Reality Check | Week 2: The Index and the Icon | Informing Contexts | Lesson/Research

Feature Image


Joel Peter Witkin (2007) Night in a Small Town

In Camera Lucida (1980: 89) Roland Barthes states that ‘In the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation’.

  1. the process or action of proving or showing something to be true, genuine, or valid.
  1. 1.
    the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being so represented.
    “you may qualify for free legal representation”
  2. 2.
    the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way.
    “the representation of women in newspapers”

I’m not entirely sure what he means by this, is he saying that what’s in the photograph is always going to be real, or that the if the photo holds a realism it is better and holds a higher value then a photo that represents fantasy or is fiddled with. Ether way I would agree that photographs hold different levels of representation value when they are authentic in their own areas of context and expertise, if the photographer is doing a personal project and is granted complete creative freedom then by all mean represent what you want and how you want, if the work is going to be showcased, there should at least be some supporting context displayed if it is a sensitive topic. However if you’ve been assigned a briefing or have a responsibility to report something in the media of photography that requires strict authenticity above and before what it is supposed to be representing – then this if not healthy for the reputation of the provider of the brief, the photographer and photography itself if that trust is broken…


Do I think it’s a bad thing that Rodriguez was stripped of his award of Wildlife Photographer of the Year because it later transpired that the photograph was staged?

Not at all. He deserved it it, the competition is called ‘wildlife photographer of the year’, the wilderness of the nature can’t be forced, it’s come naturally, and so should the photo that is representing it in its natural state of authenticity. Anything else then you are just strictly representing it but with no authenticity. I believe there is nothing wrong with single handedly representing something alone, by manipulating subjects and the positioning of objects if you’re in a position of creative freedom to do so – BUT, when you are assigned a role, a task, a brief, a responsibility to deliver an image (granted with your creative instinct) that is strictly assigned to delivery authentic, naturalism and fact, like a wildlife competition, then the photographer looses credibility in the areas of photographers eye. Yes the photograph timed well, it’s a great shot to look at but it was staged, it wasn’t natural so how can it be used for a competition based on nature.

On a side note, I really don’t understand how the judges passed this as real in the first place, the moment I first glanced upon this photo I knew something wasn’t right, the photographers positioning is basic with zero blur, as if they haven’t even bothered to make it look as if it was a real scenario. I mean, its pretty easy to tell the wolf is lit up by a torch is it not? If a wolf was running in your direction I highly doubt anyone would stand that closely in that position without even flinching… Although, in this case, there is no intimation, no eye contact, it’s jumping over the fence like a sheep, quite literally a sheep in wolfs clothing… I wonder why.

More can be read here


National Geographic‘s editor in chief has published an editorial in which she reaffirms the magazine’s commitment to keeping “photography honest in the era of Photoshop.”
“At National Geographic it’s never OK to alter a photo,” Goldberg writes. “We’ve made it part of our mission to ensure our photos are real.”
National Geographic now requires that photojournalists submit RAW files of the images they send in, allowing the magazine the examine the original, untouched pixel data captured by the camera.
“If a raw file isn’t available, we ask detailed questions about the photo,” says Goldberg. “And, yes, sometimes what we learn leads us to reject it.”
The critical question Nat Geo now asks is: “Is this photo a good representation of what the photographer saw?”
“For us as journalists, that answer always must be yes,” concludes Goldberg.
Full read here

Now whilst I do think it was only a minor and understandable change in the positioning of the pyramids to fit in the cover of the book, and it may seem pretty harmless paying the camel riders to walk back and forth across the shot until he got it right (some could say it could be looked at as just the same as paying for a honest ride on the camel, but he just happened to not want the ride, he just wanted to watch from a far right?). It’s the reputation the ‘National Geographic’ hold and the claims they have made above. They built their reputation, they had a responsibility, they lied, thats the damage I see here.

Batchen (2002) – Photography will therefor lose its power as a privileged convey of information”

I would agree that the authenticity of the photograph has been damaged due to the rise in photoshop as i’ve discussed in previous posts, raw photographers need people like the ‘National Geographic’ to stick to their word and keep a solid a true platform in a world where there is now so much digital manipulation…


Again, it may seem like a fairly minor change, but I think that the area of photo journalism, with such responsibilities, needs to keep this level of strictness, Narciso Contereas was a skilled photographer but I understand why the associated press cut ties. A photo journalists image is to report facts, anything other than the original image (with the exception of lighter or darker) will lead the photographer and the company/press to loose credibility as a news source if they don’t get there facts right – therefor the image should hold a stella level of authenticity and realism. Not to be just constructed and represented as real.

Alex Gardener’s (1863) ‘Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter’ is representing the subject matter but manipulated the subject. I do not think that was acceptable in his position.

Reading through my peers responses I’d have to say I agree that it can change the audience’s perspective and found Andrey Rashidov’s thoughts/points very interesting, we had similar views, here is his opening statement…

“I agree that whether or not it is important for an image is “authentic” depends on the context. Documentary photography has much higher standards in that regard, as it should. While moving the actual dead body does not change the fact that the person was indeed killed during the battle, it does change public perspective, undermines faith in the very term “documentary”.”

In my own practice I like to go down the route of artist representation, there is authenticy in my images – “given proof that something did happen” as a base but for my artistic work I am currently exploring new methods to enhance the athstetic values for visual pleasure, I may try to convey and again ‘represent’ a message, but I am not reporting anything.

Is it really real?

Do I think that photographs hold more veracity than painting?

Overall, Yes, but to an extent in this day and age with the technology available.

“Scruton is unsurprisingly against the manipulation of photographs, saying that it transforms it into a kind of painting.  Which again encourages a dichotomy between the photograph as document and the photograph as an expressive art.”

I can respect that, however I do believe manipulation is required to evolve photography medium in this day and age.

Which of these representations of Las Meninas do I find most authentic?

None. I do not trust painting to be authentic unless I have viewed the act of the artist painting the scene, which could be ironically captured through a photograph. That is just a trait of my personality.

Is this aesthetically or contextually specific?

A camera, especially back then, has a level of scientific proof to it. A painting only has the painters word and the painters witnesses on how authentic it is.

Did Baldessari’s image offer any certainties to me?

No not at all other than his word that it was taken from a larger photo, which definitely switches the context and can leave the viewer confused as to whats in the photograph.

I did research on some more ‘uncertain’ put together images (non edited) one of my favourite selections by Hengki Koentjoro can be found here


Also, of course with the abilities photoshop gives up, uncertainty can be created in all shapes and sizes…


What did I think the subject matter was?

I thought is was a cut off finger on a patch of hay next to a stone wall. It very much reminded me of the effects of the Frame characteristic from ‘the photographers eye’.

What did I think it was about?

About a test of the viewers reaction, when henderson said I though it was a bomb, Baldessari responded “yeah I was hoping I would have fooled you”.

Is there any certainty in my work?

Yes, I do like to make my intentions quite clear in my work, but I do not think they do come across so clear to the people viewing my photographs. I amplify or desaturate my colours/lights or sometimes use unusual compositions, I believe a lot of uncertainty is created after the image has been taken, it can happen through post processing. I have created images which can hold a certain amount of mystery.

Here are some examples of my work…

Do I agree with Synder and Allens critique of the visual model?

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 17.26.38.png

I get what they are trying to say, and it is a very interesting concept. I’m not sure we will ever be able to fully know how similar or different we as humans see to each other and how close the photograph is to our vision or vice versa.

Do we expect photographs to be iconic?

I think its up to the viewer x masses if the image is iconic or not. I believe each photographer is extremely proud of their own work which can lead to high exceptions to how they well they will be received.

Is this important to my own practice? Why/Why not?

Perhaps I could try to explore this, run a number of tests on the colour balance of how someone sees a certain landscape.

1.Look out upon a landscape with someone by my side

2. Take the photo and place it on a laptop at the landscape.

3. Use the colour balance tool and adjust the photo to not my own but the viewer by my side to replicate the images colour as close as possible to how they they see the landscape infant of them there and then.

4. Repeat the process with 3-4 people.

This may give me a better understanding to the variations in which people view an image.

Do I think indexicality is important for photography?

No. It is was it is, ether natural or constructed.

Are all photographs constructions?

I would say yes, mainly. Aside the spontaneous snapshot from the ‘non-photographer’ or given the chance of a faux pas image.

Or a mixture of non- planned construct – more so right place right time, for example…

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 13.51.53.png

“Mike Karas, an amateur photographer who lives in Hawaii, was visiting Yosemite National Park in California last week and headed up the trail to Taft Point, a popular look-out spot. When he reached there, he spotted something stunning; a couple of newlyweds posing for pictures.
Mr Karas decided to take out his camera and capture some images himself.” – source

In what ways do you ‘construct’ in your photography?

I start off with a visualisation, always picture the background before anything, e.g where the subject is going to be standing, and then picture the overall theme, colours, atmosphere and poses the subject should be in, along with the desired facial expressions. I will fire a few test shots to warm up, check the cameras settings, (let the subject get comfortable infant of the camera is a portrait shoot) then focus on the framing first. From there it is moving along the line of visualisation whilst improvising, working with the environment and experience as I dive deeper into the shoot and become more focused.


How do I respond to Snyder and Allen’s comments regarding photographic vision?

Here is the document with aspects that caught my attention and interested me highlighted – snyder-allen-1975-highlighted

To be honest I think they should stop trying to analyse how similar or not the photograph is to what we see and instead try to appreciate how lucky we are to even be able to create the photograph and record moments in time that we can share. Referring to the horses, The lens works similar to the eye, its just frozen in time. Different apertures and focus are recorded in a photograph the same way we can focus in and out and blur our eyes. Its when we use extremely fast shutter speeds or slow shutter speeds that it gets interesting and sciences come into play, I believe we see things that are in fact there e.g long exposure light shots) but our eyes just can’t capture in real time. Almost like another dimension, this makes me want to look into the science of long exposure in more depth.

How did these ideas and visual practices inform my reflections about a presumed photographic veracity?

That there is a balance between ‘naturalism’ and ‘construct’ in a photograph. I think that the level of veracity is measured by a number of factors – the photographers skill level (non-photographer to pro), the person taking the photos intention (planed, altered or completely spontaneous). A photo will always begin natural and its the person who takes it and who decides its fate of authenticity and how they use the camera to ether sway closer or further to them in which we see with the human eye.

Where do you think the iconic, indexical and symbolic photograph is now? With this in mind where am I now?

I think that photographs are so built into our lives nowadays, it is such a normal part of living as they are everywhere. For photos to really stand out and have impact amongst others, have to innovative, meaningful, unique and unusual. And that is something I wish to explore through out the course, how can we improve the photograph?

The Index and the Icon

What sort of truth do I think photography can/might offer?

“The introduction of digital technology was a real cause for alarm for some as threatening the realistic indexical base of the photograph.  That the power of its objective truth value was weakened or lost altogether.” – Dr. Steph Cosgrove: Module Leader: Informing Contexts

As i’ve discussed in previous posts I would agree with such statement. Photoshop enables changes to an image sometimes untraceable. However further back in time, unless evidence of staging, the work of Lewis W. Hine is enough proof for me that it has offered valid authenticity to make great changes in the past.

Is this different to other forms of visual and written representations?

I believe video to be able to offer the most truth out of all the medias, but only by an inch. They can all be manipulated and cut out of context. It’s no surprise to anyone that the media can lie and take things out of context with ease.

Is this contextually specific?

As I said the different roles have different responsibilities and reputation to live up to.

Are any aspects of this important to my practice?

My work is colourful, so times dim, but I like to think of it unique and true to my own style and the way I see things. I am always looking to improve and explore new techniques which is something I want to get out of this degree. I may not have the best equipment, I never have had the funds to do so, but its how the camera is used is whats important to me. That is why I have always been a fan of editing, there are so man possibilities to improve and experiment with our photos after we ave taken them at our finger tips.

Up to date, apart from lighting and colour, I have never made any large changes to the physical shapes of my subjects or environment, only small blemish removals of the face or  out of place hairs when stuck out. I have for most part been strict with physically altering (e.g. buildings, body parts) the authenticity of my images as I have never been keen on reshaping for many reasons – the human body, magazines, changing the body to a more “suitable” look is something i’ve never truly agreed with doing, it’s disrespectful to the individual and harmful to the viewer, promoting that they have to look a certain way to be beautiful or accepted in ‘society, But thats a different discussion.

I do however want to make use this access to creative freedom on the course to experiment with altering the body, mainly the facial structure and environment, I have a few idea’s in mind that I have already begun and the experiments will be in the upcoming posts.


Thank you.


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