This quote sums it up: “We have reviewed the RAW image, as supplied by World Press Photo, and the resulting published JPEG image. It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing. Furthermore, the analysis purporting photo manipulation is deeply flawed, as described briefly below.”
Burk Uzzle is a photographer who has had a long career. When I was a college student I would spend hours going through the stacks of the art library looking at photography books. I remember the day I came across Landscapes by Burk Uzzle (published in 1973 by Light Impressions). I sat down on the floor and turned the pages of this small book full of black and white photographs. I was struck by the Uzzle’s humor and graphic eye. I was floored. I checked the book out and continued to go through it at home.
In the introduction Ron Bailey write: “…he instantly struck me as both the most cantankerous and best 23-year-old photographer in the world. He tilted at the wide-angle lenses then in vogue, tore up layouts in front of art directors…” and I thought, this is my guy. I was more than willing to challenge the authority of any editor at the time, it probably has more to do with being in my early 20s more than anything else.
Uzzle’s straight ahead view of the world is something that I can’t get over. There is a certain loneliness in some of the images. People appear lost in their own space. Uzzle is not one of those photographers who needs loaded situations to make remarkable photographs. (That said he made one of the enduring photographs from Woodstock.) The bulk of these images are small moments made in out of the way places.
There is a certain sort of “street” vibe to the photographs. Not like Garry Winogrand, though. Uzzle is after a statement about the times more than anything else. The photographs are made up of both journalism and commentary. I was the kind of young photographer who wanted to make commentary pictures all of the time and get them published as journalism. That was part of my problem. I was not able to learn the balance necessary to make “my pictures” for “my employer” until later in life. Now, I am trying to make commentary pictures, then still have journalism in them, because I don’t really know how not do to that. Burk Uzzle appears to me as someone more willing to grow and change than I am, which is frustrating. Why am I the one who keeps wanting to go backwards? Part of the reason I am writing more is get to the bottom of this and other questions about my own photography.
Uzzle has rolled with the times and changed and grown as a photographer, which is why I am attracted to his work. It was during graduate school when I rediscovered Uzzle and realized how much these photographs have influenced my work. I see many photographers trying to work in the same way he did. Uzzle made pictures of life. He may have been paid to work as a photojournalist, but his work is more than that. He has moved on. Many of his current pictures are lit and made with larger cameras. His book Just Add Water could be seen as a current update to Landscapes.
I see one of the biggest problems with the whole Paul Hansen World Press Photo kerfuffle is a misunderstanding of how raw files are handled in Adobe Camera Raw versus taking a JPG from a camera and toning it in Photoshop. If you have not worked with Camera Raw before, what it does and how it works can be a bit confusing.
It is important to understand that when photographing in Raw, the camera is actually creating a black and white file and it is creating an XMP file along with it that determines how the file is going to look. The same is true for JPG, the file is processed in camera.
That is an example folder of images I shot on my Fujifilm X100 and ingested to my laptop via Photo Mechanic. I will determine which photos I am going to keep and then import them into Lightroom 4. When they are imported into Lightroom 4 they will be converted to DNG, which is also a Raw format. The advantage of DNG is that it is an open source file format and it combines the XMP and .RAF files into one file.
This is an example of how Lightroom 4 manages my files. I started converting to DNG a long time ago and I will do that for as long as I use Lightroom. For me, that works. Much like Mr. Hansen using Adobe Camera Raw to tone his photographs. It works for him and his technique is very refined. Some may see it as heavy handed, I see it as someone who has found a working method that is delivering the results he is after. I prefer Lightroom 4 and it is important to note that LR and ACR share the same processing engine.
So what is happening when a file is manipulated in Adobe Camera Raw? The XMP file is being changed, not the black and white Raw file. When the Raw file is opened in Photoshop it can be saved as a lot of different file types, but how it looks is based on the XML file. This is an example of XML file I opened in TextEdit.
This workflow is all about having the most information available to work with and being able to get the most out of the files. It will also leave you with a file that can be reverted back to its original state and reprocessed at any time. Since all of the detail is there you are able to achieve a variety of “looks”.
I chose to demonstrate with this picture because it has a variety of highlights and shadows. I shot this on a Canon T3i with the 18-55mm kit lens. Basic stuff, but what was recorded is pretty interesting. I have not dodged or burned this image at all. I have changed the values of the highlights and shadow areas to accentuate how much information is there to start with and how much of it can be toned down. All by making global adjustments. If I were to make local adjustments, I would select individual parts of the image and manipulate from there.
So when Mr. Hansen says: “To put it simply, it’s the same file – developed over itself – the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.” he is right. He is changing the file but adding a layer of adjustments on top of the file, not changing the pixels.
If I had shot this image on JPG and exposed for the highlights there is little chance I would be able to bring out the shadow area at the bottom right of the image showing the exposed wood. When shooting in JPG, the camera processes he image according to settings in the camera. When I used to work at the newspaper we photographed in the JPG mode and then used Adobe Photoshop 7 to open the files and make adjustments to the files that actually changed the pixels. When you change pixels in Photoshop, there is no going back, unlike this method of Raw files.
Whenever I doubt an image I go into Adobe Bridge and see what the image has to say about what it has been put through. In this winning image, downloaded here, I am able to see Paul Hansen’s recipe for his “look”. When I apply that recipe to a photograph I have made in light that is probably not similar, I am able to get an image with a similar “look”. I started with a DNG because I convert all of my Raw files into DNG when I import them into Lightroom. My experiment is not totally exact, but close.
Now, here is the kicker. I took his recipe from the POYi image linked above because the World Press Photo image did not have any info on it. That image is a bit more desaturated than the file I downloaded from POYi. It had been converted into a PNG file for their website. My feeling is this, unless these experts come forward and say I used a file I received from this person, which they have not, I treat the findings as suspect. Which is what I hoped others who still work in journalism would have done. I just saw this link. So, I guess the doubters are getting what they wanted. I feel pretty confident in that Hansen will be cleared of this. My hope is that photojournalists will stop trying to eat their own. I hope that he does not have to supply a Raw file to the world because in a way that is letting the doubters win. My opinion on this is based during my time in journalism. I equate the Raw file with the reporter’s notebook, which in America is protected. What is legally protected is apparently not protected in the court of public opinion though.
In some of the classes I teach, I require students to turn in JPG files so I can see how they are toning images. Whenever the metadata is stripped from the image, or the dates are off, I immediately suspect them image until the student provides an explanation. When there is information like the one found in the POYi file, I trust it. If the World Press Photo had the metadata on it I could say he did not fake that one, but it does not. I can’t say that. I can say the POYi image looks clean. My assumption is: Hansen desaturated more and sized it differently for World Press. I could be wrong. I hope I am not.
UPDATE: One thing I should have said is that my example image was not made with a Canon 5D MarkIII camera and 16-35 f2.8 lens, which Hansen used for almost his entire POYi portfolio. Having that equipment, which I don’t, would have helped to prove my point. Each camera and lens combination is going to create a file that is different.
My review of Terry Evans’ book Prairie Stories is now published here.
Recently, Bruno Boudjelal was interviewed for the Leica Camera Blog about his work from Algeria. Boudjelal is a photographer whose work fascinates me because of his vision. The photographs he makes are complicated and messy. The stories he tells have no clear beginning or end. His work is very open to interpretation. This video shows him are work in Paris photographing immigrants from Algeria. Boudjelal finds opportunities for pictures where I am apt to not see anything. He pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable for a “successful” photograph.
I usually show Boudjelal’s work in my classes because he is the antithesis of the majority of photographers that are discussed. He makes recordings of his experiences whose meanings are not always clear. Other photographers make crisp declarative statements about the world while Boudjelal uses fragments. With a background in documentary photography I can appreciate the complicated stories he is attempting to tell. Stories of homeland and family are universal and fascinating when the stories involve foreign countries clouded in mystery. The mystery in the pictures adds to the viewing experience.
The first time I experienced his pictures was in an issue of Leica World from 2004. The pictures were from his Algeria series and they showed blurry and seemingly hastily composted moments from an exotic country. It was during this time I was starting to question the limitations of working at a newspaper and I wonder what was out there besides my narrow view of photography. Boudjelal opened my eyes to a seeing a way that highlights the experience of photographing, not just the finished photograph. Within a year from first seeing these pictures I was applying to graduate programs to expand my photographic horizons. The act of considering this work to be valid forced me to think about what it means to make a picture. Does it always have to be clean and orderly? Does it always have to be sharp? Is there more than one way to photograph?
Working in newspapers for nearly decade indoctrinated a certain aesthetic in me. To say these aesthetic is clean and orderly would be an understatement. Letting go of those ways of seeing have not been an easy process for me. It is still ongoing as I continue to question what it means to make a picture in 2013. Having spent some time researching Boudjelal I know there was a time when he made images that were “correctly exposed” and “sharp”. How he is working now is part of his process and it evolves. Learning that was a revelation to me. The older work did not draw me in as much, being more traditional black and white reportage. It was the shift to color and a willingness to challenge the ideas of composition and sharpness that made me think about his work.
When I teach I often tell students to embrace the idea of intention. Be intentional with your technique. Boudjelal’s work is the definition of intention. It is consistently on the edge of what is photographically acceptable that the technique can’t be anything but intentional. That is my take. There are times when the response to his work is more negative than positive and I am pleased by that, because it shows me students do not readily accept everything that I show. I show work that challenges their notions of what is acceptable photography.
Defining acceptable photography is what this post is boiling down to. Is Boudjelal’s work acceptable. For me, and others since he is a member of Agence VU, his work is more than acceptable. VU is an agency with a distinct aesthetic. It is a vision that is more challenging and contemporary than other agencies. It is easy to say that every photographer has a unique vision. VU is a living breathing unique vision. Boudjelal is not the only one challenging what is allowed in photography.
Reexamining my ideas on Bruno Boudjelal forces me to deal with a murkier conclusion. Simply put I dig his work. That is too easy of a conclusion. I am past the point of trying to mimic work to grow. No matter how hard I try, that work is passed over in the viewfinder or in the loupe during the editing process. That might not sound like I wanted it to. What I meant to write is that no matter how much I try to loosen myself up to see in a “freer” manner, my photographic muscle memory works against me. The same thing happens in the during the editing process. The more I try to work in a freer manner, the more formally strict I become. It is like I can’t escape my journalistic training.
The ideas I am turning over keep looping in my head. They keep coming back to me and my process. When I was younger it was easier to challenge known ideas because I had not them become ingrained yet. Now, it is more challenging because I am at a point in my creative career where experimentation is a luxury. That is probably why I have restarted this blog, to experiment. To clear my head from some of these thoughts that have been rattling around my head for some time. Thoughts that are taking up precious space. Once I get them out of my head I will be able to move on to something new. Something new for me lives in the unknown world, like the world the Bruno Boudjelal works in.