My first reaction to Aziz and Cucher’s Dystopia series was that these guys went a little crazy with the Photoshop cloning tool. Based on their interview with Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, they have some lofty goals that include creating an alternate reality through their work. Aziz says that he has “always been interested in photography for the kind of fiction it produces”. I was reminded of the monster with no eyes on his face in Del Toro’s film, Pan’s Labyrinth, which even in production stills looks more “realistic” than any of the individuals pictured in the Dystopia photographs.
These people have had the life sucked out of them via digital manipulation. Frankly, I think others have been much more a effective at creating realistic looking images using digital tool. These photos wear the badge of manipulation. Areas that could be given realistic modeling look like big flat blotches of pixels. If I want to see “external portraits” of subjects that have “turned inward”, I seek out Van Gogh.
Even though many people believe that photos don’t lie, they always have. Long before digital manipulation became commonplace, photographers distorted reality and told out right lies with their film cameras. Camera tricks can be done with special lenses or filters, vertical and horizontal lines can be shifted using an adjustable bellows, pictures can be double, triple and quadruple exposed to create a variety of dramatic effects. Tricks can be done during processing and even more tricks can be done in a darkroom when making a photographic print. Spiritualist photography, pictures of auras, and pictures of UFOs are usually fabulous fakes made to amaze or to make a profit.
As a photographer, I can tell you that people don’t want to be photographed as they are. They want to be photographed as they see themselves or how they would like to be seen by others. We can blame the media all we like for telling lies, but every person who’s photo I have taken has asked me to tell lies about the way they truly appear. It is a rare woman that doesn’t want her skin softened by filters, her wrinkles and crows feet retouched, and her physique cleverly camouflaged by the choice of camera angle or the magic of Photoshop. Men too, become vain before the lens. They want to be more rugged, more handsome, and manlier.
The media manufactures images of men and women that bear little resemblance to what is real. They do it because they know it will sell products and lifestyles that answer a deep need in their consumer audience. As a society, we seldom accept diversity, each generation and each and every sub culture has it’s own concept of beauty. The media feeds society images that society wants to see, real or unreal. We can blame the media for creating unhealthy role models, but what it takes to combat these illusions is a healthy understanding that film and digital media are not designed to show us what is real. They are only capable of interpreting reality. Let the buyer beware.