Winston Churchill with false quote
Winston Churchill with false quote
Winston the Metal Freak

The Art of Digitally Manipulating Your Brain

The art of digital photography is always disputed as an idea of thinking about photography. Digital has changed the meaning of a photograph and probably has more of an impact on our lives than we at first realize.

Taking pictures, doing a shoot, or just making snapshots of the Christmas tree, are all acts with an intention to capture a moment. But it can often lead to a desire to manipulate the original to fit the intention.

An image and memory are two very different things.

We can imagine things, but we can’t keep those imaginings as solid images in our minds. The memory has a way of changing things. Even memories that we claim to be rock-solid factual memories of a past event, have probably changed to suit our own perception of life.

A camera takes a shot, and holds that digital image for as long as the pixels don’t deteriorate, or become manipulated in post-processing the photo. That’s what makes photography a useful tool. It also becomes a tool that we use to manipulate our vision and ideas.

Some of us need to take it a step further and make photos that express not only the moment, but also how we personally experienced that moment. So we learn how to adjust the camera settings to tweak the light, and the speed at which an image is recorded. The results vary according to how we balance the settings of ISO, Shutter Speed, and F-Stop.

It’s all about light. How fast that light enters the camera, how much light enters the camera, and how intense the light is when it hits the sensor.

Imagine, just by manipulating light and recording it, we can express what we feel about an object or a person. Technology is amazing.

The misuse of this ability to control the light with a camera has caused many a friendship to turn sour.

One of the problems with digital technology is the consensus that it makes everything easier for us. This is not true. It makes everything overwhelmingly fast and difficult for us to understand.

Somehow, Cameras and digital processing software are being combined as if they belong together. Photoshop is useful for a photographer when they want to adjust the light after the shot. But the belief that you must learn everything about Photoshop or similar to be a good photographer is an erroneous belief based on commercial marketing. To take photos you only need a camera.

Learning to take great photos is about exploration of the connection between the tool (camera) and you thought processes.

Before digital photography became a useful tool, analogue cameras were a thing. Cameras that carried a roll of film were a big challenge to the photographer — harder to use than a digital camera simply because you had to have a lot of faith in your abilities.

There was always something horribly enjoyable about the wait between taking a shot and finally seeing it fully developed on paper. You’d discover if you had been able to combine your skills at controlling the camera and your thoughts at the time of taking the shot.

The darkroom was a place to develop film, but a few tricks were always a part of the process. Dodging and burning on the paper allowed the photographer to manipulate the image to a point where it was satisfying, and reflected the thoughts of the photographer.

Trick Photography and Hoaxes

Trick photography was a clunky process of coming up with ideas that were often too elaborate to be bothered with.

Sometimes, people want to deliberately hoax the public and enjoy the publicity. These days, those hoaxes can create an enormous online following that will ensure large incomes.

Manipulating perspectives while taking the shot allowed photographers to create ideas that caused the viewer to question what’s in the photo.

Two or three adventurous men hanging around a large lake in Scotland once combined a plastic toy of a plesiosaurus with a toy submarine to make the whole world believe that there was a monster in Scotland’s Loch Ness. It took forty years before the photographer, Robert Wilson, finally admitted that it was a brilliant fake.

Image of the Loch Ness Monster
Image of the Loch Ness Monster
The Real Loch Ness Monster

The public loved it, and continue to believe that a monster must exist in Loch Ness. There’s just too many photos of ripples, strange shaped creatures, and shadowy looking figures in Lock Ness for it not to be real.

In spite of admitting it was a hoax, the public show willingness to continue in the belief that a monster probably does exist in Loch Ness. Life is more fun when we believe in things that can’t be disproved.

All you need is photographic evidence, then allow an audience to build their own narrative of “facts”.

Picasso said, create your own truth, then spend all your time convincing the rest of the world that it’s true. That’s a truth in art. Now, it gets used in business and politics.

According to photography, both analogue and digital, Yetis exist in the Himalayas, Sasquatch in Canada and parts of the USA.

Yet, in the United Kingdom where for at least six or seven decades Big Cats such as Pumas, Leopards, and once in Yorkshire a Siberian Tiger was sighted by a man while driving across farmland in a forklift truck, these big cats are considered a product of people’s vivid imaginations. Everybody knows that Pumas don’t belong in England.

The Yorkshire man claimed that the tiger leaped out of a woodland, and started to smash its paws against the perspex glass of the cabin. He was terrified when he returned.

There were doubts from colleagues and the local police, he had no photos of the incident, so it could easily be waved off as not real.

He showed the police the fork lift truck which was covered in weal marks that the tiger had left after ripping at the paint work with its massive claws. The police were impressed, and in spite of the man’s obvious trauma, hardly convinced at such a wild story.

When the police asked him to look at photographs of tigers in a folder they had compiled, he flipped through the pages easily, but when he saw the photograph of a Siberian Tiger the police said that he once again expressed fear as he pointed at it.

Weal marks from tiger claws, a petrified farm worker, and a positive identification of a Siberian Tiger weren’t good enough to convince the authorities that Tiger was roaming the Yorkshire Dales.

If the man had produced a mobile phone full of snarling tiger fangs and claws ripping at the exterior of his truck, he would probably have been immediately believed.

All you need is a photograph to prove your point, and you’ve started a narrative that can be twisted and turned to suit whoever cares to use it.

Digital photography has opened up a whole new world of truth, ready to be discovered, for photographers with an artistic bent. Pixels can be manipulated on photos.

We can take a photo of a crying baby and with a little sensitive dodging and burning followed by a slight “warp-liquify” process to the cheeks, we have a laughing baby. And it will go into the family album as such, then years later never be disputed that the baby was laughing about something shiny hanging on the Christmas tree.

Instagram is a haven for liars. Influencers have been caught out, again and again, while selling health products online. In order to “influence” their audience into purchasing the product, they felt pressured into tweaking their own waistline and raising their cheek bones a touch to ensure that followers would want the same look that the product promised.

Men with beer bellies, woman with wide hips, all washed away in minutes with the press of a button or two. Hey presto, Six Pack abs, and slimline starlet beauties with one million followers who want what they see in the digital photograph.

Recently, and interestingly, there was a photograph of a UK beach with holiday makers in the online Guardian newspaper. The piece was written by George Monbiot.

It was the 1970s, Brighton Beach. Someone pointed out that all of the people in the photo, families, children, adults, older people, were all slim and fit looking. There wasn’t an overweight Brit in sight.

1970s Brighton Beach
1970s Brighton Beach
1970s Brighton Beach

At first, online commentators were astonished. Then, after a few weeks, there was a line of commentary that the photo was a Photoshopped version of the original. Which isn’t a fact. The photo depicts a common sight from those times. Slim people.

People tried to point out that in those days, people generally didn’t eat as much food as people do today. Three square meals a day, nothing in between, and if you missed lunch it was tough luck.

A bag of crisps was a treat, and only a small one at that. No family sized packets of anything.

Statistics and Facts

There were many explanations for the slimness. The Photoshopping explanation won the day, and in most threads on the internet you can find commentators declaring that it was proved to be a fake; it wasn’t, and isn’t a fake.

Statistics and people’s memories tell us that it’s a real photo. People ate the same amount of food as today. They didn’t eat so much sugary foods as people do these days, though. So, 2,300 calories of beef and potatoes, is very different to 2,300 calories of soda drinks, high fat chips and supermarket processed foods. That’s the official explanation.

The problem is that the photo doesn’t show the average internet consumer the truth they are used to; that most people have weight problems, and that problem is as old as the hills. Actually, it’s a recent phenomenon in society.

Art and Reality

The line between art and reality has become warped. We now live in a world of creators. With life increasingly becoming an online experience it becomes ever easier to manipulate what’s really happening outside in the real world.

We read the news online, see pictures of events from around the world, and simply take for granted what we see. We accept it as the truth of what’s happening out there. It’s only when another photo that is similar comes along that we begin to question the validity of the digital image.

When we see photos of a past world that doesn’t match the opinionated ideas that the internet has given us, then we are confused about how to approach it. We become like a cat who is nervous about why somebody moved a chair across the room. We are much too focused on one thing; is it true or not true?

Life is complex, the internet claims to simplify things for us by offering images, emojis, and memes, so that we can quickly understand something and know what’s what.

Newspapers and Narratives

The newspapers have caused us to believe that everything we read on the front page of the newspaper is the truth, and it was the only thing of importance that happened that day.

The hidden narrative in any media outlet is that they are on your side, they are routing for you and defending your lifestyle. If you are unsure of your lifestyle, they will show you what it is by posting lots of lifestyle images for you to consume and identify with in the lifestyle section.

Our news source these days is a series of pickings that we take from around the internet. Twitter feeds, Facebook, and Google links that take us to websites that we can’t immediately verify for facts without interrupting our reading — so we just read on and believe. Mix that up with the online daily newspaper, and you’ve got yourself a lovely bag of confusing stories about the same things.

We like to trust ourselves and our ability to make good judgements about what’s true and what’s not true. This good judgement of ours is based on our personal experience of the world.

The more we allow ourselves to be influenced by the news and “facts” that we see on the internet, the more our confidence in internet truths and facts go unchecked, and we build and believe false narratives.

Social media knows how to manipulate your feelings. It can use the method of a timeline that presents you with a series of emotional triggers. The triggers consist of images and words. You scroll because you are bored, but with each movement of the scroll you expose your brain to a new idea. The mixture of emotional ideas that you see within a short time span of one minute, is enough to trigger a mixed up feeling of endorphins hitting the walls of your brain, and serotonin coursing through your veins like a bob-sleigh rider on acid. Do that everyday for one week, and you’ll experience depressive feelings. Many of us do — an emotional ride through the gamut of feelings is an addictive experience.

The trick is to keep the image and the text easy to understand. It’s a trigger, not a process.

Pre-internet day people were never exposed to the multitude of ideas, images, and varied opinions that we have to filter through our brains today.

The Cottingly fairies
The Cottingly fairies
The Cottingly fairies

A single photograph pinned to a wall can be of more use, and have more power than ten minutes flow of “good feelings” memes and images on social media can. When the mind is not focused, it is in danger of being hijacked by kittens on Twitter.

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living http://seandurham.eu

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