Peter Manseau on Photography.

Article from The LA Times by Peter Manseau on photography.

We might look back on 2017 as the year we argued about images.

The Trump era began in earnest when the White House contested aerial photographs showing diminished inaugural crowds. The fight over football players kneeling during the national anthem has played out, in part, through Photoshopped memes of NFL stars burning American flags. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, social media users passed around jpegs of sharks swimming along a freeway. Just how much distance was there between Sen. Al Franken’s fingers and Leeann Tweeden’s flak jacket? Did Sarah Huckabee Sanders really bake that Thanksgiving pie?

These debates reveal that the relationship between seeing and believing is rarely as simple as the old saying suggests. Even as we strive to maintain a tenuous grip on objective reality in this truth-challenged time, we tend to see what we want to see — and perhaps it’s best if we all acknowledged that fact.

After 180 years of living with photographs as part of human experience, we’re still not quite sure how to treat them. The estimated 1 billion photographs we collectively take every day have perhaps taught us to recognize, when we pause to think about it, that all images are framed, composed or selected. Yet we still hold them up as the ultimate documentary evidence. (“Pics or it didn’t happen,” goes the online mantra.) The emotional power of photographs to serve as, in the words of one early observer, “mirrors that remember” causes us to forget that, at best, images are never the whole truth; at worst, they can tell dangerous lies.

“Nothing can be so deceiving as a photograph,” Franz Kafka once said, and the technology of photography has been complicit in this deception from the beginning.

The earliest known photo depicting human activity was itself a work of inadvertent obfuscation. When the man usually credited with inventing photography, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, pointed his camera at the Boulevard du Temple in Paris one morning in 1838, the image he developed showed two figures — a shoe-shiner and his client — standing among trees and buildings beside an otherwise empty road. It’s a striking image. The view it provides is so bereft of movement that two men present could be the lone survivors of a plague.


Mandé Daguerre Boulevard du Temple in Paris Photography

That boulevard was in fact bustling when Daugerre took his picture. In the infancy of the art, exposure times were measured in minutes rather than fractions of seconds, and so the horses, carriages and pedestrians going about their business cannot now be seen. Only those subjects that remained as still as the trees or buildings would be recorded by history. Like any photograph, the scene it shows is proof only that a picture had been made, not of what it seems to portray.

As photography became commercial, the deceptive possibilities of this theoretically objective art became a feature rather than a bug. Some enterprising 19th century portrait artists offered to make stereoscopic blended images of young lovers, supposedly providing a glimpse of the faces of their future children. Others promised to touch up their photographs with paint to remove blemishes or make appearances more appealing. When the renowned photographer Mathew Brady took Mary Todd Lincoln’s picture in 1861, he allayed her fears that she looked too matronly by making her hands more dainty and shaving a few inches off her waistline.

Not long after, Brady helped photography find its most potent realm for deception on the battlefields of the Civil War. He and other chroniclers of the conflict, including Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan and Peter Weaver, are now known to have staged photographs of the dead at Gettysburg. The very men rightly heralded as the progenitors of photojournalism were also pioneers of fake news.

In many cases, their intentions were honorable. As the New York Times reported on Brady’s and Gardner’s work, they succeeded in bringing home “the terrible reality and earnestness of war.” Their less scrupulous contemporaries, however, preyed on the widespread belief that photographs provide true depictions of reality. They fed American hunger for a final look at lost relatives via a booming post-war market in ghost pictures, including an infamous image of the alleged spirit of Abraham Lincoln himself.

The inescapability of photographs in our media-besotted and advertising-saturated times makes it difficult to appreciate just how miraculous they must have seemed when they were novelties, and how utterly convincing they were as a result.

Yet insofar as we are now more savvy in our relationship with images, it is only relative to those who saw them with uncomplicated eyes.

Even now, photographs remain beguiling enough that we are only selectively suspicious — and thus selectively naive — inevitably interpreting images through the lens of preexisting beliefs. The possibilities for altering and sharing images far surpass our capacity for detecting deception, and we are left only with our gut feelings and biases to separate fact from fiction. We remain desperate for photographic evidence while unable to trust what we see.

Peter Manseau is the author most recently of “The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost.” Follow him on Twitter @plmanseau.

Contemporary Event Photography

We recently covered an event for Confidence Capital Ltd at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane. Jason was the photographer on the day and his work reminded me of how far event photography has moved on since I first started covering corporate events in the mid 90s.

Back in the day all photographers were still shooting on film and this had restrictions which light levels would dictate what could be achieved at most events and especially evening events. The standard and accepted way to photograph corporate events was to use medium format cameras with a on camera flash system and try and balance out the low level ambient light within the event location. This method meant most results were posed due to the size of the camera and the need to pose people so the flash lighting was direct and did not cause to many shadows and that it lit people in an even way. I was never a big fan of flash lighting and even less when it was on camera. In my opinion flash is a very harsh light and daylight balance which is never the best source of light when photographing people.

My preferred way of photographing people was using ambient light and catching natural poses with 35mm camera and a fast long lens. I had been using a fast B&W film for many years and by pushing it several stops I was able to shoot in most low level lighting conditions and get unposed photographs at corporate events which clients preferred as this method of working was much less intrusive without large cameras being moved around with flash lighting firing off during key points in the event proceedings. When I went out selling my event photography portfolio most corporate clients were very impressed with the photos and would ask me to quote on upcoming events.

This is where my style and process hit a problem. To shoot in an informal and reportage manner at events you had to shoot lots and lots of film. As it was 35mm you had not polaroid proofing system so you had make sure you had the shots the client needed by covering all aspects and all angles and basically shooting all the time with the knowledge that when the whole commission was edited down at least 10% would be great stuff and fulfil the clients needs. Shooting lots of film meant my quotes/budget were higher than the traditional method so I was only commissioned for key events within the business calendar and this restricted the growth of my event photography service. This brings me back to our recent event that Jason photographed and how the creation of high end professional digital cameras with very high quality file capture and pro software have allowed the contemporary event photographers to cover commissions in reportage way within the same price bracket as any other style of event photography.

Here are some samples from Jason’s commission and we can see from these three images how the camera’s digital sensor and the post production software has managed to level out the contrast caused by the harsh down lighters often found in commercial halls. The most common form of lighting are these small tungsten spotlights which are recessed in the ceiling and give out small pools of direct light in little patches around the building. These make taking photographs very tricky as a person under one of these lights has a very bright light coming directly down on them and this can cause harsh shadows on their face and especially under the eyes. These samples show how Jason has managed to cancel out this unpleasant lighting and come up with photos which have a good range of tones and thin shadows.

contemporary event photography in London


contemporary event photography in London

These next two sample images show that the contemporary style of reportage corporate photography in London can be captured by using a minimal amount of photographic equipment. No need for flash lighting and even using fast long lens with the aid of high ISO setting that no longer cause noise in shadow areas of the image. This allows Jason freedom to move quickly into positions to photograph key moments within the event in a non intrusive way.

contemporary event photography in London

contemporary event photography in London

This last image really brings home how good current software is at levelling out contrast. If you had been at the event the screen on the right of the person would have appeared much brighter and the speaker would have been in semi darkness as this would have allowed the projected screen image to have been seen clearly. We have levelled out the contrast so that the shadow and bright areas are visible and still look natural.

contemporary event photography in London

For further samples of Jason’s and our other corporate photographers work please visit our contemporary corporate photography page.