Believe It Or Not!Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Since almost 20 years have passed since I took this picture my memory of the circumstances are hazy. I do not remember if I purchased a newspaper that said that Vargas Llosa was achieving a surprising edge over his political rivals who were also running for the presidency of Perú. I don’t remember if I folded it carefully so that the fold would look haphazard and then placed it under the agave and snap the picture.
For years I shot annual reports and school and art school catalogues with shot lists of pre-planned setups. I have always believed that while Henri Cartier-Bresson might have had it right in his own time of waiting for decisive moments to happen and to then know when they were happening, that his method would not compute in this day and age of time is money.
For years I felt that there was one publication in which time was never at a premium if the decisive moment had to be waited. That is why the National Geographic has always had a reputation of being one of the best magazines in the world with the most arresting photography. It was some 25 years ago that the National Geographic went on a decline (as per my opinion and I am happy to report that the decline was almost short-lived!). The article in question was about Robert Louis Stevenson. There was a vertical full page bleed photo of his tomb in Tahiti. To my horror I noticed that upper sky had a pink tinge that did not look real. I knew exactly what had been used for the effect. Instead of waiting for a sunset the photographer had used a very popular French filter (made of plastic) called the Cokin. The not-willing-to-wait-for-the-Bresson moment, or even the Ansel Adams moment, the photographer had used the Cokin tobacco filter. This filter had half of its area darkened and coloured an amber/red/brown. The filter underexposed the sky (making it darker) and the colour tinge made it look like a dramatic sunset that it was not. Shortly after the Stevenson shot the folks at the Geographic got into trouble by moving (digitally) one of the great Egyptian pyramids for a now infamous cover.
With the advent of all the tricks of Photoshop and even being able to modify or change what is supposed to be sacrosanct in digital photography, the meta data (in which even the exact location of a photograph is embedded in the picture) we can no longer believe anything we see. Skies can be tweaked, faces cleaned up, people moved from one side of a picture to the other or to be eliminated (and made to be non persons) from a group photograph with such precision that Soviet Union photo manipulators of the past must feel jealous.
I believe that decisive moments are created and not waited for. This means that I have been able to shoot many magazine assignments in half the time.
As for this picture, I can not assert if I looked for the newspaper or placed it. I do not feel to bad about it as it has been a photographic tradition from the very beginning of photography when American Civil War photographers moved corpses to make the battle fields more photogenic. The same is said of the British Crimean war Roger Fenton who allegedly moved cannonballs around to make his Valley of the Shadow of Death “better”.