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Tuesday, 13 May 2008


Thanks Mike, a fun read.

Cheers, Robin

Keep 'em coming - TOP is my go-to place for reading recommendations. I'm almost finished reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Jonathan Green's "American Photography", which I picked up based on a recommendation here.


“When I see a print, I could probably tell you if it was a Pascal print,” Charlotte Cotton, the head of photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said. “It’s immaculate, and there’s a kind of richness to the pixellation. It feels like you could almost sink your finger into it.”

A "richness to the pixellation"!?!?!?!?

What is this homework you've sent us, Mike!? I almost lost a perfectly good cup of tea upon reading the above comment.

I'm all for Photography as Art and digital manipulation. I've "deleted" zits and pimples from people's faces, I've added a soft filter to take a few years off a senior citizen, but I stop at removing permanent features such as scars, moles, etc. And I certainly do not approve of changing the shape of somebody's face or body to fit some frivolous magazine's agenda.

Have you seen this site?:


The name says it all. Because apparently, not everyone is as good as Mr Dangin:


Hey MIke --

No contradiction in what Dangin says -- the key to successful fashion photography, then as now, is to appeal to bourgeois tastes without being obviously bourgeois. The pretense of the avant-garde is critical to sales; the target audience is the bourgeois who don't think of themselves as such (or who aspire to be 'more' than such).

Maybe too cynical ...

"Dangin had actually assembled the cityscape mostly from hundreds of random images that his staff had culled from the Internet. A restaurant marquee in the top left corner of the image was borrowed from a picture of Shanghai. The opposite side had looked inert, he thought, so he imported a white storefront from Amsterdam."

Culled, borrowed, and imported. Obviously we aren't told, but the language implies that pictures on the internet are devoid of copyright and free for the taking. Was permission obtained or payment given (considering the for-profit use of the images)? Taken, appropriated, stolen?

Or maybe I'm mistaken.

I read that the other day. I'm still giggling and at the same time scratching my head.

What a world.

That was great; well worth reading entirely.

I must admit my hackles were raised a bit by, "Dangin had actually assembled the cityscape mostly from hundreds of random images that his staff had culled from the Internet."

I wonder how strict Dangin and his staff are about observing copyright?

All a tad too heavy in the ass...

my fave:

"Another time, Dangin showed me how he had restructured the chest—higher, tighter—of an actress who, to his eye, seemed to have had a clumsy breast enhancement. Like a double negative, virtual plastic surgery cancelled out real plastic surgery, resulting in a believable look."

"I wonder how strict Dangin and his staff are about observing copyright?"

Dear Bruce,
Try using for profit one of HIS images and you'll know for sure.
Very soon, I guess :)

Dear Michael,
It's worth reading for the "reachness to the pixelation" alone :). Thank you.


For anyone interested, if you click at 3rd down left the R and go to RETOUCHING CASE STUDIES you get a very cool blow by blow replay of some ads. The first one is good - clearly a composite from the start, but a funny one.

Great article. I must say I am surprised that "antimony of extremes" got past the New Yorker subs.

Sampling is nothing less than the rendering of artistic and commercial works using metadata as a foundation. Maybe the specific context of commercial image making for advertising purposes may seem like it is a long way from art. I don’t think so. It is just a matter of intent. Actually sampling has a pretty long history in 20th century visual art.

This form of assembled content is just the visual counterpart of digital audio sampling. Years ago people were saying that audio sampling would be the death of original composition and copyright protection would be crushed. In short, lots of gnashing of teeth and wailing about the lost art of the past and a barren future.

Along came people like George Clinton who could see the potential of this new art form. Suddenly there was money to be made and things didn’t look quite so bleak. Sure, much of the sampled music you hear every day is pretty bad, but some of it is excellent and innovative. That reminds me of a quote about ninety percent of everything is crap – well you get the idea.

Spend an hour or two on the Internet listing to KCRW and you will hear some of the very best that audio sampling can offer. Not to your taste? Don’t like the photographic sampling you see? Sorry, make something you like better.

Ken - Maybe I'm missing your point, but I don't think anyone's upset about the sampling.

I think they're upset about a lot of possible copyright infringement. I believe in the music world, all of those samples you hear are, in fact, approved and usually paid for. The best known case was the lawsuit between Queen and Vanilla Ice over the bass line that was used in both "Under Pressure" and "Ice Ice Baby". Vanilla Ice (or his record company) was required to pay royalties to Queen (or their record company).

This is conjecture on my part, but all that sampling didn't crush copyright protection, only because people defended and held onto their copyrights.

The most interesting part of it were the quotes from Annie Leibowitz. I always think of her as a photographer who has perfected lighting to the point where touch up would be unnecessary. Obviously I'm mistaken. I also know she does a lot of composite work. As much as I know she has a lot of detractors, I think she's a fabulous portraitist and a person who truly inspires me, but I realize that if I hold my work up against hers, I'm going to have to be ok with either accepting the imperfections of my own or retouching to match hers.

“Ken - Maybe I'm missing your point, but I don't think anyone's upset about the sampling.” “I think they're upset about a lot of possible copyright infringement.”

Your example is decades old and represents a point in the music business that may be something like where we are today with photography. The copyright issues with photographic sampling will work themselves out over time just as they have for the most part in the music business. I don’t think that people will go around stealing or otherwise subverting content, commercial or otherwise, for very long. There are plenty of lawyers around that will see to that. Some people will allow their work to be sampled and some will not.

My point is that people are confusing the creation of original content using sampled metadata with simple retouching of images. Both are ways of modifying content but they are not the same. That is not to say that you cannot perform retouching using composite images, you certainly can. The difference is one of degree and intent. Also, I don’t believe that the creation of works from sampled images is the bastard stepchild of real artistic or commercial image making. It is real work representing original ideas constructed using metadata.

As in the music business many people will not what their work being used by others. I don’t see a problem with that. Many people will allow image samples to be used, and some will actively encourage people to sample their images. You will make the choice.

The ad world has sure come a long way from airbrushing nipples from women's underwear photos. Heck, now it's spending copious sums to have them put in.

Thanks for posting this, Mike. I was also wondering about the copyright infringement, but the one section that really struck me was the Dove 'Campaign for Real Beauty' ad. Nowadays people expect that a photo of a celebrity has been retouched; it's become commonplace. Dove has an advertisement where they show a 'normal' woman being primped and prepped and retouched for a photo shoot, with the final result appearing on a billboard. This to show us how our ideas of beauty in advertising are so distorted. As a counterpoint to that, they show 'real women' in their undies, supposedly to show 'real beauty'. However, as stated in the article, "I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual “real women” in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” he asked. “But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Showing the mileage but not looking unattractive. That's Dove's idea of 'real beauty'? It's a shame they were unwilling to use 'real photographs' of 'real women'.


Dear folks,

Sampling is not a good analogy to what is described in the article because IP law for music is very different from IP law for visual arts. Trying to decide if something done in the visual arts is legally appropriate by looking to what is allowable in music simply doesn't work.

A better place to look might be collage. In that arena, it's fairly well established that if a component of a collage is its prominent point or feature (and the collage is not specifically a commentary on that component), then permission is required. If the component is merely an incidental element, it isn't.

In this case the background was described as blurry and the article talks about assembling it out of hundreds of individual pieces. Absent seeing the photograph, it sounds to me much more likely this falls on the incidental side of things. In which case, no, there is no violation of intellectual property rights involved.

There is no bright and shining line between "prominent" and "incidental;" there is a broad area where it's a judgment call. But that's always true in IP law. There's no bright and shining line between "inspiration" and "plagiarism" or between fair-use quotation and outright piracy. There will always be cases that one can argue about (and litigate) depending on the extent and intent of the usage. But on the face of it, given the very limited information we have, this doesn't sound like one of them to me.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

The most striking thing to me had little to do with photography, but rather the apparently large amounts of money being spent to retouch this stuff. If you look at old film-based photography, like the Marilyn Monroe "last shoot" (where you can actually see direct prints from some of the negs), how much would you spend to "improve" those shots? And what exactly would be improved? So here's quite a lot of money being spent for very little good that you can put your finger on, and frankly, I doubt the retouching sells one extra handbag or shoe or watch or whatever. In other words, the final client gets exactly nothing for his money. This is just one of those little expensive con games played by insiders that's essentially meaningless in itself; for the art director who approves the bill, it's something he does to demonstrate his power and his ability to pay; a little like Cleopara dissolving pearls in wine...


"This is just one of those little expensive con games played by insiders that's essentially meaningless in itself; for the art director who ap proves the bill, it's something he does to demonstrate his power and his ability to pay; a little like Cleopara dissolving pearls in wine..."

Right...have you noticed that like half the commercials on TV nowadays have dubbed-in voices? Sometimes pretty poorly dubbed, too. I'm sure that's just another example of the same thing--something the ad agency can do to demonstrate it's earning its fees, but which really adds zero value for the client.

It drives me crazy, personally. How people can look at ads and not see it amazes me. But apparently they don't notice.

Mike J.

I have to jump in here and say this article was great reading, but sad, in a way. It really speaks to something I see everyday, a well established photographer (i.e. all the big names) who is completely ill prepared for the digital revolution.

The fact is, the established names in fashion/advertising only knew film, they have no idea what photoshop is, or how to use it, and I am dead serious. If you watch the annie liebowitz documentary on PBS, the most recent one, I can't remember the name, she is on location at Versailles, she sets up a a shot gets handed an EOS 1D mark 2, points it at the subject, then pushes the shutter: "It's not working" she says, the assistant hurriedly comes over and and flips a switch... she couldn't even turn the camera on.

I am not hating on the big names, I am happy they are able to hold onto their jobs, but if you can't even turn on a digital camera, are you a photographer, or are you something else? When you consider that no one at the high end does their own retouching (at least no one I have met, a very limited pool admittedly), who is the artist? Is it the photographer, or the hordes of underpaid lackeys who aren't named Pascal.


Photographers in the film age didn't do a whole heck of a lot of retouching either. Some guys did some minor color correction..basic stuff. Very, very few did that. Retouching work was almost always farmed out to guys and gals who understood that magic.

Photographers running high end projects and a studio with a decent full time crew relied, and still do, on crack assistants who handled everything on set (they knew the secrets of their boss' light).. I'm not saying that the photogs of that day didn't do anything..of course they did, they drove the direction of everything and stepped in to refine and tweak before shooting final film.

I don't blink an eye at Annie not being concerned with those details..turning a camera on. I've seen many photpgraphers hand off a Hasselblad with a the dark slide still in after trying to fire it..or whatever. Done it myself msany times when there are 4 clients lingering around and evrything's coming down to the very small details that make a shot before film.
It's a fast moving situation and the photographer eyes are working hard..darting around and making sure everything's right before starting to shoot. That stuff went on all the time in tons of studios.

By the way...seasoned assistants these days, make a pretty decent coin compared to how it used to be.

The paper version has a before and after image which is great fun. I put circles round all the changes I could see and then wondered where to post it for entry a the free prize draw.

There was apparently an error made in the article with regards to the Dove project. Since I criticized them both in a previous comment, it's only fair to rectify that:

Dangin said: "The recent article published by The New Yorker incorrectly implies that I retouched the images in connection with the Dove 'real women' ad.

"I only worked on the Dove ProAge campaign taken by Annie Leibovitz and was directed only to remove dust and do colour correction -- both the integrity of the photographs and the women's natural beauty were maintained."

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