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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

When Truth Lies: The Faked Iranian Missile Test

Posted by shanamaidel on July 21, 2008

Although “the media” and “olam hablog” is in a big kerfuffle over how Iran doctored a bunch of images for AFP to make themselves seem high and mighty, and to make us freak out over the possibility of a bombing run in Israel, for me, this is just another reminder of how intrusive the basics of media are in our daily lives. They’ve becomes impossible to filter out, and becomes so essential to our daily truths.

So here are some reminders about images in the media, and why you should always remain skeptical of images presented in front of you.

[UPDATE] Some hilarious responses across the blogosphere to this incident were posted on Jewlicious.

1) Cameras, eyes, and photographs are all very different creatures.
A camera is just a very tiny camera obscura, with a lens attached. This can create all sorts of optical illusions and distortions (some of which the lens helps, some of which the lens hurts). Otherwise one would get a static unprocessed, unattached image.

Eyes, while also a camera obscura, have a fundamental difference to a camera; they are an organ attached to a brain. Images are filled in, processed, colored, and labeled as fast as your nerves can possibly work. There are limits to seeing. It can not create images out of what has never been presented to it. So without weird lens (such as a telephoto) in front of it, the eye cannot naturally see people, actions, and the world in the ways specifically associated with a camera (among other things). With the brain, eyes can do all sorts of strange sorts of image recognition. It is possible with brain damage to see a face and not recognize it as such, even though it can recognize every element of a face. Despite the plasticity of neural tissue, tricking the sense of sight is very easy. We all want to see what we want to see, because we don’t have time to look for the subtle clues that something is off or different.

Film and photopaper fix an image through a bunch of chemical processes/printing. This adds another layer of complexity to an image caught in a camera. It is now being affected by the chemistry of paper/film. I’m not an expert, but anyone will tell you that certain colors will look better printed with certain printers, if what you are looking for is as close to an accurate reproduction to the way the image looks in life. This also holds true with traditional photography and its silver based processes. Photographers get upset when films get discontinued because each chemistry for each film provides a different looks. Development adds further layers of complexity to an image, giving it a unique touch of the artist’s hand. So does Photoshop.

2) Every Image is edited in the media. I’ve taken a few point and shoots here and there, for artistic reason (and I would love to invest in a real SLR) and I’ve used Photoshop, as well had discussions about its uses. Every image in the media is edited, since the beginning of the history of photography. Even the greats, like Paul Strand, who claim not to edit, edit. (I have that on the word of Joel Snyder, who reprinted his images when he was with the Chicago Albumen Works.). If you want, you can be hired by AP to edit photos.

The question is: How much editing is allowed?
For AP and other newswires- it is a fairly “strict” standard. Most people read it in the strict way, but it does have a lot of wiggle room.

AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or manipulate the content of a photograph in any way.

The content of a photograph must not be altered in PhotoShop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by PhotoShop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust and scratches are acceptable.

Minor adjustments in PhotoShop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into gray-scale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging often used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning.

When an employee has questions about the use of such methods or the AP’s requirements and limitations on photo editing, he or she should contact a senior photo editor prior to the transmission of any image.

On those occasions when we transmit images that have been provided and altered by a source – the faces obscured, for example – the caption must clearly explain it.

(To explain: you cannot violate the integrity of the photograph. You can reprocess it in Photoshop to get rid of over/underexposed areas, red eye, dust marks, and that that guy waving hello to his mom…anything else is contact the AP)

But that advertisement next to it, is going to be much less strict about photo-editing. They make money by showing us this abnormally high standard. Buyer beware.

3) As shown by Iran-gate: rendering is much easier than it looks, especially when you start out with a base image. Granted it does look a little funny with the repetitiveness, and the perspective change is wrong, but those images show how easy it is to trick the mind with the right equipment, such as a mind blowing processor, a lot of RAM, AutoCad, and Illustrator, not to mention a touch-up in Photoshop (just a guess though, not my field), and good image know-how (which I don’t have). You could even rend those images correctly without a starter image. Granted, you would need to be a whack-job out to scare the US foreign policy community, but it is still possible to do. You can see similar sorts of images on DeviantART (of placid mountain lakes). You would never believe they do not actually exist in real life. However, they don’t. They are completely and absolutely fake.

Truth hurts, doesn’t it? No reason why any image you see is real? Most likely they all are a tad fake.

My Advice:
“Real” photographs (and video) will feel it. People and the world almost never end up on film with a clearly perfect quality. If it feels that way in your gut, you are probably right.

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2 Responses to “When Truth Lies: The Faked Iranian Missile Test”

  1. Jay Heiser said

    To be fair to the ‘editing’ profession, the term refers to the process of choosing what photo will be used in a publication, not actually creating or manipulating the photo. Saying that a picture has been subject to an editorial process does not imply in any way that the picture was modified by the editor, let alone subject to manipulation that would misrepresent history.

    Its the job of the Photographer to take the picture. It is the job of an artist or graphic technician to ensure that the digital photograph is rendered appropriately for the output, including cropping, exposure, and color balance. The Picture Editor may have provided guidance to the photographer, and possibly to the technician, and then will make the final choice as to what to publish.

    The editor is responsible for ensuring that what is used does meet the publications integrity standards, and it is disappointing that in this case, a fairly obvious looking cut & paste job was copied from a political web site and distributed to major newspapers.

  2. See I was sneaky-I checked out your post. Then I looked at the link you provided about Reuters policy. The editorial desk is providing calibrated monitors and people to touch your photo up. (not that this is a news agency yet…) It is not like an editor has no input. (kudos on your post though)

    Furthermore, this issue is so old school it is scary. Matthew Brady took credit for photographs that were not his (ala afp). And all the skies in those photographs, due to the nature of wet collodion, were overexposed (blue light is the most sensitive for this kind of medium), so they were added separately from either a picture of just the sky or painted on. All the weather for the photographs of the Battle of Bull Run are Fake!!

    We’ve also had divisions of labor for “development of a photo when it comes to this sort of labor for as long as photos existed.

    The “true” photograph has been under serious redefition for a long long time. But that was never the purpose of writing this. It has always been in flux as an art versus a craft(labor) with problems of who actually does the creation (uhhh then sun?) since the creation of the daguerreotype.

    Howver this was never my purpose in writing this piece. It was meant to be ahistorical/contemporary. The idea was to make a reader more wary of the media. People can sometimes think that images are what the eye perceives but that is not true, and I apologize if that is not specific enough as a thesis.

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