Two portfolios well worth looking at:
Photos of Abandoned Russia, mostly by Russian photographers.
More less as an aside, another thing I found at the Atlantic site that I loved is "Your Lying Mind: The Cognitive Biases Tricking Your Brain," which mentions an economist who uses constructed photographs to modify cognitive behavior:
"[Present bias] led a scholar named Hal Hershfield to play around with photographs. Hershfield is a marketing professor at UCLA whose research starts from the idea that people are 'estranged' from their future self. As a result, he explained in a 2011 paper, 'saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now.' The paper described an attempt by Hershfield and several colleagues to modify that state of mind in their students. They had the students observe, for a minute or so, virtual-reality avatars showing what they would look like at age 70. Then they asked the students what they would do if they unexpectedly came into $1,000. The students who had looked their older self in the eye said they would put an average of $172 into a retirement account. That’s more than double the amount that would have been invested by members of the control group, who were willing to sock away an average of only $80."
Another bit that from the article that made me laugh: economists will routinely walk out of bad movies and stop eating bad meals in restaurants.
Why? Because they've internalized the sunk-cost fallacy. "Sunk-cost thinking," as you probably know, "tells us to stick with a bad investment because of the money we have already lost on it; to finish an unappetizing restaurant meal because, after all, we’re paying for it; to prosecute an unwinnable war because of the investment of blood and treasure." The article makes no bones about it: "In all cases, this way of thinking is rubbish."
The "Lying Mind" has little to do with photography (except that it tells you not to believe your eyes), but I couldn't help thinking of a cognitive bias called "base-rate neglect" when I was looking at the pictures of the California wildfires. Base-rate neglect is defined as people's "disinclination to believe statistical and other general evidence, basing their judgments instead on individual examples and vivid anecdotes." "Individual examples and vivid anecdotes" describes the reason why photographs so often bring distant events and dull statistics to life for us—they personalize abstractions and make news more real. Bet you can't look at the photograph of the beaming policeman and the orphaned fawn without feeling some sort of emotion.
But it occurred to me that base-rate neglect is exactly why honest journalism and objective editing is so crucial, and why it can't be replaced by random and relativistic crowd-sourcing, marketing, and propaganda: because when something is well-edited, we can more readily believe that the journalists are showing us "individual examples and vivid anecdotes" that accord accurately with their honest perception of "statistical and other general evidence." In other words, we trust that an edited set of photographs of the California wildfires give us a broader "picture" of the event that's in line with everything else the photographers and photo-editors know about the situation. They're anecdotal, all right, but they're accurate anecdotes.
Cynics will say that's just the ideal of journalism, not something journalism always actually achieves. Which is probably true. But since when it is no longer worth striving for ideals?
P.S. In the Wildfire portfolio, note especially photo #11. That's the overpass from which Ansel Adams took his famous picture "Clearing Winter Storm, 1935."
(Thanks to Jim Hayes and Scott Kirkpatrick)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Greg Mironchuk: "I know that this is a personal bias...but...I can't get past the observation that all the photos in the Abandoned Russia piece were sourced from Wikipedia and Shutterstock...either free, or 50 cents per photo. They must have invested a whole $12.00 on this, including a pro-rata on their Web Guy's time. As a person who spent most of his adult life being paid to make photos (and watching that all dry up, and go away), I can't help but feel hurt about this. Even if the genesis of the piece's fundamental idea was to use Russian photographers/photographs, they could have invested twenty minutes, and a few dollars, on Russian Pro Photographers, and Russian Professional stock photos...if, for nothing else, because we all ought to be watching each others' backs, in bad times...not exploiting anything that we can get away with not paying for. Shame on The Atlantic."
Mike replies: Reminds me of this cover. By the way, the Harlan Ellison [R.I.P.] video in that post still makes me laugh.
And if you go see that video on that post, be sure to see this followup. But be sure to watch the video first.
Chris Kern: "Photographers, of course, are notoriously subject to incremental lens bias, the persistent fallacious belief that adding just one more lens to their inventory will significantly improve their work."
Peter Wright: "Both of these excellent portfolios show pictures that are surrealist and apocalyptic. Both show subject matter that is in the process of change: one very rapid and one relatively slow, but neither set would be possible at some not-too-distant time in the future. They really show photography's strength and counteract the 'It's all been shot already' type of thinking. Thanks for drawing our attention."
Oskar Ojala: "Have to agree with Greg about the photos of the abandoned places in Russia. And the overall quality shows: the photos are not stylistically similar at all and practically no effort has been spent into tying these photos into some sort of narrative, explaining how they relate to history and geography. This would have been important due to the vast areas and multiple key events in history involved. Sadly, it's more reminiscent of one of those 'Top 21' lists on the Internet rather than a proper piece."
Bahi: "Last night, I heard two long audio interviews (part 1 and part 2) with Spencer Greenberg, touching on cognitive biases among other things. Mike, I know you're not a fan of long audio interviews but I found them interesting enough that I ended up visiting one of Greenberg's own sites, Clearer Thinking, which I think you'd like. It provides tests and articles to try to help us deal with our own misconceptions and biases. I tried some of the tests and found them useful and interesting."
Igor: "Ha! For abandoned as well as modern Russia you should go here. There are orders of magnitude more interesting photos with meaningful text on that site. The Atlantic pales in comparison."
Steve Rosenblum (partial comment): "Yes, the field documenting cognitive biases was pretty much started in the 1970s by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and Kahneman later won the Nobel Prize in Economics for their work despite being a psychologist (Twersky had died earlier and Nobels only go to the living). Danny Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow is a fascinating account of their work if you want the technical detail, and Michael Lewis's book The Undoing Project explains the work within the context of their long friendship and working relationship. The tendency of our minds to play cognitive tricks on us should concern pretty much anyone involved in important decision making. I know that it gave me great pause during the years of my medical practice. There is no doubt that we doctors frequently make poor decisions due to these sorts of biases."