on the most expensive and advanced of DSLR cameras? My initial thought when I saw his work for the first time several years ago was that the fact that he uses such an accessible means of capturing film cheapened the end result. But since coming into this multimedia class, I’ve revisited his work. I asked several of my friends, some photo novices like me, and some more learned in photography since junior high school, what they thought of the matter. While I heard mixed results of how much quality mattered in the outcome of the photograph, like good focusing and lighting techniques to capture the most intimate of details, others conversely said that the photo is about the subject matter and telling a story through the lens, no matter how big or small. I think looking back at his collection, Grey’s images offer a “slice of life” of his surroundings that are effective in offering visual imagery of the stories of others.

Like we talked about in class, photography is so much more than using really good equipment to capture an image. I mean, Grey has made it a point to emphasize that good photography has nothing to do with the type of camera used, but rather, is centered on an inherent artistic skill in seeing the intricacies of the world and capturing that one moment in the most compelling way possible.

Point and shoot

I’ve always been exposed to basic forms of photography. My mother, typical parent that she is, loved to document every moment of my and my brother’s childhood. Her collection of photo albums in the study of my childhood home is rivaled only by that of my uncle’s California home guest bedroom stocked with family photos and video recordings of his own. One of my earliest memories involves me visiting Vancouver and being given a disposable Kodak camera. I remember taking off my mittens – the kind with the yarn attached to the wrists to keep the pair together – so I could better wind the film and maneuver the tiny little box that would eternalize the images of the pigeons in which I had spontaneously taken interest.

And who could forget those  horrible school photos with white backdrops, block letters that read “2001,” and buckets of plastic combs? Those years in elementary school where children would line up and squirm in whatever outfit their mother chose for them was probably the first time I realized that a lot more components (and direction…”chin up and to the left a little more…”) could go into taking a good picture.

Since then, I’ve tried my hand at different cameras and angles and lighting and iPhoto effects.  I somewhat regret not taking art or photo classes in high school to explore more of this type of artistry in greater depth. For years I’ve observed in awe (and a tinge of jealousy) at my photographer friends and how comfortable they are with knowing what will look good in a frame, let alone maneuvering the equipment they capture the image with.

I’m glad to say that this “Seeing Red” assignment was quite enjoyable. The hands-on nature of the project with its minimal requirements left me with limitless chances to explore. While I had fun and,  let’s be honest, felt really cool walking around downtown with the Nikon D7000, I’ve pretty much resigned to the fact that if I ever get there, it’ll take a while to develop my eye for good photography. But in the meantime, I think I’m going to enjoy exploring the features my new discovery just as much as I enjoyed taking instant photos of Vancouver pigeons.

“Life is once, forever.”

Multimedia. In a concept that is so limitless, I would be kidding myself if I said I wasn’t irrationally intimidated and a bit overwhelmed by what this multimedia journalism course is supposed to teach me. This isn’t history or English or math, but rather, something that is ever evolving. Yet purpose of this field is to use constantly developing technologies to document and deliver a moment as a fragment of history.

So Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “life is once, forever.” Pretty profound, that guy. But when I heard this quote, I thought of this story that I had read the day prior.

At what point does the development of technology interfere with capturing real events and getting them to the public in its truest, most accurate form? Even when messing around with the camera simulator in class, it’s hard to say whether or not you may be altering the image too much or magnifying something out of proportion, let alone using software to compile an image that kind of really never happened as pictured. Would that not constitute as true photography? Or maybe these resources are only making it better and capturing moments that, because of the limitations of our technologies, were yet to be attained using mechanical equipment.

It seems that it’s all about timing. The five different exposures used by the photographer all happened, but not necessarily down to the same millisecond. But as these programs are still in development, I think it’s an interesting new take on presenting images in a new format.

After all, time is a man-made concept. Start making four-day workweeks the norm and maybe we’ll be getting somewhere.