Assignment four asks us to produce an image to illustrate the cover of a book or magazine. I decide to combine the assignment with a photobook project that I’ve been working on that explores South Africa’s west coast from the harbour town of Yzerfontein where everything shuts at 5pm (if it’s even been opened on that day) up to Port Nolloth which is close to the Namibian border.
I produced one image for the front and another for the rear cover, as shown-
I started with a poor photo and first adjusted the horizon, then removed the fourth zebra almost hiding behind the one on the left, then added some more sky to allow space for text, and then adjusted the colours and tonal range using a variety of photoshop tools. I also removed several dust spots.
The process was similar for the back cover with the addition of the clone stamp tool to move the incoming gannet into a more symmetrically pleasing position. I also cropped the photo to a square format which I wanted to centre on the rear cover.
As to the assignment’s question – real or fake? I could stand by the position that no photograph can show reality, but that’s not the direction we’re looking for. Certainly the subjects denoted here have not been willfully changed, only willfully re-positioned with one zebra removed. I wouldn’t dare to enter these into photographic competition because of the strict rules on capturing only what’s there, although these subjects were there, but moved around little. I might have obtained the same view by moving around but the fact is that I didn’t move around and the images were manipulated beyond what is expected in a wildlife photographic competition.
However, for other purposes such as this book of photos that is intended to provide a narrative, rather than abide by rules on what is a “proper” photo in the eyes of a certain community, I have concerns about manipulating the images any way I choose. They provide as accurate a description of the area as any photos can do, despite some manipulation. Other photos in the book show an island covered white by guano with the fierce Atlantic waves pounding it, except that the exposure time of the photo was around twenty seconds, and the waves have turned to mist.
Does the representation of “reality” have to follow a strict temporality? I don’t believe it does. Many photos in the mid- to late nineteenth century were taken with much longer exposure times and I have yet to hear their validity questioned, even though that process removed whole streets full of people from the image.
Perhaps what matters is the difference between pressing the button and processing the image? If so then no photo can ever represent reality because the time the image was captured is gone forever. And what is that “time” but an arbitrary reliance on the function of a piece of clockworks mechanics that will never be as accurate as the manufacturer states? (What, exactly 1/200s? not 1/200.00000001s?) How do you know? Who cares?
So in this artist’s opinion these photos are actually “real fakes”, but for the purposes of this photo book they are perfectly acceptable. I’m not creating this book to show the finest photography, but I am delivering a clear narrative, and my minor manipulations only add to the feel of the landscape.