Thursday, August 10, 2006

Foreground Interest

If you’re one of those people who take your photography seriously there will inevitably be times when you find yourself wanting something to complement an otherwise so-so landscape shot by sticking something interesting in the foreground. Some travel photographers have been known to carry around small rucksacks filled with colourful scarves that they stick onto someone before shoving them into the frame. I occasionally travel with a bright yellow rubber duckie or girlfriend that can both be used in the same way.

And for those people who haven’t got the forethought to travel with their own portable foreground interest many of the great tourist traps of the world feature professional models who will indulge virtually any whim for a modest fee; blokes dressed as Crazy Horse sitting on a pony in Monument Valley, a veritable legion of legionnaires at the Colosseum, whatever.

The quest for perfect foreground interest can be especially tricky for working photojournalists.

Photojournalists earn their living capturing images of wholesale destruction, often with a wide-angle lens plonked on the front of their camera so that they can pack in as much wholesale destruction as is humanly possible. Under these circumstances, sticking someone in the foreground of the frame to convey a sense of scale, context and heart-wringing ‘human interest’ is an absolute must.

I raise the subject of foreground interest because someone emailed me (thanks Simon) with a link to a story about a woman in Beirut who keeps popping up in the foreground of pictures of buildings flattened by the Israelis.

She certainly looks the part but I reckon she’s just a little too ‘hammy’ for Western tastes

Some commentators in the blog post that talks about this woman have jumped in and claimed that this is proof that all coverage of what is happening in Lebanon is manipulated with an anti-Israeli bias.

Ditto for the now infamous picture of Beirut, processed with the ‘Add shit loads more smoke tool’ available in the latest beta version of Photoshop.

There is, as they say, a war on for our minds.

The truth, as with all disputes, is that we’re undoubtedly on the receiving end of half-truths and embellishments from both sides of the conflict in Lebanon. I don’t doubt for a second that some of the material coming out of Beirut is jizzed up to make it more dramatic and saleable. On the other hand those apartment blocks have clearly been flattened by someone, with or without the addition of the almost mandatory wailing woman in black dress in the foreground.

Or how about that photograph of Israeli children scribbling messages on artillery shells destined for the Lebanon...

Were these kids, as I have read in a few places, put up to it by photojournalists looking for marketable photographs?

Who knows?

The ludicrous part of the entire business of manipulated news and photographs and careful selection of what stories do or don’t get airtime is the way that people, particularly Internet people, will bleat and moan about how biased the media is, except for those times when they see a story that agrees with their world view. At which point they will swallow the story wholesale and without criticism. It doesn’t matter if you’re pro or anti Israel, Left Wing or Right Wing – everyone, and I'm not excluding myself, falls for it.

That is, of course, how The Game is played.

The only real and sustained bias displayed by our media is a pro-corporate agenda. Everything else is just put there to distract us and keep us at each other’s throats.

And it’s working a treat.


de said...

I still reckon the moon landings were all real, but they touched up the photos (in the days when that was a very difficult job) because they looked a bit naff.

The silly astronauts forgot to travel with their own foreground interest objects, like flags that could wave without wind etc..

Stef said...

I agree. Just because the photos are a bit iffy doesn't necessarilly mean the whole thing was staged.

Not necessarilly...