I was born in London and grew up in Hertfordshire and moved to Suffolk in the eighties. It was at school that I learnt to develop B/W film and produce contact prints from the negatives which really did excite me, having started taking pictures at age 10. I soon had a darkroom that could be set up in my parent’s kitchen after dark for producing enlargements and also managed to join a local camera club with a well equipped darkroom. At sixteen I had become the school photographer for the in-house magazine and had also tackled some event photography for other local social clubs.
After leaving school I started work in the Telecoms industry, which kept me employed for 35+ years and photography a hobby during this period. Although I kept up with camera technology the launch of the Canon 300D was a starting point for me to take digital photography seriously. Enrolment on the ‘Open College of Arts’ digital photography course provided the training that I needed to make the best use of this new technology and equipped me with the basic Photoshop skills to manipulate digital images.
At the end of 2007 having decided a change of employment was needed, I approached IPSENTA an organisation that provides advice, training and support for new business start-ups in Suffolk. Six months later with some updated equipment and some specialist training, Reflections of Reality was launched. In addition to exhibiting and selling altered reality photographs I have also found a market for the travel pictures that I have been taking since I was 10 years old!
Altered reality images
There appears to be less take up with the top photographers around the world of the deliberate manipulation of images to alter reality. Perhaps it is because of the criticism levelled against altered or ‘fake’ pictures that has restricted its use by well known photographers. The markets that readily accept manipulated images are commercial advertising where sometimes a picture is created to order based on a clients brief and the fine art/creative art market where the picture is much more important; what it represents rather than the real components used to create it.
The first real question to answer is what we mean by altered reality in the context of photography. I believe that there are three kinds of purpose for altering reality; one is to fool the viewer into believing that the image is real, the second is to present a scene which is clearly not real but which is believable in appearance and the third is to enhance a photograph so that it looks better perhaps more artistic than reality. People often have an idealised vision of a scene but it is possible to create what is expected from a human’s viewpoint rather than the actual scene. This allows photographers the ability to produce an artistic interpretation of reality to create a picture that emphasis what we want to see in a picture, more real than reality itself. This may also come about if the photographer is trying to make a point, a picture that needs to be read and understood with the meaning more important than how it has been created or what has been used as the base image.
It is worth remembering that there is nothing new about manipulating an image. From the 1900’s onwards there was a move to manipulate an image rather than a literal recording of a scene as seen by the eye. But to match the effects produced by Cubism required a much more radical approach. Man Ray came up with the Rayagram (1920’s) which took common objects and created a dream like world for them with no reference to our everyday experience and sight. Some of his pictures are surrealist, as the images are based on a different level of meaning than of the objects themselves. A transformation of meaning, constructing an image from its effect rather than the objects.
Frantisek Drtikol in 1930 created a picture called ‘The Soul’ from photographing cut shapes of paper and cardboard. In the 1980’s Rommert Boonstra also created pictures of imaginary worlds using models and back projection.
Eugene Atget pictures, published by Man Ray in surrealist publications during the late 1920’s, transformed stone to life. He worked with classical statuary in French parks and gardens. Old statues came alive and showed Atget’s abilities to create a real life scene from statues.
Another photographer with a similar eye for transformation was Andre Kertesz whose forte was out on the street capturing the circumstantial magic. Andre photographed what looks like real people at a window in Paris in 1928. But they are statues that almost come to life, a clever illusion.
A number of photographers have used the concept that a photograph captures reality to create photographs that do not look ‘real’ Before digital photographic techniques had been available these photographers had gone to great lengths to produce images that look like fakes but are in fact true unaltered photographs of reality. They manipulated the scene to be photographed, staged the scene, rather than the image itself. A master of these staged photographs was Philippe Halsman, Dali Atomicus (1948), took 26 attempts and five hours to create with Salvador Dali jumping into the air as the water and cats are thrown into the scene. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Halsman
Gunter Brus, Self-Portrait (1964), is a dramatic self-mutilation picture created using make-up and paint. Jeff Wall an artist began to make ‘performed’ or staged pictures during the 1970’s in a variety of styles from realistic to hallucinatory. These photographers have created ‘altered reality’ pictures without the use of digital techniques because they have staged or found subjects that do not look real.
Teun Hocks, To and Fro (1986) another fine example of staged photography, with a lone figure outside in bare feet wearing pyjamas and raincoat battling against a high wind. The storm has blown his hat away and scarf up into the air but his candle flame is unmoved.
As mentioned above for years photographers have used the darkroom or more recently Photoshop to manipulate their images but they also manipulated images as they captured them using camera filters. Landscape photographers will use filters to enhance the colour of their subject or graduated filters to reduce the intensity of light over an area of the subject. This is not really altering reality just obtaining the best colour range, the best possible exposure unless of course you take the colour enhancement to extremes and it then becomes obvious that the image is not possible in real life.
John Lund a photographer since the mid 70’s began using Photoshop on Macintosh computers in the early 90’s. His pictures cover the range from enhancement through to the margins of photography. The picture ‘Lighthouse’ is created using a Californian Lighthouse, New Mexico skies and the North Sea. When the three images had been merged and the colour balanced a beam of light was added by adjusting the brightness and contrast to a section of the picture. The viewer is fooled into believing the picture is ‘real’ because it is a perfectly acceptable picture of a lighthouse in stormy conditions and it is constructed from real components. It seems common practice these days for a large bright moon to be added to a picture, the components are real but did that scene ever exist in real life? Alternatively the ‘Woman Atlas’ by John Lund shows a woman carrying the world on her shoulders which is towards the margins of photography as the image is definitely not real and also not believable but certainly an interesting picture.
In conclusion manipulation of images to alter reality has been around for a long while, way before digital photography, to fool the viewer into believing that the image is real or to present a scene which is clearly not real but which is believable in appearance. We have also seen that photographers that staged pictures could create pictures that looked like fakes but are in fact reality. But digital manipulation has allowed photographers to alter reality much easier than before and it also provide a means to produce an artistic interpretation of reality, to create a picture that emphasis what we want to see in a picture, more real than reality itself. There is no hard line between altered reality and real pictures just gradually more invasive techniques. The most important outcome though is that you, the viewer, like the end result!