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Wednesday, 10 September 2008


The Liebovitz portrait would never convince you that the Queen was actually in that landscape. For one thing the light is coming from under the clouds from the background but from the upper right on her face. The landscape is atmospheric, the figure has none. At best it hearkens to the early days of photographic portraiture when it was vogue (and arguably technically necessary due to slow film emulsions and optics) to sit a studio subject against backgrounds which were unlikely environments.

Annie has made the Queen into a floating apparition. It is just plain awful. I hope the person who actually did the PS post processing work uses this as a resume sample.

Does the technique behind an image still matter so much? I differentiate several stages:

1. Photo[graph]; that is the description of the technical way to acquire a
2. Picture; which is just saying that there is some recognisable pictorial contents coming out of pushing a button. Only if it relates more it becomes
3. Image; containing several levels of interpretative creation.

Everyone of us knows the difference between 1 and 2 because everyone of us has had the accidental shutter release in a photobag or with lens cap still on. The result is clearly a photgraph but not a picture.

The difference between picture [which does not rely on the technical means, thus can be a painting] and image should also be quite clear to anyone who has ever seen a typical holiday shot or picture postcard.

DO I care how the author created his image? No. As long as it is interesting.

I guess how you feel about this depends where you're coming from. Someone (and I guess the Queen may be the someone or was at least compliant with the someone) wanted a particular type of portrait of the Queen for a particular purpose. Liebovitz provided it. Knowing how it was created seems to change how we feel about it but why should it? If it had been painted we wouldn't complain about the rendering of the background. I think the fact that photography sits athwart multiple faculties (journalism and art, to name two) makes us uncomfortable when the canons of one medium are transgressed - but as long as this is presented as an "artistic" portrait of the Queen and not a newsworthy shot of the Queen promenading in her garden why should we care what techniques were used to create it?

"DO I care how the author created his image? No."

Well, I certainly do.

Mike J.

Re: some of the comments above - An "environmental portrait" photograph implies that the subject was in the environment in which they are pictured. That environment can legitimately be "studio" or "location," but to shoot in the former and then visually imply it was shot in the latter does reduce the street cred of any environmental-portrait photographer. (I emphasize "photographer" because yes, expectations are different for photographic portraits than for paintings.)

Indeed, Leibovitz is famous for getting subjects to pose in unusual environments and/or garb: Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk; Schwarzenegger on a white horse on the beach; a naked John Lennon hugging a clothed Yoko; Mick Jagger, soaked, in an elevator; Meryl Streep tugging on her cheeks in white clownface paint; Miley Cyrus in only a towel; a pregnant Demi Moore in no garb at all. That's why seeing Leibovitz's byline under a portrait carries certain implications about where she persuaded the subject to go, literally or figuratively (or at least it carried those implications until now).

Now, if Leibovitz is willing to say, "I'm NOT an environmental portraitist, so don't ever assume that my portraits were shot where they appear to have been shot, or that the subjects were wearing what they appear to have been wearing," that would change everything. But I'm not sure she wants viewers to be that skeptical of her life's work.

Historically, when portraits of royalty and other such folks were painted, not only were the backgrounds often unreal, so was the person portrayed by the time the painter had gotten done "improving" them. That's because portraits such as these aren't meant to be "real", they're meant to be awe-inspiring and imposing. What's Leibovitz doing that hasn't been done for the past, oh, 2,000 years?

"What's Leibovitz doing that hasn't been done for the past, oh, 2,000 years?"

Using cameras and computers, to name just two.

Mike J.

Ms Leibovitz doesn't seem to have done anything interesting in quite a while. Robert Noble listed a good number of "classic" Leibovitz pics that called my attention to her back when she shot them (70s, 80s, any in the 90s?). All the stuff I've seen of hers lately could have been shot by a well-trained chimp; it's all been heavily photoshopped, and not by her. In view of this, can we even say that this is a true Anne Leibovitz photograph? I think not.

So, I am looking at this portrait as if it had been taken by a trained chimp, and I like it. It's dark and moody, much like the future of the British Royal family. And while I like knowing that the trained chimp didn't take the Queen to the garden but used Photoshop instead, one is not too bothered by this fact, as the final picture is what interests me.

“‘DO I care how the author created his image? No.’

Well, I certainly do.”

But does the “how” affect the value of the artistic/aesthetic achievement for you?

Or does your statement indicate an interest in craft. Or even a concern about honesty or integrity in an image. The recent flurry of discussions over several photoshopped photojuournalistic images show that many of us are concerned about this. A journalistic photo purports to show a certain set of visual facts that existed at the time the photograph was taken, and when that turns out not to be true, we feel lied to. But an image like Liebovitz’ above makes no such claim inherently.

So I’m interested in whether the “how” affects your judgment of the aesthetic object.

"A journalistic photo purports to show a certain set of visual facts that existed at the time the photograph was taken, and when that turns out not to be true, we feel lied to. But an image like Liebovitz’ above makes no such claim inherently."

If not "inherently," then "implicitly" for most of Leibovitz's widely known oeuvre. Would anyone argue that the power of the Whoopi-Goldberg-in-a-tub-of-milk image is due entirely to aesthetics, or is "how the picture was made" a factor too? In other words, would that portrait have become just as iconic if Leibovitz had photographed Goldberg lying on the floor of a studio and then Photoshopped her into a tub of milk? Same for Schwarzenegger on the horse at the beach: if she'd photographed Ahnold astride a sawhorse in her studio, and then Photoshopped him onto a horse, and then Photoshopped the horse into the beach scene, would the photograph be as compelling? Would it have helped Annie become one of the most famous photographers in the world?

Again, if Leibovitz is willing to say, "Don't trust the backgrounds or contexts in my photos," then I agree: it would be unreasonable to be disappointed when it was revealed that a subject of hers was not photographed where it appeared to be.

But as I said above, I'm not sure Leibovitz wants viewers to be that skeptical of her life's work -- lest she be regarded as nothing more than the PS chimp Misere memorably portrays her to be in his post above.

To view Goldberg photo:


To view Schwarzenegger and Demi Moore photos:


Personally, I quite enjoy satirical photoshoppery, its kinda like editorial cartoons. I just wish the Queen had arms to match her age in the first image. ch

It looks to me as though Ms Leibowitz, consciously or otherwise, has been influenced by Pietro Annigoni's 1969 painting of HMQ. See http://flickr.com/photos/22214753@N07/2263783434 for a version.


I have to say Mike that ' one is not amused '

I think for many people the idea that "pictures don't lie" is suppose to hold true. We feel deceived when someone does this kind of photoshop work to create something very different than the original photograph. Photography tends to imply a reality that cannot be obtained with other forms of art. That is part of it's beauty. If you want a picture of the queen like the one above why would you not just have it painted (or better yet use Painter X). It could be quite beautiful but without the implications of a photo.

I tend to see work like this being done as an attempt to make up for an average photograph, particularly from someone with such a reputation. To me it suggests that she has lost her edge and is trying to keep us interested in her work despite hitting the wall. That, of course, is only opinion. I hope it isn't true.

I've never noticed it before but from the McDonald's portrait I can see that the Queen has fantastically youthful skin on her forearms...

Mike, exactly what difference do the tools make? Fake-with-camera = bad, fake-with-paint = good? How do you figure that?

I don't know about you (or, come to think of it, I guess I do), but the last thing I expect from a famous person's portrait is verisimilitude. It's a portrait, not a document. It's an interpretation of that person's standing in the world, not an actual record of, in this case, Liz, the old broad who used to drive trucks during WW2.

I don't see why anyone should be upset by the added background in that portrait of the Queen. There's no deception at all when the photographer TELLS everyone that she added the background digitally. This was evident in the BBC video too. She had less than 25 minutes with the Queen and managed to make several good portraits in that time. The background is added for artistic reasons. I imagine the photo with the canvas background was a good portrait too, but didn't seem appropriate for the subject.

What sets a good photographer apart is how well they describe the subject that's in front of them.

The image describes, Leibovitz.

Let's be clear about something: A news photo purporting actual news [not an op-ed] shall not be changed after the fact.

Don't now try to be clever telling us that any photograph is always changed after the fact, that is the kind of bad argument giving Sophists their bad name. We all know quite well the difference between developing a negative or RAW to get as much information as is in it to show and manipulating the contents.

As several have pointed out, neither the satirical image nor Ms Leibovitz' portrait are news reporting. It could be said that the satire uses our preconceptions towards photography and its verisimilitude to enhance the basic point, which could equally well have been made by Giles or Thelwell.

Does the actual immersion of Ms Goldberg into milk play any role in the aesthetics of the portrait? No, it doesn't. I am not even sure it is milk, though I would have used it because it would have been the easiest way to achieve the effect.

Art is not about superficial verisimilitude, it is not just recording what everybody sees. Art tries to be honest to the world as one [wo]man sees it, or to truths that lie beneath the surface. One of Shakespeare's achievements was finding universals in human behaviour, then applying them to the standards of his time, making them specific but at the same time transcending his immediate surrounding. If that wasn't so, nobody but scholars would be interested in his plays, sonnets and poems anymore. He actually was out of fashion for a time.

Mike, you may be interested in the how but I doubt you are interested more in it than in the what and why. In a very basic sense I, and every other image-maker, am interested in the how, too. I want to know how to achieve a certain effect but only to see if I find an easier [or more suitable] way to achieve the same or something similar.

Eventually it is the effect, not the technicalities, that matters.

I think Roger Whitehead hit the nail on the head. My first re-action to the portrait was exactly the same, a homage to Annigoni, and an image that most of her subjects would recognise immediately.

Much as I hate the concept of getting into an artists head I think Leibovitz knew exactly what she was doing when she took this portrait and most likely had the idea of the background being inserted in Photoshop.

Its allegorical in ways. The subject is in her declining years and the background appears to be a winter sunset.

Its a picture/portrait as opposed to a photograph. 99% of the viewers won't give a rats ass how it was achieved but just enjoy it for what it is, a nice picture of an older Quenn Elizabeth with an air of gravitas suited to the subject.

Paul Mc Cann

"exactly what difference do the tools make? Fake-with-camera = bad, fake-with-paint = good?"

I have failed in my mission.

Mike J.

"Eventually it is the effect, not the technicalities, that matters."

I think it would be corrupt of me to present something as food for thought and then presume to dictate to people what they ought to think. However, I will just say--as further food for thought--that I think honesty is not a technicality.

Mike J.

Mike, I am sure that

a) you read my posts and understood them,
b) you are an intelligent and well-learned man [I remember something about a degree in philosphy?!].

I never claimed 'honesty' as a technicality. I did differentiate between truth in reportage - the opposite of what Faux News does - and truth in Art, which is not about superficial facts but deeper meaning. A satirist will not adhere to the facts alone unless they are what Germans call 'Realsatire' [Bill O'Reilly comes to mind]. An artist does not even have the obligation to adhere to facts at all.

Both of your example photos are brilliant examples for these two PoVs. The satire is not that Elizabeth Windsor now has to flip burgers because economy is bad. The Queen's portrait does not the least depend upon the actual circumstances. And you know that.

Honesty in advertising is ok with me. Honesty in news reporting should be the norm.
Honesty in art - as applied to the artist's vision - is probably necessary to produce great art.
Honesty in satire - as far as it is about the subject - is definitely necessary or it would be hollow.

In these cases and with the important exception of news reporting honesty is not defined by pristine, that is non-manipulated, photos.

My main issue with the portrait is that it's just so ordinary.
You or I could have done it, photoshop and all.
Somehow the thought that it was over in a matter of a few minutes helps to reduce it to a bit of a snapshot. I like to think that there's more to getting a great portratit than just to have the queen wander in, do the obligatory curtsy, have her pose, click and away you go; then tweak it to the finished product in PS.
Nice work if you can get it!

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