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June 28, 2012 1:54 PM   Subscribe

The surreal self-portraits of Kyle Thompson. Kyle Thompson is a 20 yr old self taught photographer from the suburbs of Chicago. Here is his flickr stream, his tumblr.
posted by growabrain (68 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Unless he's *really* good at drag, I don't think a few of those are self-portraits.

I also wonder how many of these are 'shopped....
posted by schmod at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


They really do look shopped. Almost all of them.
posted by Malice at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2012


More info about PS here
posted by growabrain at 2:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the hate with "shopping" photos. It's obvious he's not trying for realistic photography. Do you look at Dali and say "I bet the clocks didn't really look like that!" To me, Photoshop is just another tool, the same as adding mediums to acrylic.

This art seems more about making an artistic vision come to life, than using a camera to recreate a scene he's staged.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:07 PM on June 28, 2012 [46 favorites]


Wow. Whatever's gone into them, they certainly show a lot of talent, skill and even (in many cases) restraint.
posted by hermitosis at 2:08 PM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


I do like them, though. The reason that 'shopping gets no respect is because it takes no real talent (I say this with some reservation - I have seen some spectacular photoshops.). A lot of people can 'shop a photo to look like anything they want. And a lot of "photographers" (see: people with an expensive camera) can't even come close to what real photographers with just a 35mm film can do, so they 'fix' it all in photoshop and pass it off as photography. Sometimes, they will even lie about the use of 'shop to touch up the pics.

Ultimately, it's just viewed in a negative light for a lot of reasons that will probably won't even matter in the future.

But, shopped or not, they're nice. Just knowing they're shopped takes some of the wonder out of it for me.
posted by Malice at 2:14 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also something tells me that a 20 year old has absolutely no qualms about actually setting his head on fire if it means more Tumblr notes.
posted by hermitosis at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


will probably not*

My soul for an edit button.
posted by Malice at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't mind Photoshop. Photomanipulations can be beautiful and impressive.

But, if you're going to sell yourself as a photographer on technical merit, it's necessary to disclose whether or not your photo's a composite.
posted by schmod at 2:17 PM on June 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


This looks shopped. I know from some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few shops in my time.

Also I don't give a shit because he's a talented artist.
posted by incessant at 2:19 PM on June 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


I want to sit on a roof with the red headed woman and shoot zombies with a rifle.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Get yer photoshop off my lawn?
posted by iamck at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2012


Malice, unless you've actually used photoshop, legitimately, I don't think I can really have this argument with you, or take you seriously when you say it takes no real talent.
Besides, that's a derail. This post isn't about whether shopping is legit or not.

Schmod, I agree with you. I hadn't thought about the prospect of these being composites, my mind immediately went to color/lighting when photoshop was mentioned, which is completely reasonable in my mind.
Composites, however, are a different ballgame, and it kind of needs to be up front and out in the open about whether they are or not.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually I use Photoshop all the time, FirstMateKate. I make heavy use of it, but not for artistic photography reasons. (Although I can. I use it for drawing with a Wacom tablet or resizing personal photographs.)

I do apologize for the derail, but my post was just in response to yours wondering about the hate for photoshop in photography.

schmod pretty much said what I was trying to say, but said it better.
posted by Malice at 2:26 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Composites, however, are a different ballgame, and it kind of needs to be up front and out in the open about whether they are or not.

I don't see why. an artist's process is not really any of your business unless the artist chooses to share it.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:30 PM on June 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


I saw these earlier on reddit and was impressed by this guy's talent, shooped or not (obviously shooped though).

But, man, I wish he was not 20, because then I think his subject matter would be (possibly) a lot better. I don't really need to see a picture of a dude in a jacket and tie with a tv for a head and an American flag tossed casually on the chair beside him. I do love the one with the hole in the ground and the boat/feet/hands, though.
posted by broadway bill at 2:31 PM on June 28, 2012


FirstMateKate: "Schmod, I agree with you. I hadn't thought about the prospect of these being composites, my mind immediately went to color/lighting when photoshop was mentioned, which is completely reasonable in my mind. "

My rule of thumb is that (just about) anything you can do in Lightroom is 100% okay without disclosure.
posted by schmod at 2:33 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Makes me wanna shoop.
posted by hermitosis at 2:37 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't really like the work but I don't see what all the fuss is about with the photo composite issue - so what!? Its digital collage.
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:40 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't see why. an artist's process is not really any of your business unless the artist chooses to share it.

I think what doesn't always come across is that what photography people take issue with is heavy compositing in a work of art when you bill the work as photography or yourself as a photographer without being up front about the compositing.

basically, for photographers there's a lot of technical knowhow and skill that goes into taking just a decent shot, to say nothing of a well executed, composed and artful one. sometimes the difficulty of a shot is a major part of its value, and in photography (as in most media) there is a history of resistance to technical innovation in "high art" at first. Sometimes this is typical old guard pride and snobbery. Sometimes it's related to the audience needing or wanting to understand the process in case the only difference between a crappy shot and a beautiful one turned out be a simple trick that anyone could do. you can see this in how people resisted taking color photography seriously for a very long time.

basically, the more reasonable people out there just want to know "is this skill as a photographer coming through or skill as a compositor or both?" because many people care about one or the other (or both), as is their right as an audience.
posted by shmegegge at 2:49 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've always felt like Photoshop is to digital photographs what darkrooms are for film. A photo isn't (generally) a photo until you develop it, and with that comes all sorts of room for interpretation, multiple exposure techniques, etc. Photographers who work digitally aren't working in the same medium as those who work with film, despite their similarities. They are using the tools available to them, just as analog photographers use chemicals and specials lights and paper and projection machines, and shouldn't be expected NOT to use them to realize their creative vision.
posted by hellphish at 2:50 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't mind if we want to call this art; that's fine with me. I do mind if we want to call these photographs. They are not photographs. A photograph is an image created by light falling on something. These are images created by Photoshop from assorted photographs. They are digital collages.

(Of course, none of that makes the statements that he is a photographer and that these are self-portraits untrue.)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I bet he likes Hipgnosis. His stuff reminds of them a lot. That's a good thing.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:55 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't mind if we want to call this art; that's fine with me. I do mind if we want to call these photographs. They are not photographs. A photograph is an image created by light falling on something. These are images created by Photoshop from assorted photographs. They are digital collages.

They don't all look photoshopped. Looks to be a mix of straight photography (this one, for instance) and manipulated images.
posted by me3dia at 2:57 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always felt like Photoshop is to digital photographs what darkrooms are for film. A photo isn't (generally) a photo until you develop it, and with that comes all sorts of room for interpretation, multiple exposure techniques, etc.

Well, yeah. There's that (I personally use Lightroom, but same principle). In fact in Lightroom the menu is actually called "Develop." I tend to call it "color correction" which is more of a movie term but whatever.

But when people saying "'Shopping" or "'shopped" it typically means manipulating the image to actually change the people or things being photographed, not just the colors and tones.

Which is understandably frowned upon when it's used for things like making models skinnier than they really are.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:01 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't mind if we want to call this art; that's fine with me. I do mind if we want to call these photographs. They are not photographs. A photograph is an image created by light falling on something. These are images created by Photoshop from assorted photographs. They are digital collages.

That's what a lot of people used to do in the darkroom. I still think of Man Ray as a photographer even though many effects were achieved through printmaking techniques or even painting onto a negative. I don't particularly mind whether we call these photographs or digital collages or whatever; I object to the idea that we are entitled to a clear answer about how they were created if the artist chooses not to provide one.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:08 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. Whatever's gone into them, they certainly show a lot of talent, skill and even (in many cases) restraint.

I agree! I really love these. There was a photography thread the other day (I won't link it because it feels mean) but I HATED the photos. The styling and framing and whole concept was just so overwrought.

Kyle's pictures feel to me like what many people are trying to do when they try really really art to make Art with a capital A. But his feel natural and unforced to me.
posted by peep at 3:11 PM on June 28, 2012


DAMN. that should say "try really really HARD."
posted by peep at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2012


Be sure to check out the beautiful self-portraits by 17 y.o. Brendon Burton.
posted by ericb at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


cool shots, great use of color. i don't personally care about the photoshop issue. if this were photojournalism then i would care.
posted by facetious at 3:32 PM on June 28, 2012


No way he really transmuted his head into a TV or set it on fire. Obviously not a real wizard.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think I can .... take you seriously when you say [photoshop] takes no real talent.

It's irritating when people assume that anyone that belittles photoshop in any way, shape, or form, has never used photoshop.

I love using photoshop. It's fun to play with, and there are some great 'shoppers out there.... but honestly I will NEVER respect a photoshopper as much as a traditional artist. When I make a wrong charcoal line, I need to figure out how to correct it within the drawing. When I make a wrong PS line - I get to hit "undo". If I use the wrong hue in a painting, I need to go over it. In PS, I can just change the color. Now easier doesn't mean bad - but i don't know how anyone could argue that it takes a lot more talent to press "control z" than it does to capture the perfect shot in the moment, at that moment, or know how to set down the best lines on an actual paper.

The only people I've ever known who actually say PS is better (not "good" or "great" or "awesome", but "better") are people who's fine art skills are crap and they enjoy that PS allows them to hide their weaknesses. ...or so they think.

....and on the topic at hand, I was disappointed in these pictures even before I opened the comments. Kyle would probably benefit from learning some composition skills.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:39 PM on June 28, 2012


The mistake that a lot of people make is to assume that photography = photojournalism, in the sense that photography is documenting a moment in time. It's a complete fallacy to state that film shooting was never 'photoshopped' as darkroom techniques included often severe dodging and burning, and composites are possible with film.

There are no rules in art. There are only results.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:48 PM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


but honestly I will NEVER respect a photoshopper as much as a traditional artist. When I make a wrong charcoal line, I need to figure out how to correct it within the drawing. When I make a wrong PS line - I get to hit "undo". If I use the wrong hue in a painting, I need to go over it. In PS, I can just change the color. Now easier doesn't mean bad - but i don't know how anyone could argue that it takes a lot more talent to press "control z" than it does to capture the perfect shot in the moment, at that moment, or know how to set down the best lines on an actual paper.

Hell, I don't even respect artists who have full control of their limbs. Unless you're fully paralyzed (preferably blind and deaf-mute as well), you're just taking the easy way out with your 'physical manipulation of media'. The only thing that makes art valid is how difficult it was to create, the final outcome is merely a side-effect of the struggle and not nearly as important.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:54 PM on June 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'd love to see a study along two vectors that asks participants to rate photos, given an A/B matrix of options (edited photo, unedited photo) and (labeled as edited, labeled as unedited).

Are people as capable of perceiving edits as they think? Does labeling materially affect enjoyment? Will people, when confronted with "no, it's unedited" refuse to acknowledge it and take a wrong, if passionate, stand in favor of their position?
posted by crysflame at 3:57 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point about photoshop is that the photos are less revealing about your skill as a photographer, and more revealing about your skills on the computer. Most people are impressed by photographs in part because they know how difficult it is to create great images with a camera. If you can fix up your mistakes, or cut together the best pieces, it changes the level of photographic skill involved. It doesn't mean that it's not impressive - but it would be like a live album that had been carefully cut, re-recorded, and overdubbed in the studio - not as impressive as a flawless live performance. I've got no problem with photoshopped photos, but the photoshopping needs to be declared upfront - as it is in the thread just below about nighttime photography - otherwise you're leading people to believe that you created something with nothing but lighting and a lens that you didn't.
posted by Dasein at 4:00 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Many of his images have a wonderful sense of motion to them. I think he's good. He'll mature, his subject matter will change over time, and I'd love to see what he puts out in the future. I'm a fan of anyone who can't seem to put their camera down. Good for him.
posted by heyho at 4:02 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


If we go back ten years, we could probably find a conversation about how digital photography is 'not art' and lacking the authenticity of 35mm. 50+ years ago, people were debating the use of creative darkroom processes. 100+ years before that, people were gnashing teeth about the death of portraiture (in oils).

Everybody wants the ship to sail 5min. after they board, but life and art are not like that.
posted by biochemicle at 4:23 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also these are really good images with a dreamy, restless quality (if a little overwrought)
posted by biochemicle at 4:23 PM on June 28, 2012


This is interesting to me, because Thompson (and Burton, to a slightly lesser extent) shoot in a style that reminds me a great deal of Brooke Shadenpreviously on the Blue—and Diana Pinto, especially her older work. I just realised that I've been categorising this type of surreal self-portrait photography to myself as a strongly female-gendered form of art, and there's no reason why it should necessarily be so. Are there other men making this kind of self-portrait art?

I like Thompson's work, and I agree with heyho that it will be very interesting to see how he matures as an artist. This one is good, and so is this. At the moment, the only thing that bothers me about his being twenty is that there is a particular teenage-arty-self-portrait facial expression he's rather fond of, but that's really a personal aversion of my own.
posted by daisyk at 4:26 PM on June 28, 2012


From reddit, where he describes his process and answers questions. http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/vr1uq/i_take_surreal_self_portrait/

tl;dr: Yes they are shopped, he describes his work as photo editing but from his process description I would describe him as a photo collage artist working from his own original photos.
posted by darkfred at 5:38 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


with an actual linky-link: http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/vr1uq/i_take_surreal_self_portrait/
posted by darkfred at 5:39 PM on June 28, 2012


In the imgur feed linked to from the reddit thread, he states that about half the images are composites and that he is still developing his photoshop skills.
posted by jamincan at 5:52 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Photographers have been compositing and manipulating photos for a long time. I don't see why this is different.

I like these photos quite a bit.
posted by archagon at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2012


He says he tries to shoot all the components in the same location. That's why you won't get the crazy conflicting light you get in collage work that uses more disparate sources.
posted by RobotHero at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2012


Photographers have been compositing and manipulating photos for a long time.

A very long time..
posted by starman at 7:16 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmm... so you're telling me that he and his camera didn't just happen upon this steaming pair of legs protruding from a small suitcase? Shenanigans!
posted by swift at 7:18 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Does anyone else have a horribly difficult time reading reddit? For the life of me I can't figure out how to make that site semi-digestible for my ancient, old eyes. I'd love to read the photographer's responses, but I go to reddit and then my eyes scream at me and I go back to streaming episodes of Matlock.
posted by incessant at 8:55 PM on June 28, 2012


I feel like I'm late to the party but this is something about which I'm opinionated, so I can't not type:

I take a lot of photos. All of them without fail pass through Adobe Camera Raw (because I'm not cool enough to even use Aperture or Lightroom or whatever) and get edited for color, contrast, maybe a little crop and straighten. Is that 'shopping? I dunno, to some people it is.

Far fewer of my photos make it into Photoshop itself, usually for some cleanup using the clone stamp tool. Is that shoppery?

On rare occasion I will comp together a few images. Surely that must be Photoshoppery.

I don't care. I don't sell myself as "a photographer", I'm just a guy who likes to take pictures. I use a device - and it doesn't matter what manufacturer or what model - to capture images that can be sent to the display in front of you, on request. What I put out isn't "art" nor is it proper photojournalism. I just want to make something that's fun to look at.

I feel that's all that this kid Thompson is doing - making images that give you ideas, alter your emotions, spark some new thoughts in dusty brains. I'm left wondering why so much of this discussion has devolved into which ones were altered and how much and why instead of a celebration of the dream one of us had last week that image #5 unintentionally dragged back into the light, or how the composition in #10 reminds one of us of Alec Soth's work, or ... or ... or.

I mean I'll gladly sit here and let you guess which of my images have been Photoshopped and which haven't and how much and why, but that sure would be missing the entire point of me having created them, now wouldn't it?
posted by komara at 9:58 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is better than most art (however it was created) MeFites post. Carefully done and sometimes emotionally evocative. Not just Photoshop trickery to shock or astonish, something that is more irritating than it is art.
posted by kozad at 10:11 PM on June 28, 2012


>>I don't think I can .... take you seriously when you say [photoshop] takes no real talent.

It's irritating when people assume that anyone that belittles photoshop in any way, shape, or form, has never used photoshop.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:39 PM on June 28 [+] [!]


How convenient you've deleted the part of my comment that meant I didn't assume! I specifically prefaced that whole statement with "Unless you have used photoshop".



>>Composites, however, are a different ballgame, and it kind of needs to be up front and out in the open about whether they are or not.

I don't see why. an artist's process is not really any of your business unless the artist chooses to share it.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:30 PM on June 28 [12 favorites +] [!]


I'm sensing some hostility towards a completely benign comment, but I'm just going to reply anyway.
I spoke too soon, I was getting ready for work and kind of just summed up my thoughts without having really thought them through too much.
I stand by the point that composites are a different "ballgame". I didn't mean that as '"now they've crossed the line with editing!". My intention wasn't to say that if Photshop was being used for compositing I need to know, it was more like it's being used for anything else [lighting, color balance, etc] then I don't really give a damn. But, again, the thoughts were just abstract opinions in my head that I've never really thought about concretely, and didn't have time to at the moment.

In my opinion though, combining two or more different photos to create a single work doesn't really fall under the 'photography' category for me. It's rolled over into 'digital collage'. Or, heck, 'composite photography' would also work. That's not saying that either of those categories are any less awesome than photography, or are "easier" or any other such silly detriment that's been thrown around. I still have respect for artists who choose to compose that way. This guy in particular is absolutely amazing, truly.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:40 PM on June 28, 2012


Holy shit that is some art there!
posted by désoeuvrée at 11:37 PM on June 28, 2012


When looking at images like these, for me it's not about skill as a photographer vs skill with a computer, it's skill as an artist. I don't have any artistic skills or instincts and if we're talking about art (vs photojournalism), then I appreciate at the idea and execution, no matter the materials used.

As a non-artist, skill in photography and digital tools (and painting and sculpture and etc) are all equally arcane and beyond my ken and elicit similar feelings of admiration. I don't have any real sense of the levels of difficulty involved - is there a universal standard? Is oil painting harder than photoshop but easier than sculpture? How do art photographers compare to muralists?
posted by clerestory at 1:20 AM on June 29, 2012


Personally, I think a lot of people like to talk trash about 'shopping' photos because they think it makes them sound wise and sophisticated. They don't realize that when they are just part of a chorus, they sound more phony than the photos about which they complain.

I've been having a blast learning photo editing skills. "Shopped" photos? Sure! Why not? How exactly is post-processing any less part of the art than shooting itself? Just because the darkroom of today is software doesn't make it less of a skill.
posted by Goofyy at 1:22 AM on June 29, 2012


Yeah, who cares if they are composites or not? Grow the fuck up and stop derailing threads with your attempts to feel superior.
posted by victory_laser at 1:27 AM on June 29, 2012


He's definitely a big Storm Thorgerson fan - Thorgerson has been in the middle of the argument about photomontage for his whole career. Although a number of his images are montages, he makes a point specifically to shoot many "live", possibly because they then become a kind of performance art (think of the covers for Pink Floyd albums such as Wish You Were Here - real burning guy or A Momentary Lapse of Reason, though Animals is.. story here).

As with the teenage girl who was linked a few years ago, I'm interested in the process he uses to gather the images. He could probably have more fun using other people to model for him and trying to get the image in the camera.

But what the hell, mostly I take blurry pictures of my thumb.
posted by Grangousier at 1:57 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm vaguely insulted at the explicit "suburbs of Chicago" call out, as though finding talent there was remarkable in and of itself.
posted by hwestiii at 4:39 AM on June 29, 2012


I don't mind Photoshop. Photomanipulations can be beautiful and impressive.

I much, much prefer these to those awful fantasy portraits Annie Liebowitz has been doing recently.

There was a self-portrait of a woman with multiple babies that won the Taylor-Wessing prize a couple of years ago (I don't have the exhibition catalogue to hand so I can't for the life of me remember who) which was a photomanipulation, and incredibly skillfully done. I can't photoshop to save my life.
posted by mippy at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2012


Reminds me of the work of Hipgnosis, actually.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2012


DAMMIT WHY DID I NOT PREVIEW
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2012


> In my opinion though, combining two or more different photos to create a single work doesn't really fall under the 'photography' category for me. It's rolled over into 'digital collage'. Or, heck, 'composite photography' would also work. That's not saying that either of those categories are any less awesome than photography, or are "easier" or any other such silly detriment that's been thrown around.

I'm going to argue with you and say that there are two explicit types of photography:

1.) Photojournalism. PJ photography requires that what's depicted be "real", or at least as real as possible. No tweaking of any sorts other than mild color / clarity / contrast. PJ shots have an obligation to depict reality inasmuch as our world can be presented in two dimensions.

2.) Everything else.

I don't see anything in this guy's images that was created with a 3D modeling program, or screenshots of video games, or scissors and paper and paste, or anything other than camera + light, and camera + light is the very definition of photography. Who cares how many exposures it took to get the result, if everything that you're seeing on your screen was a result of his camera and not some imported object created in Blender? It's still photography. It doesn't claim to be a depiction of a "real" event so it's irrelevant how many images were comped together or how much he changed the colors.

I understand that you want to make a distinction between "digital art" versus "Ansel Adams did this shit by hand in a darkroom" but I don't think that's necessary. If the goal is to represent reality in photojournalism then yes, we need rules. If the goal is to entertain or elicit emotion then the means used to create the image are irrelevant. If Amateur Dad takes two exposures of his family and Mom's blinking in one and Sis is blinking in the other and Dad comps the two together and sends it out as the family summer snapshot is he obligated to disclose the true origin of the image? No. Then why are you imposing that limit on Thompson (or me, or whoever else)? Just because you can tell - or you think you can tell - that it's been done?

Take for example Thompson's image of the girl standing on stage with pink balloons falling all around. I don't know if Thompson has an army of friends hidden above the stage releasing balloons in perfectly timed intervals (unlikely) or if he just comped together a bunch of exposures (more likely) and I don't care. It doesn't change the message of the image. Even if I knew for sure which way it happened it still doesn't change the message of the image. I wouldn't respect Thompson any more or less if he had an entire workforce of balloon droppers or if he spent an hour at the computer.

Getting hung up on making arbitrary distinctions so you can label an image as "composite photography" versus "photography" strikes me as completely unnecessary.
posted by komara at 7:56 AM on June 29, 2012


[Looking back, I see that I've just taken my comment from last night and lengthened it unnecesarily without adding significant new insight. My apologies for the blather; it's just a subject about which I have strong feelings.]
posted by komara at 8:19 AM on June 29, 2012


Darkroom composites, manipulations, and other film 'tricks' are still photomanipulations. This is not a new controversy.

Admittedly, the standards are quite a bit looser than photojournalism, but there's a reason why every art gallery on the planet places a little card next to the artwork that describes the medium and process used.

You might only be interested in aesthetics, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that -- in fact, I think that this line of thinking is sorely underrepresented in the world of fine art. However, those of us who have studied the craft also tend to judge artwork based on technical merit (if only for the sake of personal curiosity about how the image was produced). In these cases, we appreciate a small shout-out to let us know whether an image was 'shopped or not.

If you're a budding professional photographer, this sort of disclosure is especially important to make in a portfolio. I'm willing to cut this guy a lot of slack, since it looks like he's just starting out, and appears to be extremely competent in both "raw" photography and photomanipulations. However, if you want to move forward, it's important to make note of your medium.
posted by schmod at 8:32 AM on June 29, 2012


> If you're a budding professional photographer, this sort of disclosure is especially important to make in a portfolio. [...] if you want to move forward, it's important to make note of your medium.

Ah, well, that explains my position. I'm thinking only of myself, and I haven't any desire to become a professional or be placed in galleries. I just want to make imagery. If this guy (or anyone else) wants those things then I can see why it might be important. I appreciate you helping make that distinction clear for me.
posted by komara at 8:37 AM on June 29, 2012


I understand that you want to make a distinction between "digital art" versus "Ansel Adams did this shit by hand in a darkroom"

No, I don't. It looks like you're pouring all the hate on me for every other comment about 'real' vs 'not real', which 1) isn't fair, and 2) doesn't make any sense because I don't actually hold those viewpoints. All I said was I'd like to know which genre he lies in. Yes, originally I said I needed to know if he used photo comps. But then, in the comment you're arguing against, I retracted that statement, and said instead "It's not that photo comps are vital information, it's just that everything else isn't."

Then why are you imposing that limit on Thompson
What limit are you talking about? I'm not saying he can't do anything, or that when he does one thing or the other, it means he's less of an artist, or whatever. I just want to know what he does.

or if he just comped together a bunch of exposures (more likely) and I don't care.
Good for you? But as an artist, I do.

Even if I knew for sure which way it happened it still doesn't change the message of the image. I wouldn't respect Thompson any more or less if he had an entire workforce of balloon droppers or if he spent an hour at the computer.
Yeah, we kind of agree on this point, which I've already stated several times. So I'm not really sure why you're trying to argue with me. I said I still have a lot of respect for this dude, and his method doesn't detract from his art. Let me repeat myself again. I find it interesting. I like to know what he does. Not so I can judge him, I just like to know.

Getting hung up on making arbitrary distinctions
Um. How am I getting hung up, exactly? I'm having no problem appreciating his astounding work. Also, if it even matters, in the Reddit thread linked to up stream, he actually calls them manipulations, or edits, or what-have-you on a quite regular basis. So, it's not that arbitrary.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:16 PM on June 29, 2012


FirstMateKate: I'm not trying to attack, though I can see how it looks that way. What I am arguing against is this:

All I said was I'd like to know which genre he lies in.

and

In my opinion though, combining two or more different photos to create a single work doesn't really fall under the 'photography' category for me. It's rolled over into 'digital collage'. Or, heck, 'composite photography' would also work.

I don't think it's necessary to have a genre for him to lie in. I don't think it's necessary to create a distinction between those two things. It's photography. It was made with a camera. It's irksome to me that (in your opinion) because it's two different exposures somehow it requires a new definition, that we can't just say "oh look at this guy's photography" and be done with it.

I will admit that because of schmod's comment I do now understand better why in some situations it may be necessary to make a note of how an image was created. I don't agree with it, but I can see how it's a convention.

As for this:

"and I don't care."
Good for you? But as an artist, I do.


I don't think we can play that, because I'm an artist and I don't care. You're an artist and you do care. Therefore being an artist apparently doesn't solve anything here.

I realize that I'm being deliberately obstinate. I'm tired of people asking about the model of camera I use or how I created a particular image before they even say anything about content of the image itself (if they ever get that far). When you say:

In my opinion though, combining two or more different photos to create a single work doesn't really fall under the 'photography' category for me. It's rolled over into 'digital collage'. Or, heck, 'composite photography' would also work.

I get my hackles up because sometimes I combine images and to have a stranger go, "Well, then it's no longer photography is it?" rubs me the wrong way even though I know that you don't know me, you didn't point that comment at me, and I'm being overly defensive.
posted by komara at 2:46 PM on June 29, 2012


He's taken himself pretty far considering he's completely self-taught. Just having the ability to motivate oneself consistently like that is (more than) half the battle when it comes to making work. I do think he would benefit from being in a peer-review situation that is removed from the internet though. The actual content of his images is reminiscent of so much of what I've seen in the past, from established photographers as well as student photographers. Even if I were only taking into consideration the kind of work I saw being produced while I was in school (the five years prior to this one), I can recognize some "art tropes" that get recycled a lot because that's just what happens, I guess. I don't have a good explanation for it, but I will mention a few images/objects that were sometimes so ubiquitous that they became jokes among the students and especially the faculty:

-people with things for heads other than their own heads (mostly animal heads and TVs for heads)
-papers being blown away in the wind (not exactly recent)
-balloons (they're so cheap and easy to use in sculptural pieces in particular)


Some that I don't think this person used but were common in school:

-cracked mirrors
-birdhouses & tree houses
-book destruction
-your own shoes
-your own hands
-owls, deer, and octopuses


In my final year of school, we had an exhibition in our gallery featuring the work of someone whose photographs used some imagery that is similar to Thompson's:

not my head
balloons
give me a hand with these books, will ya?
more balloons
still holding these books
suitcases in places other than airports or hotel rooms


I think at some point it is good to find yourself in a situation where you've seen your art work next to someone else's art work, meaning in the same physical space, so you can have that moment where you realize that you're both doing stuff that is very much the same. And if you continue to put your art work in the same physical space as other people's art work, you'll be creating more opportunities for this to happen. School is just one expensive place where this can happen, but I'm sure there are others.
posted by blixapuff at 3:23 PM on June 29, 2012


I think a better analogy for what I was trying to explain earlier (and this is IMO), it's like someone baking a cake with Duncan cake mix and calling themselves a chef. Yeah, you baked a cake, and it tastes good, but you're not exactly a chef.

Photoshop is incredibly common and generally easy to use. As for his art, it's okay. I like it. It's not (IMO, again) spectacular but it was nice to look at for a few moments. As photography.. well, it's not really photography in the traditional sense. I do think digital composite is a good description for what the guy is doing.

I also believe most photographs - personal, art or otherwise - in the future are going to be digital composites. I already see kids needing to alter every photograph they take of themselves with pink hearts or sparkles or some such crap. It'll probably become the norm to modify all photos to some extent.
posted by Malice at 11:53 PM on June 29, 2012


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