Documentary Photography

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Recently, the World Press awarded its Photo of the Year awards.  Afterwards, the news came out that 20 percent of finalists were disqualified from the contest for altering their photographs breaking post-processing rules. This was almost three times as many as were disqualified last year. Apparently, many of the images that were disqualified were pictures that may have been published and believed in by the general public.

For some reason, I am particularly sensitive to publishing something that may not be true or has been glamorized in an effort to make it seem better than it is.  I see it all the time and it upsets me.  I wish I was strong enough to stop looking at what people publish especially when I know what they are showing is not the way it really is.

In my documentary projects this semester, I am being very careful with my post processing to make sure that what is in the image is what was there to begin with.  In Photoshop, you can do a lot of manipulation to make an image look better and contain (or not contain) items.  I use Exposure, a film emulation software to turn my color images into black and white.  I do use tone curves and sometimes split toning to get the look I want in the image.  All of these things, I believe, can legitimately be done in the darkroom.

Here are three images that I converted from color to black and white with some split toning applied.

sheep+fog B&W






sheep+fog B&W-2





sheep+chute B&W






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I am particularly attached to the idea of this image. dairy b&W Most people do not know what it is.  It is an image taken in what was formerly a small dairy.  One of the many small dairies that were operating throughout North Carolina.  Most are closed now in favor of much larger dairies.  These balls, which are glass, are called “weigh balls.” They are used to measure how much milk each cow is giving per day.  It is a means to gauge whether a cow should be kept in the herd or culled.  Today, they use computerized machinery to measure everything.  This equipment is expensive and milk prices are down.  It’s all about producing cheap food these days and milk is no exception. People want to see pink and fuzzy pictures of farms because that is how and where they want to believe their food comes from. The dairy image is not pink or fuzzy; it is almost eerie or depressing.

Ghost Dairy copy copyThe image to the right is one that I did for a final project in Digital II last semester.  It is at a completely different dairy in the same county. Obviously, this one has been digitally manipulated.

I have been reading an interesting book entitled, Mind’s Eye, Mind’s Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered by James Curtis.  In case you do not know what FSA Photography is, between 1935 and 1942, as part of the New Deal Project, photographers were employed by the Rural Administration, now the Farm Security Administration, to document America.  Many of these images were of family farms suffering through the depression.

In 1938, the First International Exposition of Photography opened to huge crowds.  There was a small exhibition of the FSA photographs entitled, “How American People Live.”  The exhibit did not show case technological innovation but the consequences of an agricultural depression.  Art critic, Elizabeth McCausland, wrote, “The hard, bitter reality of these photographs is the tonic the soul needs … In them we see the faces of the American People [and] (if we are completely honest and fearless intellectually) the faces of ourselves.”

I do not see things today as being too terribly different.  We are not suffering through a depression, but the outlook for small family farms is rather bleak unless these farms have a good deal of available cash (either through retirement from a high paying job or still maintaining a high paying “real” job) or the owners are very, very clever marketers.  I am not a clever marketer.  I am a realist and very honest in my dealings and that is akin to shooting myself in the foot. I certainly do not have a lot of cash in the bank and likely never will.  So, I will simply continue to make it by with my ethics intact and hope that eventually a door will open to me.

We are supposed to go to a camera club meeting Wednesday evening and we were to submit six of the images that we are working on this semester for critique.  I added this one this morning because I am interested to hear what they have to say about it.

So where is this all going?  I do not know.  The weather is trying.  We got between three to five inches of snow Wednesday night and it was pretty at first, but now it’s a muddy, slushy mess.  It is supposed to rain most of next week, but at least it is supposed to be warmer.  It is a pain trudging through slippery mud, the dogs are mess, yuck.  It will be over soon. Wishing for green grass and 70 degrees. Vegetable farming looks very attractive these days.

Until later …