Authenticity - Effects be DamnedFriday, February 21, 2020
|Georgia Straight - May 20 2004|
When photography came into being in the 19th century it was celebrated for its ability to accurately show the detail of reality.
Nobody considered that the first human in a photograph was Daguerre’s photograph of an almost empty Paris street with a man having his shoes shined. There is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that in order to take this over at least 3 minute exposure Daguerre paid the man not to move.
The Soviet Union of the 20th century deftly (and sometimes not so deftly) removed people from photographs in their propaganda posters.
In short photography can lie. I like to quote a Canadian press photographer, Nick Didlick who with the advent of digital photography (he was and is a master) said, “You can trust a photograph if you know the photographer.”
As a beginning photographer in the early 60s I liked to call myself an authentic photographer who eschewed any special effects or any kind of filters. I soon found out that in b+w film, yellow filters and orange filters can help diminish effect of the blue/ultraviolet sensitive film (it is also true to this day of colour film, video and digital camera sensors). So I began using those yellow filters to make the dramatic Mexico City skies look the way they looked to my eyes.
But in all my years I have had a few rules that I keep with me at all times. One is that I never persuade anybody to do anything they might not want to do. A corollary of this is that I never tell anybody to do something I would not do.
A rule that kept me in good business with periodicals is that I made people look as good as I could (or even better). I never knowingly made anybody look worse except a couple of times and one I remember well when a magazine editor (Malcolm Parry) instructed me to go to City Hall and take an unflattering photograph of the mayor.
All kinds of early special effects like one called cross-processing (telling a lab to process a roll of slide film as if it were colour negative film) I only used for my personal work.
While I used many kinds of lighting techniques, my portraits, I thought were honest.
But I can remember the first picture that I digitally manipulated. It was of Canadian mezzo soprano Jean Stilwell. She had short hair and did not resemble in any way you run-of-the-mill diva. The manipulated photograph appeared in black and white in the May 20 2004 Georgia Straight. My Photoshop was almost brand new. It is the same one I use now.
Now with negatives, slides, photographs I work with my scanner to go beyond whatever were my standards back in the 60s. But I will keep my standards in making my portraits as authentic of the person as I can muster, effects be damned.