Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

What an odd title for an article on photography. I struggled a little bit with the topic of the first article on photography that I would post. I mean where do you start? Such a broad topic with so many things to discuss, big things, little things, basics, advanced techniques - so here is where I landed - an article on how to read articles. More precisely, some of my thoughts on human communication, context, and the frame of reference of the transmitter vs. that of the receiver. In this case the transmitter being me and the receiver being you. What I find obvious may not be so obvious to you and vice versa. When communicating people have a tendency to subconsciously skip or not spend much time talking about the things that are obvious to them even thought they may not be so obvious to others. I suggest that you try to envision the context and frame of reference of the writer or speaker on any topic, photography or otherwise. Doing so will help you discover what they mean not just what they say and that is usually more important. Let’s consider a couple of examples. Example one - the title of this article, a blatant rip-off from Mark Twain or somebody. With no context it could mean just about anything. In the context of photography it could mean an article about how all photographs are lies in one way or another. Things not in the frame, things that are in the frame, manipulations done in post production, but it doesn’t. What it means, what I mean is that I have read and heard a million articles and interviews on the subject of things photographic that could be considered lies. That leads us to example two.

Example two - Articles or interviews by or about any one of countless talented and accomplished photographers. Without fail something comes up about how images are made or about style. In describing how a certain look, or style, or image is achieved there are lots of things that get discussed one of which is post-production and Photoshop. Just focusing on post-production and Photoshop for now I cannot count how many times I have read or heard that so-and-so does everything in camera. Anyone who has made more than a few photographs knows how light works, how color works, and how people look, etc, etc can see the images being discussed have been obviously and quite aggressively manipulated, fine tuned, washed, ironed and dried in post-production. So is this a lie and should everything discussed in the article be suspect and distrusted? Well… that depends. Is the motivation of the photographer/writer/speaker to deceive the audience and point the whole world in the wrong direction so only he/she can make those images? Maybe pump up his/her own ego by having others believe that there is some magical ability or discovery that twists the laws of physics and god for only this individual? He/she is sadistic and likes to cause pain to others? These could all be the case but I doubt it.

The photographer/writer/speaker is probably trying to communicate that there is no way to make the images being discussed by taking a poorly lit, soft, badly composed, lousy, silly image and running some filter on it in Photoshop. I whole heartedly agree with this message. So what is my point? I will try my best to avoid absolute terms and generalities, I will try to provide some context, I will do my absolute best to clarify concepts that are obvious to me, especially when I stumble across something that I gloss over subconsciously that may not be obvious to the rest of humanity.

I will make mistakes, I will probably leave out some details that are really important to you. I may even present things in absolute terms that are not absolute. As you read any of the articles presented here (and everywhere else) I encourage that you ask questions, get clarification, and above all use your head. If something does not make sense to you or does not hold true in your experience by all means find out why. What is said in a lot of cases may not be the best way to communicate what is meant.

When in my travels I run across blatant and wide-spread absolutes that are absolutely not absolute I may even write an article on what they probably mean and what to do with them. If you run across them yourself, feel free to share.

Peace RB

blog comments powered by Disqus