Monday 24 December 2012

Faking It: a new book

Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop, by Mia Fineman, is a handsome tome that will be at home on any coffee-table. Published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is currently hosting an exhibition on this very theme, and distributed by Yale Books, this book is the fruit of the labours of the assistant curator in the department of photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a tribute to her endeavours, her enthusiasm and her excellence.  As the book's web-blurb explains:
"It is a long-held truism that 'the camera does not lie'. Yet, as Mia Fineman argues in this illuminating volume, that statement contains its own share of untruth. While modern technological innovations, such as Adobe's Photoshop software, have accustomed viewers to more obvious levels of image manipulation, the practice of "doctoring" photographs has in fact existed since the medium was invented. In "Faking It", Fineman demonstrates that today's digitally manipulated images are part of a continuum that begins with the earliest years of photography, encompassing methods as diverse as overpainting, multiple exposure, negative retouching, combination printing, and photomontage. Among the book's revelations are previously unknown and never before published images that document the acts of manipulation behind two canonical works of modern photography: one blatantly fantastical (Yves Klein's "Leap into the Void" of 1960); the other a purportedly unadulterated record of a real place in time (Paul Strand's "City Hall Park" of 1915). Featuring 160 captivating pictures created between the 1840s and 1990s in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, and commerce, "Faking It" provides an essential counterhistory of photography as an inspired blend of fabricated truths and artful falsehoods".
For the trial lawyer, who -- to be fair -- is not this book's prime readership target -- the text raises questions of the credibility of photographs as primary or corroborative evidence both in civil proceedings and in criminal trials.  For the intellectual property lawyer the book raises further and deeper issues relating to the moral rights of a photographer to object to the distortion of his or her work and to disassociated from its manipulated version, as well as to the treatment of orphan works.  On the same page as the copyright notice, the reader will find the following message:
"Unless otherwise specified, all photographs were supplied by the owners of the works of art, who hold the copyright thereto, and are reproduced with permission. We have made every effort to obtain permission for all copyright-protected images.  If you have copyright-protected work in this publication and you have not given us permission, please contact the Metropolitan Museum's Editorial Department ...".
From this it appears that the Museum has not found the absence of a legislative solution to the 'orphan works' problem to be an insuperable barrier to its commercial objective in publishing this book.

Further particulars of this lovely book can be found here.

1 comment:

Tom Ang said...

Thanks for the notification. That's definitely one for the post-Christmas list!

In defence of the camera, one could argue that it does indeed not lie. Any more than a car kills or a baseball bat injures. The camera is merely the tool; not an accomplice. And, insofar as a photograph is the product of light rays from a subject that are fall on, and are captured by some light-sensitive material, the photograph does not lie either. Retouching, combination printing, and so on are changes effected on the original image subsequent to capture.

If the original was so untruthful, why would we need to make these changes? We need to lie only when we don't like the truth.