‘Welcome to the Planet of the Seven Suns, Captain Kirk.’

moon doll

I hope my wife isn’t reading this, for from where I sit to write, I can clearly see two framed photographs, prized because they show studio portraits of daughter, her husband and smiling grand-kids.

My problem with both these pictures however, is in a standard group portraiture set up such as this where a key light, a carefully placed shadowless fill, and maybe a rim light to separate the subjects from the background would have done the job not only adequately but quite competently, and have been aesthetically pleasing, that they also rather disconcertingly show not one, not even two, but seven distinct sets of hard edged shadows of even intensity from random, and to quote Mr Spock, illogical directions around the compass.

While the stark white background, and the outlines of the figures are completely blown out to give the illusion of a ghostly glow, the ‘photographer’, no doubt being a consummate professional, has obviously ‘fixed it in photoshop’ so that the identities of each individual can be made out through the gloomy, shadowy darkness of the almost totally unlit camera side of the subjects, and the resulting clods of digital noise resulting therefrom.

But maybe this particular ‘photographer’ followed the thinking that if it doesn’t quite look right yet, let’s add another light.

Or alternatively; I know I am totally incompetent, and this is a horrible mess I am creating, but at least I will impress these yobbos with the amount of expensive gear I have, and if I convert the photos to black and white, I can bullshit that I am a “creative artist”.

The viewing public has now become accustomed to the presence of multiple shadows, through the daily consumption of:

  • three point lighting schemes necessary to TV sitcoms and soap operas;

  • staging of music concerts, in which the presence of a multiple lightshow is so often used to disguise a lack of substance or musical talent

  • poor, unthinking photoshop compositing;

  • and the ubiquitous built in camera flash, which is used almost exclusively in the modern Gothic Horror genre known as ‘selfies’, as well as amateur and fauxpro ‘portraiture’.

Apparently the popular alternative to multi shadow lighting, amongst the fauxpro ranks at least, is ‘porn lighting’, which is completely shadowless, obliterating all form and modelling, giving more or less attractive models flat round featureless moon faces, and clothing the look of paper cut-outs affixed to cardboard dolls.

(Porn lighting was discussed recently in my blog entitled: Lip Service ? Or it Just Sux?)

It need not be said that his style of lighting is the worst imaginable, but is increasingly appearing in what fauxpros try to convince themselves is their ‘awesome’ attempt at ‘fashion’ photography, but is also found, and is equally unwelcome in glamour, makeover shots, and yes, you are way ahead of me, in ‘portraiture’ (?)

But with this daily exposure to a virtual galaxy of visual stimuli, with apparently naturally occurring and yet physically impossible lighting; coupled with an overwhelming amount of meaningless, uninspired, poorly conceived, exposed and processed crud masquerading as ‘professional’ photography, are we in danger of actually creating an alien culture of visual illiteracy?

The ramifications of this photo-diarrhoea overload may seem minor, and many may claim that I am simply being alarmist based on a petty non-issue, but when considered with the highly selective, edited, and manipulated pictures and video passed off as ‘factual’ in the mainstream press and television news and current affairs, not to mention the increasingly indiscriminate belief in online sources, ranging from the highly suspect to the downright fabrications of the so called ‘satire’ sites, there should at least be a worry.

Yes m’dear, naive Ensign Rand, don’t let it worry your pretty little head but, the camera always lies!

“…Aye Cap’ain she gonna blow any minute noo.”

The following illustration is a shadow map of an image picked at random from the daily spew of ‘awesome images’ that sully the pages of facebook. I should add that it was taken by a self proclaimed ‘facebook professional’ photographer with an ample following of fawning sycophants.

shadow map

(Derived under fair use provisions of the Copyright Act allowing exceptions for education, criticism or review)

To state the bleedin’ obvious…it is an ‘original artwork’, or to quote one of the sycophantic comments, ‘an inspired concept”, reminiscent of the century old, and done to death cliché of the ‘happy sailor glamour girl in the rigging’.

Who knows, in this funny old world of contemporary photography, maybe a copy from an inspiration of a theme from a copy of a derivative work based on a ‘mood board’ was used as the original (?) ‘inspo’.

The theme and composition seem to provoke little thought beyond ‘disembodied head next to ropes against a white background’.

Needless to say while there is a very distinct and no doubt ‘creative’ shadow of the ropes on the background, there is absolutely no corresponding shadow of the figure to match. Look closely and you will notice an extremely soft shadow of the girl, confusingly on the opposite, and seemingly impossible side of her.

And yet once you have seen this strange anomaly, you sense that there is still something not quite right, until you realise that the dominant light source projects shadows to the right, but the shadows on the face of the figure fall oddly to the left.

But needless to say the inspiring artwork still got more than it’s fair share of ‘great lighting’, ‘beautifully creative’ and ‘awesome capture’ comments.

In conclusion, to boldly stretch the Star Trek allusion beyond where no man has gone before:

“It’s photography Jim, but not as we know it!”

©Copyright: Stephen Bennett, MMXVI

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