So have you seen that new trendy style where someone drops part of an old picture into a new one using Photoshop?
Human beings are strange. They love what they love and they're gonna do what they're gonna do, and that's just that*. Human beings also love gimmicks. And excess. Collectively speaking. We just do.
Being an "idealist" type, I don't care for gimmicks and excess. I like "purism" better. Not as in "my way is better than your way"; it's just what appeals to me, and gratifies me. (Of course I do think my way is better. But everybody thinks that whatever appeals to them is best.)
There have been innumerable gimmicks in photography over the years. Too many to count. Really, all that's changed lately is that a lot of them are easier, and much more widely accessible. Photographers who liked bright, vivid color used to chase after specific film types and high-contrast lenses and so forth, and were still largely blocked from excess of the truly wretched sort. That's no longer the case. Digital means that not only can you indulge in whatever form of excess you want, you can positively wallow in it.
Dropping part of a historical photograph into a modern one of the same scene is one of those gimmicks. One of the latest ones. It seems to bonk people over the head with the startling insight that things happened here in the past that you can't see right this second. As in, a murder happened in this hallway, and a corpse once lay right here where you walk every morning on your way to the parking garage; or, soldiers once fought a pitched battle on this street. And so on.
I dunno. I'm always aware of things like this, so the insight doesn't strike me as particularly deep. And don't get me wrong, I love comparing two different photographs of the same subject separated by time. Still, I wonder about the device of putting the two shots together in one frame. My question would be, why?
It's with great effort, great self-restraint, that I have refrained from illustrating this post. I would like to; this particular gimmick, of dropping a bit of an old photograph into a new one, might be something some people haven't seen. But you see, then it would be in conflict with another of my values, which is that anybody can do anything they dang well please with their own photography as long as they aren't hurting anybody, and it isn't nice to condemn anybody specifically. If don't like infrared, but it would still be rude to put up one specific infrared picture by one specific photographer to illustrate that idea. I don't want to slag anybody specifically for work they obviously like and I don't. Well, actually I do want to, if I'm honest. It's just that I'm trying to be polite.
But back to that "why": I don't understand what's wrong with just putting the whole historical photograph next to a whole modern photograph. Wouldn't that serve exactly the same purpose, only better? I do love to look at such comparisons. Definitely.
I don't know. It isn't up to me; I'm not in charge of all photography. Other people can do what they want. Me, I don't like gimmicks.
Other people generally do. And always will, I guess.
*If you read (and buy into) The China Study, for instance, it seems clear that there already exists an easy way to minimize your risk of the First-World "diseases of affluence" such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. But we'd rather not. We'd rather eat an excessively rich diet loaded with salt, sugar, and fat, animal protein, and processed foods. It's not that we want to get fat and die young; we don't. It's that a 12-ounce steak for dinner and a pint of ice cream every night before bed is delicious and we'd rather not give it up*. Thanks, though.
I honestly saw this on the news the other night: a teaser about how "a new study" shows that eating fruits and vegetables might not be very good for you after all, followed immediately by a teaser about how you could get to try Burger King's new reduced-calorie French fries for free. What an opportunity! Sure, that's news. Now I ask you, how could anyone possibly think that the news has gotten more influenced by commerce? Nonsense.
While I'm on the subject, I went to watch a pool tournament last night, and one of the contestants was an extremely obese man. Not quite to the level of Iz Kamakawiwo'ole, but almost. Every time he missed and lost the table, he would waddle over to the sidelines and pop into his mouth several large spherical breaded and fried objects about the size of ping-pong balls. I don't know what they were, but they smelled delicious.
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Featured Comments from:
Christian: "I think the reason to juxtapose the two images into a single frame is to force the viewer into fully picturing the event then into their perception of now. There's still a momentary disconnect when comparing two photos as you look away from one and then look at the other. That's my take on it, for whatever that's worth."
Steve J: "It's the trendiness of a particular gimmick that becomes quickly tiresome. The first time I saw the superimposed history shots, the series presented a different perspective (effectively playing on my interest in WWII history). But not long after this, online general news sites would announce yet another set, often praising the shots as incredible, amazing, or some other type of superlative.
"At this point, the novelty begins to corrode and the inescapable distaste for faddism (whether fair or not) begins to inform reaction. I should say, however, that the media, not just the photographer, who might have an unquestionably earnest interest in this style, becomes an accomplice. And of course, if these series didn't trigger page clicks, the media would move on. Fingers pointing everywhere.
"But yes, I sympathize with the desire to be open and nonjudgmental while still allowing honest opinion its turn, however conflicting this might be. Undoubtedly, there is a place for everything in photography, including selective color shots, but this does not require indifference, or really even acceptance, just begrudging tolerance I reckon."
Steve Jacob: "Since the advent of digital imaging and Photoshop we can manipulate images in far more extensive ways, which is fine as long as there is equal effort applied to the message itself. Often, when browsing the images on some premium photo website, I am left with the feeling that I have just unwrapped an extravagantly presented and bow-tied parcel to find another pair of socks from Auntie Meg. I'm not a purist, I am very open to new ideas and new styles as they become available, but art has to be more than just technically proficient. It should, at some level, change the way I see or think about the world."
hugh crawford: "Thirty years ago, holding a postcard in the scene was an art school assignment, and it was about 30 years old then. Duchamp or someone? It's hardly new, but some people are doing some interesting stuff with it. Some is quite good. The captions make a huge difference. Or are you thinking of something else?"
Mike replies: I was thinking of something else, but that's a fascinating connection.