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Ruins of the Second Gilded Age
July 7, 2009 8:14 AM   Subscribe

The New York Times commissioned Portuguese photographer Edgar Martins to travel around the United States and take photographs of abandoned construction projects left in the wake of the housing and securities market collapse.
posted by acb (263 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
I chuckled when I saw this in the Magzine this weekend because on the streets in Philly abandoned houses that are being squatted in by addicts are jokingly called "abandominiums" and these are like actual abandominiums.
posted by The Straightener at 8:24 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


sheesh, no american photographers good enough to cover the decline and decay of their own country?
posted by nomisxid at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


While several of these photos are quite nice, it made me chuckle that nearly all of them relied heavily on their description to convey the situation. I guess "abandoned houses" could be the theme and you leave it at that -- yet more than half of them are much more powerful due to the circumstanses described, not the composition in the photo.

Still an enjoyable gallery.. hope there are more coming!
posted by cavalier at 8:27 AM on July 7, 2009


There are many, many more stories like this around the U.S.
posted by Xoebe at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2009


There are a few half-built condo buildings near the new baseball stadium in Southeast Washington DC that have been sitting idle for more than a year now.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:34 AM on July 7, 2009


It's the Ryugyong all over again.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:37 AM on July 7, 2009


There's a similarly abandoned construction site just up the street from my office (in Canada) so it's not just in the US where this is happening. We didn't see any activity for a while, but once they took the tower cranes away, we figured they weren't planning on resuming work any time soon.
posted by FishBike at 8:37 AM on July 7, 2009


I did not chuckle.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:41 AM on July 7, 2009


it made me chuckle that nearly all of them relied heavily on their description to convey the situation

Yeah. They went a little over the top, from the title on down. I mean I get it, it's a news story and not just an arty photo essay. But "Gilded Age" is a bit much for a few abandoned shitty cookie-cutter houses and a casino.

It's as if National Geographic, on the famous cover of the Afghan girl, had written underneath: "ALSO HER PUPPY JUST DIED!!!!1!"
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


I knew before clicking over to the first development shown that it'd be Phoenix, AZ IN THE HIZZY! God, I hate this city so @@#%@# much.
posted by Bageena at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2009


For a walk down nostalgia lane.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:48 AM on July 7, 2009


It's the Ryugyong all over again.

I was thinking of fpp'ing this NYT photoessay, along with this comparison to a standout excess of central planning, but nixed it as too editorial.

But yeah.
posted by @troy at 8:50 AM on July 7, 2009


Company filed for Chapter 7 on July 1st. Construction has stopped.



Company is in serious financial trouble. This building is empty, Artomatic was held here for a month but the exhibition closed last weekend.


Nothing has happened here since the fall of 2008. The place is an empty shell, looks the same today as it does in these photos.

Building was finished but has sat empty for two years now.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:52 AM on July 7, 2009


One in twelve homes in Las Vegas have received foreclosure notices?!
posted by kozad at 8:52 AM on July 7, 2009


Even Aperture Science is feeling the pinch.
posted by DU at 8:53 AM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


I just amazed that we have solved the homelessness problem in America to the point that properties can remain empty.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:00 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Excellent photograph essay. Really shocking abandonment of very expensive properties with fascinating mini-backstories of the fraud and mismanagement. Thanks for the post acb.

From the mid-'80's this kind of crash felt as if it were coming down the pike. A man, Steve, I met who had worked for Shearson Lehman, said the economy was "all smoke and mirrors". I didn't know what he meant but he said it with such passion it stuck in my mind the last couple of decades.

Then a few years ago, when I watched an excellent PBS documentary, whose name I wish I'd written down, about mathematicians creating some sort of math to predict the bond market, getting into bed with bankers and people in the stock market, raking in the gazillions, I thought oh man, Steve's smoke and mirrors is right. (Anyone know the name of that documentary or the name of the math involved?)

Looks like the smoke finally poofed and the mirrors shattered. Now what? It feels to me as if an entire generation in America is hooked on instant mega-bucks. The dedication and sweat required for manufacturing seems to have been outsourced to poor countries. How will things get better economically here in the US of A? Anybody have ideas?
posted by nickyskye at 9:02 AM on July 7, 2009


I liked the photos but this just pissed me off.
posted by tommasz at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2009


Anyone know the name of that documentary or the name of the math involved?

Trillion Dollar Bet?
posted by DU at 9:13 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now what?

You have people like me who saw their parents piss away all their home-equity money and not have shit to show for it. People who are so paranoid about money they refuse to do anything with it but put it in a bank account. People who realize that they'll always work for a living (and probably for somebody else!) and don't harbor illusions of megabucks on the orizon. People who are ready to grind it out on a day-to-day basis because that's LIFE, we don't live in some sort of leather interior sunshine and arugula happiness.

In other words, we'll probably be far more like our grandparents than like our parents. It's a different world.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:13 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is probably mean spirited but I'm feeling a little rust-belt schadenfreude here. We never got to enjoy the real-estate bubble but then we don't have a bust now.
posted by octothorpe at 9:13 AM on July 7, 2009


Thanks dances, it's good reading and educational looking over arguments in retrospect. Props to eriko's call.

Actually he was right but partially for the wrong reasons; the ticking-bomb of ARMs has been defused by the Fed & Treasury dropping rates so low, allowing people to refi out of suicide loans even if they are down 25% below break-even.

The real excess of 2005-2006 was the "risk-layering" of stated-income/stated-asset, negative-am, teaser-rates and nonexistent loan underwriting allowing speculators and idiots to leverage up without any demonstrated ability to cover the mortgage after the IO/neg-am/teaser rate expired.

Buyers were gambling on further appreciation, straight up, but the music stopped in 2007 with the subprime crisis choking off the low-end impetus of the housing engine. By 2007 the industry was running on fumes.

I toured the LV City Center salesroom in the Bellagio in mid-2007. It seemed upbeat and real, but I knew then that it wasn't going to end well.
posted by @troy at 9:20 AM on July 7, 2009


Anyone know the name of that documentary or the name of the math involved?

nickyskye, that would be the Guassian Copula.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:22 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


How will things get better economically here in the US of A? Anybody have ideas?

Personally I think that people will eventually get tired of the distance between themselves and the means of production and the widening gulf between the top and bottom and they will do what people have done time and again in this situation over the last couple centuries: blame and slaughter intellectuals, elites and hipsters and fall into the oppressive malaise of a failed revolution and an opressive oligarchy of strongmen. But hey, I'm a dreamer.

Incidentally, Obama ran on a wave of "change." Some people mistakenly believe the popularity of this message was due to it being about Obama.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:23 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Documenting the collapse of growth industries is a growth industry.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:27 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ugh, this pisses me off. Mostly because there are hundreds if not thousands of old, decrepit buildings across the nation that never get so much as touched with a broom let alone millions of dollars in redevelopment money. It's a freaking eyesore.

I'm hoping the next age will be one of rehabilitation, retrofits, and renewal.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 9:44 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Biggest Dreamer: "I'm hoping the next age will be one of rehabilitation, retrofits, and renewal."

Well, that's probably eponysterical but I'd love to see that too.
posted by octothorpe at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


we don't live in some sort of leather interior sunshine and arugula happiness

Exactly what kind of arugula are we talking about, here?
posted by everichon at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2009


I call bullshit on this not being photoshopped. Look at that wooden 'triangle' right near the top center.
posted by unixrat at 9:51 AM on July 7, 2009 [21 favorites]


But "Gilded Age" is a bit much for a few abandoned shitty cookie-cutter houses and a casino.

Perhaps "Gilded Age" is what people in 5-10 years' time will call the magical age of McMansions, abundant SUVs fuelled by cheap gasoline, cheap holiday flights, drive-thru burger restaurants and $20 DVD players from Wal-Mart. Perhaps in the much greyer, more constrained world of the future, people will forget how tacky and crass it all was.

I wonder how many people in, say, 1927 thought that their world was kinda shitty as well.
posted by acb at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Re: Photoshoppery

Check it out. I'll eat my hat if this is not fakery.
posted by unixrat at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2009 [100 favorites]


I just amazed that we have solved the homelessness problem in America to the point that properties can remain empty.

More people should try exercising adverse possession. Current homeowners facing foreclosure can induce the lender to produce the note. Unfortunately squatters' rights aren't as strong in the U.S. as they are in other countries.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:25 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The home buyers — many of whom most likely intended to flip the properties without ever seeing them — are now stuck with a nearly worthless asset.

The turmoil that this financial crisis has wreaked upon many is indeed tragic, but the quote above makes me think that a few of these fuckers deserved it.
posted by slogger at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Check it out. I'll eat my hat if this is not fakery.

Wow, thanks. When you called this out initially, I couldn't see it after a very quick glance at the rather small picture. But your A/B comparison makes it obvious. I'm thinking that whatever was left out on the right side by flipping the left side onto it *probably* wasn't something that affected the point the photographer was trying to make.

But we don't know, do we? And if one is showing photographs with any sort of claimed documentary value, I think one ought not to do this kind of thing just to make them better pictures in some artistic sense. How do we know there wasn't a construction crew over there rapidly trying to finish the place?
posted by FishBike at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2009


But we don't know, do we? And if one is showing photographs with any sort of claimed documentary value, I think one ought not to do this kind of thing just to make them better pictures in some artistic sense. How do we know there wasn't a construction crew over there rapidly trying to finish the place?

Watch the wiring and the woodgrain. 98% of it is identical. (It's much clearer in the original JPG, but can't animate those.) There's simply no way to build a house with studs having mirror-identical wood grain and electrical wiring with matching running.

Furthermore, it would be the most pointless idea ever - all that stuff will be covered by drywall and invisible to the homebuyer. No one will pay 500% more to have mirrored framing that they literally cannot see.
posted by unixrat at 10:51 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Check it out. I'll eat my hat if this is not fakery.

I don't understand how you are proving fakery? It looks like a symmetrical building turns out to be pretty symmetrical. MY GOD!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2009


Simply looking at the stairs in the doctored photo reveals a level of unbelievable design choices leading to nonsense.

Shame on the photographer for mirroring that photo. Surely the house was pathetic enough half-finished without requiring deception?
posted by hippybear at 11:07 AM on July 7, 2009


Pollomacho: impossibly symmetrical. Watch his animation. Almost all of the right hand side of the photo is a pixel-perfect copy of the left. This doesn't happen in real life construction, particularly when ordinary framing wood is involved. You couldn't achieve this kind of perfect reflection on purpose using real world materials, and even if you did, you couldn't take a photo of it that looks like this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:09 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Almost all of the right hand side of the photo is a pixel-perfect copy of the left.

I just don't see it.

But I take your point that it is impossible to build a symmetrical structure and then document it photographically. That would be like making footprints on the moon - sheer lunacy.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:14 AM on July 7, 2009


As much as I could really give a crap about the "gotcha!" stuff, I have to admit this is a pretty obvious fake. Look at the stairs. Where are they going? I know that when I build a house, I always like to have a short staircase behind a wall that leads to nothing.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:14 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


But I take your point that it is impossible to build a symmetrical structure and then document it photographically. That would be like making footprints on the moon - sheer lunacy.

Yes, because mirroring the studs, down to the very grain of the wood and the markings and imperfections on all the joining hardware and positioning them with millimetric accuracy when no one will see any of it in the finished house is a national priority commanding a decades long effort, billions of dollars of research and development, the resources of major corporations and government agencies, y'know, like going to the moon.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:22 AM on July 7, 2009 [23 favorites]


I don't understand how you are proving fakery? It looks like a symmetrical building turns out to be pretty symmetrical. MY GOD!

Look at the knots in the wooden studs. Unless they used face-matched 2x4s for wood that would shortly be covered by drywall, unixrat just busted the photographer.
posted by yoink at 11:23 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've watched it, I see nothing that I did not see at countless duplex construction sites. Maybe my resolution just isn't good enough. Wood grain and wiring do appear different. If it is faked, the photographer has gone to a lot of effort to change minute details for what purpose?

Look at the animation again, at the "magical triangle" that is cited as impossible, it ceases to be a triangle. This is because it is in the background. It is the upper chords or diagonal webs of a truss, cut off by the lower chord of a different truss closer to the photographer.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:24 AM on July 7, 2009


Maybe my resolution just isn't good enough.

Ctrl +
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


unixrat, maybe it's just... uh... a subtle visual pun on the inanity of "flipping" real estate?
posted by nicepersonality at 11:27 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


This actually is (or should be) a major embarrassment for the NYT. The simple mirroring could almost be forgiven, but the photographer decided to get cute and photoshop in a few stray boards propped here and there to distract the eye from the perfect symmetry. It might seem a minor thing, but I think there really serious issues of journalistic ethics at stake here.
posted by yoink at 11:29 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unixrat - Just in case I wasn't clear, I agree with you that the picture is fake (or to be pedantic, the right half of it is fake). I'm questioning the photographer's motive and justification for doing that. It seems to destroy the documentary value of his picture, which is the whole purpose of the exercise.

I'm definitely not questioning your motive and justification for pointing out the fakery. To me that is something that should be done whenever people notice this kind of thing in a picture that it supposed to be documenting reality in some way.
posted by FishBike at 11:29 AM on July 7, 2009


To all the people who don't think that pic is a fake, please do me a favor and explain the staircase to nowhere.

Seriously! WHERE IS IT GOING!? It can't even be ornamental, since it's behind a wall. It literally goes up 7 steps and then goes right back down again. WHY!?
posted by Afroblanco at 11:31 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously! WHERE IS IT GOING!? It can't even be ornamental, since it's behind a wall. It literally goes up 7 steps and then goes right back down again. WHY!?

It's an allegory of the housing market.
posted by yoink at 11:33 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Um, yoink. I hate to break it to you but newspapers have been touching up news photos for a hundred years. My great uncle was photographer and air-brusher for the NY Daily News for from the forties through the eighties.
posted by octothorpe at 11:33 AM on July 7, 2009


To all the people who don't think that pic is a fake, please do me a favor and explain the staircase to nowhere.

Since I seem to be "all the people." It goes up and then turns away from the camera. It also may make another turn and split to either side. We can't really see that from this angle though.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2009


joining hardware and positioning them with millimetric accuracy

Is there a higher resolution image somewhere ? Because I'm looking at a 600x468 image (compressed jpeg).

Maybe you have that CSI "Zoom in and Enhance" technology. Because I just don't see how you can make out the presence of "millimetric accuracy" here.

In fact, after watching the flip closely, I can see many many differences between the sides.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2009


Maybe my resolution just isn't good enough.

Ctrl +


Only makes the JPEG blocks blockier.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:38 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, yoink. I hate to break it to you but newspapers have been touching up news photos for a hundred years.

From the first page of the photo essay: "Martins, who creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation, traveled...." Essentially, it looks like the NYT thinks they're real and the photographer on assignment tried to slip something past them.

In fact, after watching the flip closely, I can see many many differences between the sides.

Added in by the photographer to try and hide the mirroring.

Look in the upper (1/3) right hand corner at the horizontal electrical wire that disappears. It's been erased, at least the portion over the black area that's simple to do, to make it appear different. It's pretty obvious.
posted by unixrat at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2009


Also, the lighting and shadows on the floor are perfectly identical too, outside of the fake floor bits that have either been added or removed.
posted by unixrat at 11:41 AM on July 7, 2009


So who's gonna send this conversation to the NYT?

What struck me was how church-like this house looks, rich people thinking they're gods and deserve temples.
posted by mareli at 11:50 AM on July 7, 2009


Um, yoink. I hate to break it to you but newspapers have been touching up news photos for a hundred years. My great uncle was photographer and air-brusher for the NY Daily News for from the forties through the eighties.

I know this is a discussion that inevitably leads to grey areas (the famous Kent State Massacre photograph, say, where the fence post made it look as if Mary Ann Vecchio's head had been impaled was removed from all versions that made it into print for many years). But there's still a difference between "touching up" a photo (lightening some areas to make the detail more readable, cropping to remove distracting and irrelevant information etc.) and this kind of thing, where, essentially, the photographer has created an entirely false impression of the nature of the building he is photographing--in a photo essay that is about these very buildings.

There will always be some cases of photomanipulation which are clearly wrong, some which are clearly innocent and some which are arguable; just because some issues naturally present a sliding scale of cases doesn't mean that all judgment has to be suspended.
posted by yoink at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


So who's gonna send this conversation to the NYT?

Just did. ;)
posted by unixrat at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2009


Um, yoink. I hate to break it to you but newspapers have been touching up news photos for a hundred years. My great uncle was photographer and air-brusher for the NY Daily News for from the forties through the eighties.

This is not a retouched photo. It's copying one side to the other in order to make the picture appear much different than reality. This is like adding smoke to a picture of a house on fire versus brightening a firefighter's face so you can see the expression in the foreground. One is changing the narrative, the other is elucidating it.

It would be my guess that if you were standing in the location where this photo was taken you wouldn't have the same reaction of "Oh my god, it's so grandiose and gargantuan" that you do from this photo. The sheer amount of floor space makes this room appear to be a cathedral, which I would bet it's not. One half is real, the other half is probably a straight wall or something mundane.

Of course, we won't really know for sure, but that's the problem.
posted by odinsdream at 11:54 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Anyway, the giveaway is that ridiculous triangle at the top. There is no metal bracing holding those two pieces together. You'd have to have bracing in a real structural element like that, aside from the fact that, as pictured, it's superfluous. It doesn't join one structure to another. In a real framing job that triangle wouldn't exist at all.
posted by odinsdream at 11:55 AM on July 7, 2009


There will always be some cases of photomanipulation which are clearly wrong, some which are clearly innocent and some which are arguable; just because some issues naturally present a sliding scale of cases doesn't mean that all judgment has to be suspended.

Or to put it another way, just because it's hard to tell where to draw the line, that's no reason a line should not be drawn.

I tend to dislike terms similar to "without digital manipulation" when I am looking at a JPEG image on a computer. It isn't possible to obtain that without "digital manipulation" of some kind.

For pictures with documentary intent, the dividing line (for me) is manipulation intended to make the picture look more like it really looked, vs. those intended to make it look less like it really looked.
posted by FishBike at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hate to break it to you but newspapers have been touching up news photos for a hundred years.

Substantial modification of news photos is no longer considered acceptable and news agencies now have a very low tolerance for anything beyond ordinary cropping and exposure correction. Over the past decade there have been lots of firings and apologies, and in some cases, outright purging of a photographer's previous work for a publication when this is found out.

Some more famous examples here. The Beirut fires and Basra soldier images in particular got a lot of attention at the time. Non-journalistic photos can be altered when used for illustration purposes but they are credited as illustrations, not photographs.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


" I call bullshit on this not being photoshopped. Look at that wooden 'triangle' right near the top center."

It's a shop job but the building for probably all intents and purposes probably looks like that and isn't half finished (can't put up trusses without the bearing walls being complete). The photographer just didn't have a wide enough lense to get it in one shot. Kind of icky in a new story though. And sloppy as the photographer didn't get enough of the left side of the image to get the mirror point right.
posted by Mitheral at 12:10 PM on July 7, 2009


The easiest place for me to see the mirroring is on the large group of studs in the foreground that rough out a curved piece of wall meant to frame the central area. The third stud from the back (and fifth from the front) has a long vertical line of discoloration that is repeated on each side. There is a similar line of discoloration one third of the way from the top of the stud, repeated on each side. Those lines are imperfections in the stud. They would not be identical (or identically placed) in real framing.
posted by OmieWise at 12:13 PM on July 7, 2009


With the size of the image (even at 600 pixels wide) + the limitation of GIF images, I can see why there is still some doubt out there.

So check this section out - where the electrical wiring has been removed. Hopefully the increased color range will help convince the doubtful.

You can see the knots in the wood above more clearly than before, for example. (The white line in the image is the left border placed there by the online gallery, is kinda useful to show where the image was cropped.)
posted by unixrat at 12:30 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


So check this section out - where the electrical wiring has been removed.

Somewhere a young electrician who spent hours making sure the curves in the electric wires matched perfectly rages at his unacknowledged artistry.
posted by yoink at 12:40 PM on July 7, 2009 [16 favorites]


You'd have to have bracing in a real structural element like that, aside from the fact that, as pictured, it's superfluous

That's an open-rafter ceiling, and if the photo is not faked then the triangles are ornamentation.

More people should try exercising adverse possession.

I certainly perked up when my real estate class covered this, but it takes 5 years here in California and the kicker is that you've got to pay the income taxes over those 5 years. I didn't quite understand how that works but whatevs.
posted by @troy at 12:44 PM on July 7, 2009


5 years to adverse possession is a gift compared to many states. Here in Virginia it's 20.
posted by phearlez at 12:58 PM on July 7, 2009


Well, I pulled the original photo into PS and made a new layer with the right half flipped over the left.

Knocking the layer opacity back and forth I see it is a pixel-perfect mirroring. Just the dozen or so details are different.

99.9% sure it's faked. The joining and ductwork and lighting is just too symmetric.

Plus those stairs don't look functional, and stairs are IME always functional early in the framing.
posted by @troy at 1:03 PM on July 7, 2009


It's like Cloverfield only in slow motion.
posted by storybored at 1:04 PM on July 7, 2009


Who cares if it's retouched? This is an editorial for the NYT Magazine, there is no dumb journalism rule about "manipulation" being violated here.
posted by bradbane at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2009


Who cares if it's retouched?

"Martins, who creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation..."

Apparently, someone cares.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 1:15 PM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Who cares if it's retouched? This is an editorial for the NYT Magazine, there is no dumb journalism rule about "manipulation" being violated here.

It's presented to us as a photoessay that reports upon a real (and pressing) social phenomenon, not as the creative work of an artist who uses photomanipulation to create evocative images. The fact that it is in the NYT Magazine has absolutely zero to do with the ethical issue.
posted by yoink at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Holy cow, I followed that Google link. This guy is no junior-league photog. He hangs a lot of cred on that 'No Digital Manipulation' statement.

We may have hooked a big fish.
posted by unixrat at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Good job on catching the fake. My initial reaction on looking at the photo was one of disconnect, but I'm also lazy.
posted by maxwelton at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2009


That's an open-rafter ceiling, and if the photo is not faked then the triangles are ornamentation.

I see no indication that it's supposed to be an open-rafter ceiling. You can see HVAC and metal bracing. The wood is not comparatively nicer than the framing wood as it would be if you intended it to be seen after finishing.

Anyway, that triangle is just the first of many issues that pops out. Others have already been mentioned in-thread. It's definitively a mirrored image. The question at this point is why. My conjecture is that the space is not nearly as impressive if you don't imagine it to be the cathedral that these photos portray it to be.
posted by odinsdream at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2009


Well, he certainly goes all out for symmetry when he can find it. Just did some similar experiments with image 4, and except for the flooring the symmetry is also extreme, to the point of pixel perfect, again with just a few touches that could be additions or details pasted in from the missing side. Even the lighting is symmetrical: compare the texture on the wainscoting on each side. Given the relative lack of textural details (and absence of architectural absurdities) this one isn't remotely as improbable as the other and could be be the result of taking very great care. But apart from the remarkably exact appearance of the wainscoting given that they're facing opposite directions, I do wonder why you'd have what appear to be identical thermostats or whatever they are on both sides of the room.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:38 PM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


The staircase clearly goes… back and to the left!
posted by JBennett at 1:38 PM on July 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


It's a goofy statement anyway to say long exposures are okay but digital manipulation is not. Long exposures are in themselves transformative. What's the meaningful distinction between airbrushing someone out of a shot rather than having an exposure that's so long that a moving individual doesn't appear? Color alteration vs the odd color response resulting from reciprocity failure?
posted by phearlez at 1:53 PM on July 7, 2009


What's the meaningful distinction between airbrushing someone out of a shot rather than having an exposure that's so long that a moving individual doesn't appear?

A long exposure is, by definition, a record of everything in a scene that doesn't move for a given period of time; to use such a photo is not to distort your evidence, it is simply to provide one particular kind of evidence. Your question makes as much sense as asking "what's the difference between airbrushing someone out of a photo and asking that person to leave the group before you take the photo." The end results might be indistinguishable, but the ethical differences are clear.
posted by yoink at 2:03 PM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Long exposures are very useful for shooting in natural/existing light (especially in low light situations) while maintaining full depth of field focus on slower (and sharper) film/iso. It doesn't say how long his exposures are but I'm guessing the outdoor exposures probably ran under 30 seconds and the indoor and night shots were probably under a minute.

Also, it's all in the exposition. If you shoot with long exposures and say you are shooting with long exposures than people will not be surprised to find blurry/nonexistent figures/moving objects. If you say you use no digital manipulation and you knotty pine appears to be book-matched, well, that's asking for trouble.
posted by JBennett at 2:04 PM on July 7, 2009


I'm just glad Martin's doesn't shoot people.
posted by JBennett at 2:09 PM on July 7, 2009


What's the meaningful distinction between airbrushing someone out of a shot rather than having an exposure that's so long that a moving individual doesn't appear? Color alteration vs the odd color response resulting from reciprocity failure?

Well, this isn't a holy-war type of issue for me, but I do think there's a slight difference, in that taking a long exposure is more passive. When you take a long exposure, you have a sense of how it's going to affect the picture, but you're not looking right at the finished picture and making changes directly. There's still an element of chance/fate/whatever.

Also, there's an element of empiricism--you can't really go back and repeat the experiment, but you do know that anyone who stood in the same spot with the same camera and the same settings would have ended up with the same image. And you also know that the long exposure effect is independent of the objects in front of the camera--the physics of it is always the same. You can't really say either of these things about airbrushing someone out.
posted by equalpants at 2:21 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah it's harder to tell if #4 is a flip.

Following the floor along the baseboard on the left hand wall and up to under the windows, it looks sort of fake to me, like he kept the floor but flipped the walls. Also, the panels on the walls seem to have a slanted pattern; is it normal for this to be flipped on opposite sides of the room or do you just do them all the same way as you go around the room? And the foreground pillars also look suspicious all on their own.
posted by fleacircus at 2:31 PM on July 7, 2009


Weird. I wonder why he would do that.
posted by kathrineg at 2:52 PM on July 7, 2009


#4 doesn't look like a flip to me, but having one majorly manipulated image calls everything into question.
posted by zennie at 2:58 PM on July 7, 2009


I made a mouseover image thing and it is less convincing. Still, the strong symmetry of the wall shadows vs. the floor's lighting still looks suspicious to me.
posted by fleacircus at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2009


I think it's a flip--the lines on the panels, the lighting, the doubled thermostats, the 2-of-3 exactly matching outlets. But what I suspect is even more troubling is that when you stop to think about how leaves would blow into a house through an open door, it's pretty obvious that those leaves are either 'shopped in or were hand-scattered on the floor. Leaves blown into a house down randomly scatter themselves over the whole floor area; they are densest at the opening they've blown through and thin out beyond it. If I'm right, this gets us one step closer to Jayson Blair territory.
posted by yoink at 3:30 PM on July 7, 2009


#4 doesn't look like a flip to me, but having one majorly manipulated image calls everything into question.

Here's a technique to try, if you have Photoshop or something like it.
  1. Open the image in question using Photoshop
  2. Create a new layer that's a copy of the image
  3. Flip the new layer horizontally (so that it's a mirror image of the original)
  4. Set the blending mode of the new layer to "difference"
  5. Align the new layer as closely as possible to the original image
What happens when you get the alignment right is that any portions of the image which are identical mirror images of each other will turn black (or as close to it as JPEG compression artifacts will allow). Portions of the image which are not mirrors of each other will stand out rather brightly on both sides.

With image #3, everything except for a few very tiny spots goes black, indicating that the left and right sides are identical. Basically all I see when I do that is a bunch of very dark grey snow (JPEG compression artifacts which aren't mirror images), and bright spots showing all the non-mirrored things people have called out in this thread as intentional edits to make it not look like a mirror image.

With image #4 it's pretty much the same thing except for the floor, which looks almost normal. The doors are actually aligned slightly differently than the rest of the image, so you have to shift the new layer about 1 pixel left or right to make the doors go black or everything else.

The center line around which the image halves are reflected doesn't seem to quite be in the middle of the frame, so it take a little bit of fussing to line things up right. But when you do, it's pretty obvious what has been reflected and what hasn't.
posted by FishBike at 3:41 PM on July 7, 2009 [17 favorites]


I've been Googling around looking at some of Martins' other work. It's clear that symmetry is a big thing for him--I've found a number of other photos that look like they could be 'shopped, too. What's interesting is that he also makes refusing any post production tinkering such an avowed principle. Poor guy--he must be filled with self-loathing every time he opens up Photoshop.

Here's a telling quotation from a recent interview, one which also discusses his love of symmetry:

When I photograph I don’t do any post production to the images, either in the darkroom or digitally, because it erodes the process. So I respect the essence of these spaces.

When you become a perfectionist, the perfection takes over, you know? And that really skews the overall meaning of the image. So that ‘s why I try to make the images as organically as possible…But I don’t have anything against digital photography

posted by yoink at 4:02 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


With image #4 it's pretty much the same thing except for the floor, which looks almost normal. The doors are actually aligned slightly differently than the rest of the image, so you have to shift the new layer about 1 pixel left or right to make the doors go black or everything else.

I don't have photoshop on my current (new) machine... partly because it's such a distraction! But this makes the mirroring clear even with the wash of light?
posted by zennie at 4:10 PM on July 7, 2009


But this makes the mirroring clear even with the wash of light?

Yup. In that image #4, the only things that don't come out black (or very close to it) are the floor, and the couple of extra holes in the wall/trim on the left side. Even the lighting on the walls is an absolute mirror image from left to right.
posted by FishBike at 5:41 PM on July 7, 2009


You know, this one is so obviously 'shopped that you really have to wonder if all his stuff about eschewing post production work on the images isn't some sort of obscure joke. Surely all these hi-falutin' photography galleries show him and the photographic presses that publish his work can't all have failed to notice such obvious work, can they? And yet I can't find a single intimation of this in any of the (copious) critical commentary out there on the web.
posted by yoink at 5:54 PM on July 7, 2009


I put together a couple of A-B comparisons of details from the right side & left side, flipped & blown-up with a 3 second delay. If this isn't a fake they've got some supremely anal-retentive contractors working for them.

For instance…posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:56 PM on July 7, 2009 [16 favorites]


You know, usually I'm all "plate of beans wah wah wah", but I just made some popcorn, let's keep this up! Freow!
posted by cavalier at 6:00 PM on July 7, 2009


It seems like a weasel approach, but it seems certainly possible that he could just be good in the darkroom. Is there any technical reason why this sort of mirroring couldn't be done manually?
posted by feloniousmonk at 6:01 PM on July 7, 2009


It seems like a weasel approach, but it seems certainly possible that he could just be good in the darkroom. Is there any technical reason why this sort of mirroring couldn't be done manually?

I imagine you could do the mirroring--but the erasing of cables, the adding in of stray boards here and there, or (in the airport runway example I give above) the cloning of lines of weeds pushing through the tarmac? Those are pretty obviously digital manipulations. And I don't think any of this squares with his "organic" credo.
posted by yoink at 6:14 PM on July 7, 2009


That makes sense yoink, but I have seen some really remarkable manual manipulation work, which combined with the "no digital manipulation" bit makes me think there is still a possibility it was manual. Given enough time and enough skill, even things like adding the boards is possible from what little I know of dark room manipulation.

Either way, it doesn't seem particularly honest.
posted by feloniousmonk at 6:21 PM on July 7, 2009


which combined with the "no digital manipulation" bit makes me think there is still a possibility it was manual

Either way:

When I photograph I don’t do any post production to the images, either in the darkroom or digitally, because it erodes the process. So I respect the essence of these spaces.

posted by yoink at 6:24 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I probably wouldn't mind him lying so much if he actually demonstrated some manipulation skill. I mean, in that first example, you can see he clearly thought "oh, better 'shop out the blue electrical box" (on the left) but failed to notice the telling dark knot of wood right below it. Just lazy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:49 PM on July 7, 2009


I probably wouldn't mind him lying so much if he actually demonstrated some manipulation skill. I mean, in that first example, you can see he clearly thought "oh, better 'shop out the blue electrical box" (on the left) but failed to notice the telling dark knot of wood right below it. Just lazy.

Lazy, true, but effective. Interesting how many people looked at Unixrat's original animation and simply could not see what now seems so obvious. And, again, how many people have waxed lyrical about the photographer's amazing ability to "discover" strangely symmetrical scenes in the real world without once resorting to any kind of trickery. The eye is surprisingly easily fooled.

And, in fact, if he faffed around endlessly altering wood grain and paint splotches and so on, wouldn't the whole thing end up looking plastic and processed? He's probably doing exactly the right amount of minor alteration: enough to fool the brain into thinking that it's not "too symmetrical" without alerting our "hey, this looks shopped!" anxieties.
posted by yoink at 7:08 PM on July 7, 2009


From the feature:

Editors' Note: July 7, 2009

The pictures in this feature were removed after questions were raised about whether they had been digitally altered.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:10 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


THE POWER OF METAFILTER COMPELS YOU!!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:12 PM on July 7, 2009 [33 favorites]


Yep. They've taken the pictures down.
posted by medium format at 7:12 PM on July 7, 2009


I believe this calls for a MeTa!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:16 PM on July 7, 2009


Also, there's an element of empiricism--you can't really go back and repeat the experiment, but you do know that anyone who stood in the same spot with the same camera and the same settings would have ended up with the same image. And you also know that the long exposure effect is independent of the objects in front of the camera--the physics of it is always the same. You can't really say either of these things about airbrushing someone out.

I believe in this case the assertion that no post-production work is done is meant to imply that the image we see is exactly as it is. But a long exposure isn't an indication of "exactly as it is." Fast moving objects are essentially invisible. Put a strong neutral-density filter on the lens and take a long enough shot that the sun moves and you no longer have shadowed areas the same as a higher speed shot.

My point was merely that both techniques can be used to create a final image that isn't necessarily reflective of what a person would see with their eye. Given a wide shot of a courtyard with a person walking around you could take a long enough exposure that the person did not appear, even if there was no point where they were out of frame.

Alternately you could have a situation where for one second out of an hour the person is obscured by a tree. Whether that's deceptive or not really depends on how the picture is portrayed, I think. I just think that making a statement that long exposures are used but no post-production is done implies a "what you see is how it was." If I thought everyone knew just how you could lie with long exposures perhaps that wouldn't concern me, but I'm not sure that's true.
posted by phearlez at 7:27 PM on July 7, 2009


Another notch in the ol' Metafilter bedpost.
posted by Justinian at 7:39 PM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


And, in fact, if he faffed around endlessly altering wood grain and paint splotches and so on, wouldn't the whole thing end up looking plastic and processed? He's probably doing exactly the right amount of minor alteration: enough to fool the brain into thinking that it's not "too symmetrical" without alerting our "hey, this looks shopped!" anxieties.

He would have gotten away with it to, if it wasn't for you darn kidsthat triangular whatzit.
posted by unixrat at 8:10 PM on July 7, 2009


Looks like this one is Photoshopped too--the orange fence in front is a mirror image.
posted by Upton O'Good at 8:57 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Phearlez, I think you are the only one who is claiming that these photos are claiming to represent things just as the eye would see them, or "exactly as it is". The photographer and the NYT only say that these photos show exactly what the film/sensor "sees" with its long exposure.

Of course you're right, long exposures can create very deceptive effects. They can also create very natural, detailed representations and can sometimes create effects in an image that mimic the feel of actually being there. Such as blown out light coming around and softly eating at the edge of solid objects in creating the effect of looking at something bright before you're eyes have had a moment to adjust. Also, night shooting with long exposures can accurately capture the feel of looking at something in the darkness long after your eyes have adjusted as details come out of the darkness.

Now, of course the NYT is no longer claiming these are un-touched by digital hands.
[slips hard copy in mylar sleeve-files away*]

*The super obvious woodwork photo didn't appear in the printed edition but the leaf blown room did.
posted by JBennett at 9:01 PM on July 7, 2009


what struck me about #4 (and i think yoink is kind of waltzing around the edge of it) is that the floor does not go with the rest of the room. look at the left-hand side of the french doors: if, as it seems from the shadows on the right-hand side, the illumination is coming in through those doors, the wash of shadow should be pretty symmetrical, but it's not. in fact, the left-side wall almost appears to float over the floor because of the excessively dark and unnatural shadow there. same with the shadow through the left-side archway: it's too dark and distinctly-edge, causing the bottom of the pillar to seem to float. my guess would be that the walls/ceiling/doors are mirror-flipped, but i think the floor is brought in from a different photo altogether.
posted by miss patrish at 9:05 PM on July 7, 2009


Looks like this one is Photoshopped too--the orange fence in front is a mirror image.

Holy hell, you're right, it's another mirror image.

This rabbit hole? It's deep?
posted by unixrat at 9:09 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good eye Upton! The whole fence/wood heap/bucket is a dupe. This is fun… I'd buy a book of Martins' "find the duplicated elements" photographs. Maybe a calendar would be a good idea.
posted by JBennett at 9:09 PM on July 7, 2009


Thanks a trillion DU! You hit it right on the noggin'. :)

Ah, Happy Dave, thanks a gazillion for the name of the math, the Gaussian copula function.

And Holy Ethics, you MeFite tech wizards for outing the unreal estate.wow. Bravo unixrat! And excellent that the New York Times took swift action.
posted by nickyskye at 9:31 PM on July 7, 2009


It's presented to us as a photoessay that reports upon a real (and pressing) social phenomenon, not as the creative work of an artist who uses photomanipulation to create evocative images.

I dunno man that's pretty much exactly what "editorial" means, as opposed to straight up journalism. And this is an editorial.

That's weird that it says he doesn't do any post and then apparently did, maybe he didn't write the copy (when I shoot stuff for magazines I don't usually have any contact with the writer, or really have anything to do with the images after I send the files over).

Maybe he had a light leak on one side of his film holders and figured he'd just flip them. I don't really care either way, I just have this pet peeve when people get all self righteous about photographs being "real" or not. Cuz you know, they're not.
posted by bradbane at 9:37 PM on July 7, 2009


Hey, this is fun. Here's another: flipped. Source. He barely bothered to randomize the silhouette of the terrain between the trees and building or the tree branches.
posted by jamaro at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2009


Another one from the slidehow: compare the stone piles outlining the road in front of the building in this one.
posted by Upton O'Good at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hold on a sec, what if the house was designed for a rich man named Tevye?

Seriously, though, the staircase reminds me of the stories I used to hear about people in my old neighbourhood in Brooklyn putting fake underground garage doors on their houses just so they'd be able to do a curb cut and prevent anyone from parking in front of their house. I thought it was nonsense until I was walking down one particular street and noticed a house with a full-grown tree standing between the curb cut and the garage.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:53 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


bradbane: just read the damn thread. You're missing so many points, it's really not worth enumerating them.
posted by yoink at 9:56 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well bradbane, apparently the people at the New York Times seems to think it's a little bigger of a deal than you do since they took the photos down. Or that no biggy for you too?
posted by dead cousin ted at 10:35 PM on July 7, 2009


We should send this guy a free mefi login on the off chance he's stupid enough to open his mouth. The lulz would be epic.
posted by ryanrs at 10:46 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have a nifty animated gif, but I used FishBike's technique to confirm perfect mirroring in some of the plants in the foreground in this image. And no flipping necessary on this one. The two umbrellas with stacked chairs (?) beneath them at left, along with the two umbrellas slightly behind them, are exactly the same. The pattern in the sand at the bottom of the image is mirrored, though.
posted by des at 11:01 PM on July 7, 2009


This has got to be his gig, the mirroring of some elements in a photograph through digital manipulation. If he says that he doesn't do it, I'm running with that being an "artist's statement to point out the fallacy of artist's statements" or some similar Big Statement.

I mean, we cannot have been the first to notice this, eh?
posted by maxwelton at 11:58 PM on July 7, 2009


From the website of Edgar Martins (under news):
[28th June 2009]
Edgar Martins' newly commissioned work is featured in the New York Times Magazine. Martins' work will also be featured in publications and periodicals such as T-Magazine (Portugal), SOL (Portugal), Expresso (Portugal), Dardo (Portugal/Spain), Livraison (Sweden), World Art China (China), Horizon Magazine (Macau/Hong Kong), amongst other
Would it be worthwhile to put up some concise documentation of the manipulations, e.g., in the Metafilter wiki?
posted by ltl at 1:03 AM on July 8, 2009


The fence one is hilarious. He added one side of a culvert but didn't put one on the other side of the road—culvert to nowhere. And the light patches where he cloned away the piles of junk... Phew.
posted by fleacircus at 2:12 AM on July 8, 2009


The only pre-mefi claim to photoshopping I can find on the web in portuguese is a comment on this blog where someone says that the airport pics have to be photoshopped because it's not believable that you get a totally dark sky (no stars, no lights, etc) with such long exposures. But that's beside the point in this context because it wasn't meant to be photojournalism anyway...although the airport images seem to be included in the Topologies book of which he says:

Though my images are minimal in tone, they do not pare down my experience of place. In my work there is scope for so much more. What seem like highly controlled and manipulated photographs are but a product of illusion. The illusion of the photographic process. This is especially evident in “The Accidental Theorist” series. Most people assume that these image are manipulated. Or perhaps even staged. In reality, there is no post-production work, no darkroom or computer manipulation. At first glance you are drawn to the unforgiving dark skies, or the otherworldly qualities of the space. But then a sort of magic act takes place and objects start revealing their unique identities, their inconsistencies, and, if you like, their “obtuse meaning” (which Roland Barthes believes to have something to do with disguise).
posted by lucia__is__dada at 4:29 AM on July 8, 2009


phearlez: I believe in this case the assertion that no post-production work is done is meant to imply that the image we see is exactly as it is. But a long exposure isn't an indication of "exactly as it is."

I think this is a misreading of the artist's statements, where he talks about not using post-processing to "respect the process." Long exposures can be part of that process.
posted by OmieWise at 5:03 AM on July 8, 2009


What seem like highly controlled and manipulated photographs are but a product of illusion. The illusion of the photographic process.

You don't say.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:57 AM on July 8, 2009


I wonder how far back in Edgar Martins' career [pdf] this goes? Did he get lazy after he was established? He's only 32.
posted by zennie at 6:50 AM on July 8, 2009


This guy is ridiculous - the over-the-top "no post-processing" stance is what makes this so crazy.
posted by odinsdream at 6:57 AM on July 8, 2009


I was just looking at his Diminishing Present series on his website. You need to go to his photography link and click on the series to view, it's a flash interface.

So many of those images have mirroring.
no. 5 is the most interesting one to me. He mirrors part of a tree at the end of the road. I don't know he made any claims about this particular series being "pure" and un manipulated.

Other images in the series are no. 8,9,10,14,16-17, and 18. All very obvious. The images are striking and well made and I like how he mirrors the elements. It's just crappy to claim otherwise.

The 16th and 17th image are particularly interesting. They are of pretty much the same spot with different exposures or just different stages of post-processing. No. 17 looks like it is the unmirrored "before" and 16 is the same spot with mirrored grass on the left "after". It gives you a peek into his process. He certainly never hid his tendencies to mirror stuff, so why go out of your way to deny it. Very strange, very interesting.

Here is a direct link to one of those photos with some heavily mirrored smoke!
posted by JBennett at 6:58 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is his entire career founded on hypocrisy?
posted by aramaic at 7:39 AM on July 8, 2009


Most people assume that these image are manipulated.

Hmm, I guess most people turned out to be right.

It'll be interesting to see if he makes any kind of public defense of his "no post-production work". Because, honestly, how do you walk away from this not looking like a liar?
posted by quin at 8:03 AM on July 8, 2009


All right, all right! You've converted me MeFi. Thank you for the detailed shots.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:06 AM on July 8, 2009


Picked up by Editor & Publisher.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:31 AM on July 8, 2009


Vacapinta posted in the Meta that it's on A Photo Editor.
posted by unixrat at 8:36 AM on July 8, 2009


http://dlkcollection.blogspot.com/2009/07/more-on-edgar-martins.html
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/04/post-bubble-landscapes/
http://www.eandppub.com/2009/07/nyt-pulls-photos-published-digitally-altered.html
posted by unixrat at 8:49 AM on July 8, 2009


I feel like an idiot for liking this photo series. The unfinished home interior especially I remember thinking seemed too perfect but I couldn't put my finger on why. I understand what he was going for, the unfinished cathedral of the fallen free market religion, but if that's not what it really was then you shouldn't make it that just to fit your concept, at least not if you're shooting for a newspaper's magazine.
posted by The Straightener at 8:59 AM on July 8, 2009


Picked up by Romenesko. Go blue!
posted by twsf at 9:11 AM on July 8, 2009


Gawker too.

Internet Geeks - 1
Art World - 0
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:16 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Picked up by Huffington Post. Nice work Mefi!
posted by jeanmari at 9:38 AM on July 8, 2009


Early in this thread, nickyskye posted:
"... mathematicians creating some sort of math to predict the bond market, getting into bed with bankers and people in the stock market, raking in the gazillions... smoke and mirrors... (Anyone know... the name of the math involved?)"

Answer: Wired Magazine/Mar 2009 - Cover story was "The Secret Formula That Destroyed Wall Street". In brief: In the mid-80s, Wall Street 'quant' David X. Li created the 'Gaussian copula formula' which refined risk-assessment so elegantly that it rapidly became pervasive, creating an ego-fueled sense of power and control over its subject (i.e., 'risk'). Which, uh, couldn't last...um...ya know? Here it is, in all it's seductive omniscience:

Where 'Pr' is 'Joint Default Probability', namely the likelihood that any two ventures ('A' and 'B') will BOTH default at the same time, and, where Gamma is the irresistible magic number reducing risk-correlation to a single constant:

Pr[T{subscriptA} <1, T{subB}<1] = Phi{sub2} (Phi{superscript minus 1} (F{subA}(1)), Phi{super minus 1} (F{subB} (1), Gamma)

- I can't throw the mag away - I'm mesmerized by the significance of this wonk-wankery.
posted by like-mind at 9:45 AM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Anyone who hasn't read through the MetaTalk thread should really take a look at the results of this comment where the photos in question are run through an automatic copy-detection system. It's very telling that the automated system easily picks up on the objects which were manually copied from one side of the photo to the other.
posted by odinsdream at 10:17 AM on July 8, 2009


I've read through the messages here, I have not had time to look at all of the images in detail. It does sound like the amount of editing is way beyond what is acceptable in journalism.

There is one thing I do want to point out, though, as a photographer. I've seen the quote about not doing digital manipulations, and I want to give people some context about what "artists statement" means.

Photographers usually create specific projects/portfolios of images, consisting of 20+ images with a concept tying them together, similar printing style, etc. This is what galleries/book publishers want to see. A photographer may have many different projects they create over their career. When a photographer pulls a project like this together (or maybe at the outset of it) they will write an artist's statement, explaining the concept behind the project and how they created it.

The artist's statement they create is specific to that project. It may contain some ideas that are universal to their work, but that's not necessarily the case. It would be perfectly reasonable for a photographer to make one project with no digital manipulations and describe that as an important aspect of the project in the artist's statement, but to do other projects where they do use digital manipulations. That would not be considered hypocritical/inconsistent at all. They are different bodies of work. Just as a writer might use different methods of working when writing a poem and a novel, or a novel and an article for a travel magazine, the photographer may use very different methods for different projects.

It sounded like from what I read, the statement people leaped on about no digital manipulations may have come from an artist's statement for a different project. I think the lay person could see the phrase "artist's statement," and misinterpret that to be some sort of manifesto about how the artist always works.

Please note that I'm not defending the use of these images. I don't think theses manipulations were appropriate, given the subject matter and the publication. If this was a fine art project to hang in a gallery, it would be a different story, but journalistic standards were needed here. (I do not like such extreme manipulations in my own fine art work, even, but it's not considered "unethical.")
posted by richburroughs at 10:24 AM on July 8, 2009


It sounded like from what I read, the statement people leaped on about no digital manipulations may have come from an artist's statement for a different project. I think the lay person could see the phrase "artist's statement," and misinterpret that to be some sort of manifesto about how the artist always works.

The statement originally quoted was the one appended to this very photoessay. Later statements were quoted from interviews Martins gave about his work and photographic philosophy in general. He has made versions of the same statement to accompany every single one of the series from which the images that people have linked to in the thread are drawn. It is an absolutely consistent part of his self-proclaimed artistic credo.

So no, there's no fig-leaf there at all for him to hide under.
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this was a fine art project to hang in a gallery, it would be a different story

Actually, the times commissioned this (ostensibly) as an editorial art piece. But that framing does not change that it is, as the man said, bullshit.

What the pictures are is not the problem - the problem is the chasm between what they are and what they are claimed to be.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:38 AM on July 8, 2009


The statement originally quoted was the one appended to this very photoessay. Later statements were quoted from interviews Martins gave about his work and photographic philosophy in general.

Ok. I did see one post where it appeared that someone was quoting an artist's statement for a different project. I thought perhaps it was possible someone at the magazine made a similar leap and pulled in material he had written about something else.

From your response, it sounds like that's not the case. I just wanted to make sure it's clear how these things work.

Usually a statement is written for a specific project, and is not necessarily meant to apply to all the photographer's work (although that's also possible). People may use different methods for different projects at the same time. Right now I have different projects in process that I am shooting on black and white film, color film, and digitally. And the way people work sometimes changes over time, as well.
posted by richburroughs at 10:57 AM on July 8, 2009


Actually, the times commissioned this (ostensibly) as an editorial art piece.

We don't know how they "commissioned" this (i.e., what the contract they had with Martins actually stated). We do know, however, that they did not present it as an "art piece," they presented it as a piece of photojournalism. They didn't say "Edgar Martins is an artist who has created a series of images evoking the mood of the current crisis in the housing market." They said that he had traveled the country taking digitally unaltered photographs of abandoned building developments--and they provided accompanying text to each image explaining where it had (purportedly) been taken and what the circumstances were that had lead to the abandonment of the project. That is journalism, not 'art.'
posted by yoink at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, the times commissioned this (ostensibly) as an editorial art piece. But that framing does not change that it is, as the man said, bullshit.

What the pictures are is not the problem - the problem is the chasm between what they are and what they are claimed to be.


Yes. It seems more like a documentary project to me, and I think it should have been held to higher ethical standards.

There is an enormous amount of photoshopping going on in art photography right now. I was in a workshop recently where people shot landscapes and were photoshopping out whole buildings, phone wires, and more. As I said, I will do some minimal retouching in my own work, but I want to have a bit more reality to it. I certainly would not do the kind of mirroring this photographer did. But again, it would not be considered "unethical" in a gallery show as long as you didn't claim you did no manipulations :)
posted by richburroughs at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2009


"That's an open-rafter ceiling, and if the photo is not faked then the triangles are ornamentation."

Even if the truss was supposed to be exposed, which I doubt, that truss is broken. From my meta comment:
1. No steel nailing plate where the two members meet.
2. One end doesn't meet the outside members and trust members are designed to not have any bending force. It's what allows such spindly wood to support large spans.
3. The space above isn't a triangle in a finkesque truss.
4. No nailing plate on the upper deck member and it's hard to differentiate but it looks like the two upper middle members don't actually touch.
5. Though you see some pretty wacky things framed up, trusses are made in factories with direct engineer oversight. And are usually cut via computer from drawings calculated by design programs which calculate stresses. Several things would need to go wrong for a truss that broken to be installed and then it might not support it's own weight let alone that of the decking.

Most of the rest could maybe, with squinting, be brushed away as a low resolution photo of a neat freak installation but the truss was just wrong.

"Leaves blown into a house down randomly scatter themselves over the whole floor area; they are densest at the opening they've blown through and thin out beyond it."

Actually leaves blown through open windows/doors tend to accumulate in corners. The wind can swirl around the room but there is a velocity change in the corner that drops the leaves. It's interesting because the leaves will graduate with smaller ones at the front and the largest ones right in the corner.
posted by Mitheral at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'd just like to take a moment to welcome all our new readers and advise them that yes, MetaFilter is a collection of wizards and analysts and scholars and all that and we also like to futz with computers.
posted by cavalier at 11:36 AM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thank you for this fascinating discussion.

When I saw these photos, I had a cringing response. I didn't think too much about this and attributed it to either the sad nature of the subject or the fact that I typically find this type of construction kind of gross. Now I think my response is similar to the "uncanny valley" response.*

The more I looked at the photographer's photos, the more I had this kind of response.

Clearly the creator is trying to evoke an eery visceral response, but, of course, he's cheating. After a little more research into the work and bio of this photographer it seems his work and his bio - very good looking young prodigy - are, however unintentionally, a reinforcement of the original story - and along with this story, together, are signifiers of the original story. (Barthes in action, but after all the embarrassing art criticism I have read today . . .).

I wonder if there is any hope for a moral recovery when even arbiters of such - and I include the Times, I mean come on - are part of the problem.

*The hypothesis that holds when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.
posted by Mrs Sasaki at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a real ruined building with blown-in leaves (I took this photo and did not daintily scatter leaves about). You can see that the leaves are only sticking to the wet parts of the floor and the corners; the dry parts have almost no leaves at all.
posted by nev at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2009


Has anyone looked at the vanishing point on the photo? There are a lot of lines that should be pointing at it; I wonder if the two halves of the picture agree on where it is...
posted by ntucker at 12:18 PM on July 8, 2009


Superb work team MeFi! This is why I love this site.

So are there any mirrors of the original around? I'm intrigued now.
posted by davemee at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2009


we also like to futz with computers

Some of us dim the lights and play soft music before the futzing commences.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


davemee, link to the images from MeTa
posted by slyrabbit at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some of us dim the lights and play soft music before the futzing commences.

However, if you are new and would like to futz with us, you will have to take us out to dinner first. We're not that kind of site.
posted by jeanmari at 12:52 PM on July 8, 2009


Actually leaves blown through open windows/doors tend to accumulate in corners.

I think that tends to be true where there's a through-draught in the room (or a very violent wind). If you have only a single opening (the claim was that just the door had been left open) and if the accumulation is over time (rather than the result of a violent storm blowing drifts of leaves into the space) then the pattern will be to have the leaves densest near the opening and thinning as you move away from it.

Here's a real ruined building with blown-in leaves

The house the photograph purports to be of was not a "ruined building"--its walls, windows and doors were completely finished. Supposedly the door had been left open and leaves had "blown in" over time. That's a rather strikingly different scenario than that captured in your photograph.
posted by yoink at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2009


It is possible to look at all the 49 photos in this current documentary project at the photograper's website (Flash interface, under Photography, "Ruins of the guilded age"). There are more that seem to be mirrored and photoshopped, e.g., the trees and the dirt tracks of number 6.
posted by ltl at 1:25 PM on July 8, 2009


Good point yoink. Thinking back all the places I've been in where I noticed accumulated debris have had more than a single opening.
posted by Mitheral at 1:32 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh my. Check out number 15 at the link ltl posted. That seems -- really pretty blatantly blatant. (Sorry I can't post direct link, razzle frazzle Flash interface...)
posted by Kat Allison at 1:39 PM on July 8, 2009


There are more that seem to be mirrored and photoshopped

Out of the 49 in that slide show, I'll eat Unixrat's bullshit-detecting-hat if at least 45 aren't partially 'shopped.
posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2009


Yeah, I didn't get through the whole set in ltl's link, but several of them have obvious mirroring, including the floor on the very first photo. It seems like these would have been good photos without the editing. What's the word for professing to be completely against something that you do seemingly compulsively? Not self-loathing, exactly, but it's like he feels guilty or conflicted about photoshopping—like it's not true "art"— and proclaims not to do it in the (subliminal?) hope that he'll be called out. It makes me think of moralizing Republican adulterers or Ted Haggard.
posted by stopgap at 1:47 PM on July 8, 2009


Oh, good lord, they are all altered. Why on earth would he want to do such a thing? I'm with stopgap--it seems like the pictures would've been plenty nice-looking without the fakery. This is some weird, weird stuff.
posted by equalpants at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2009


It makes me think of moralizing Republican adulterers or Ted Haggard.

You may be right. I'm starting to think his career is based on hypocrisy, driven by self-hate (and/or staggering arrogance).

...which, now that I think of it, may be his attempted escape route -- "Don't you see? The whole point was to make a subtle remark about the nature of our inescapably mediated experience, and the intrinsic hypocrisy found in that mediation! Plus it ties into the hypocrisy of the American Dream. And Capitalism! Dude! The absurdity of existence, and stuff! I wasn't lying, you just didn't see my real point!"
posted by aramaic at 2:01 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's the word for professing to be completely against something that you do seemingly compulsively?

"Full of shit."
posted by phearlez at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


What's the word for professing to be completely against something that you do seemingly compulsively?

Sociopath, which I think is now called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I would say eg Sarah Palin, but I'd hate to limit it to a single politician.
posted by Mrs Sasaki at 2:21 PM on July 8, 2009


Today must be the worst day of Edgar Martins's life. I bet he woke up feeling really jolly. Maybe he was going to take his supermodel girlfriend for a spin in his Vespa. Maybe he was going to visit the sportscar he was having detailed and customized to see if the colors he picked out last week were working well together and if he could have a plasma screen television installed on the dashboard.

Maybe he was packing to move into his new hip digs in a cool neighborhood with his supermodel fiancee.

Maybe he was jonesing for a fix and his dealer had to break the news to him that he'd been found out as a fraud.

Maybe he rented Harry Potter last night. Or finished rereading Harry Potter for the thirtieth time very late in the night and just woke up to the photo editor at the NYT demanding an answer about the pictures. ("Unix-what?" He asked the angry caller in a groggy voice, trying to focus his eyes on the lump attached to a head of blonde hair next to him -- his model girlfriend still asleep from all the drugs from last night's drug-fueled party at Lisbon's most exclusive discotheque.)

And to think, he was flying high as a photographer and consciously or subconsciously never thought he'd get caught, and then boom! He would never have been found out if it hadn't been for unixrat.

Boggles my mind how things can just change in a second.
posted by anniecat at 2:22 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


What's the word for professing to be completely against something that you do seemingly compulsively?

Reaction formation is the psychoanalytic term (or at least gets very close to it).

Ahem. Carry on!
posted by pluckemin at 2:27 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or finished rereading Harry Potter for the thirtieth time very late in the night and just woke up...

"Edgar Martins? This is The Internets with your wake-up call."
posted by Floydd at 2:30 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I hate that you can't link within a flash site. If it matters, the set starts at www.edgarmartins.com/img/photos/Ruins_of_the_Gilded_Age/thumb/01.jpg and goes up to 49.jpg

Several of the images are obviously altered. Try bouncing between #22 and it's mirror self, and you'll see the trees on either side and the barn in the background are mirrored.
posted by fings at 2:37 PM on July 8, 2009


For what it's worth, NYT has updated the slideshow page: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/07/05/magazine/20090705-gilded-slideshow_index.html

"A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on nytimes.com entitled "Ruins of the Second Gilded Age" showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, "creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation."

A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from nytimes.com."

posted by steve.wdc at 2:39 PM on July 8, 2009


I guess his career as a photographer has been ruined.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on July 8, 2009


kinda like the milli vanilli of photography.
posted by lester at 3:04 PM on July 8, 2009


I guess his career as a photographer has been ruined.

I'd be surprised. He's mostly renowned in art-photography circles rather than photo-journalism circles. He'll just have to learn to peddle an alternative line of art-theory b.s. to accompany what are, certainly, striking images. As many anxious photographers have noted in this thread, there's nothing wrong with digital manipulation in a non-journalistic context, as long as you're upfront about it. I think aramaic, above, has presented him with the perfect get-out-of-jail-free card for art-world purposes: just claim that the whole point was to evacuate the very notion of "authenticity" and hey presto!

Doesn't always work, of course. Who was that '80s artist whose work was everywhere for a while and then ended up giving an interview to a tabloid magazine in which he wore a suit made of money or lit a cigar with money or something and claimed that his paintings were all produced by assistants without any input from him? He tried afterwards to claim the whole thing had been a conceptual art stunt but he just got completely disappeared from the art scene and the value of his works dropped to zero. I can't for the life of me remember the guy's name. Anyone?
posted by yoink at 3:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Walter Keane? Thomas Kincade?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:10 PM on July 8, 2009


Are you thinking of Jeff Koons? His work is still viable.

Anniecat - exactly! It's what I thought when I did some diligence. Also, there shouldn't be a program to catch this sort of thing; this is really something one of the Times' multitudinous editors should have caught.
posted by Mrs Sasaki at 3:13 PM on July 8, 2009


Mark Kostabi!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:13 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Walter Keane? Thomas Kincade?

No, this guy had real high-art-world buzz. You'd find him in all the biennales and being bought by MoMA and the Whitney and so forth. For a brief period in the late 80s he was everywhere. The works were (if I can recall) quasi-figurative, gray-on-gray (with maybe the odd wan color element). I find the memories hazy because he really did just disappear overnight after that interview came out. Presumably the paintings are still languishing in the storage areas of some pretty prestigious collections.
posted by yoink at 3:16 PM on July 8, 2009


Oh potsmokinghippieoverlord thank you so much! It was, indeed, Kostabi.
posted by yoink at 3:18 PM on July 8, 2009


From Wikipedia:

"Kostabi produces a weekly cable TV show, Title This, where noted art critics and celebrities compete to title his paintings for cash awards.

"He writes an advice column for artists, Ask Mark Kostabi, for Artnet.com."

Dear, dear, dear. Mr. Martins, of course, could host a rather different kind of game show: "Shopped or Not?", perhaps.
posted by Kat Allison at 3:29 PM on July 8, 2009


So the NYT follow-up implies Martins fessed up. Not that he had much option I suppose, but it would be good to know if he thought there were mitigating circumstances. I like how he was simultaneously demoted from Internationally Renowned Portugese Artist to "freelancer from Bedford".
posted by Rumple at 3:35 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


it would be good to know if he thought there were mitigating circumstances.

Well, there are two sides to every story, of course; except when it's just the same side mirrored.

Mitigating circumstances:

"My cat must have walked over the keyboard while I wasn't looking!"

"I just clicked the 'I'm feeling lucky' button in Picasa!"

"Luuuuuucy! You've got some 'splainin' to do!"

Any others?
posted by yoink at 3:46 PM on July 8, 2009


KokuRyu: I guess his career as a photographer has been ruined.

yoink: I'd be surprised. He's mostly renowned in art-photography circles rather than photo-journalism circles.

Thing is, much photographer pride comes from using the photographic process to render art from reality. This was what Martins claimed to do, and not at all what he did. He's not so much a photographer as a digital photograph illusionist.
posted by zennie at 3:47 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any others?

"I thought the article was about flipping real estate"?

Seriously though, maybe he would try to complain the NYT caption generator over-generalized from his past work that this was indeed his intention to produce un-shopped work in this particular instance.

My reasoning being, how the fuck did the photo editors not catch this at the NYT for a feature photographic essay/article in their glossy magazine. What is their job description?
posted by Rumple at 3:52 PM on July 8, 2009


ok that makes no sense, carry on.
posted by Rumple at 3:54 PM on July 8, 2009


Seriously though, maybe he would try to complain the NYT caption generator over-generalized from his past work that this was indeed his intention to produce un-shopped work in this particular instance.

My reasoning being, how the fuck did the photo editors not catch this at the NYT for a feature photographic essay/article in their glossy magazine. What is their job description?


His past work is just as evidently 'shopped as the Times work. He has consistently claimed that none of his work involves any post production manipulation of any kind, digital or in-darkroom. Nobody--not the people who published books of his work; not the people who wrote glowing reviews of it; not the people who interviewed him seriously about his 'organic' process; not the galleries that showed him--seems to have detected the 'shopping until Unixrat caught it.

This, really, is the fascinating thing about all of this. It's "obvious" that the work is 'shopped now that we know it to be true. It clearly wasn't obvious before that--and not to people who spent a long time looking at the works and who were professionals in the field of photography. I think it's really unfair to suggest that the professionals at the Times were grossly negligent not to notice something that some hundreds of other professionals failed to observe in the past--no matter how glaringly obvious it all seems to be in hindsight.
posted by yoink at 4:00 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's "obvious" that the work is 'shopped now that we know it to be true. It clearly wasn't obvious before that--and not to people who spent a long time looking at the works and who were professionals in the field of photography. I think it's really unfair to suggest that the professionals at the Times were grossly negligent not to notice something that some hundreds of other professionals failed to observe in the past--no matter how glaringly obvious it all seems to be in hindsight.

I think there are a lot of interesting factors at work with this story. First, I suspect that there aren't actually very many people who spent a long time looking at these before they were published. Most people probably just took a quick glance at them and moved on. I certainly did that the first couple of times, and the unnatural symmetry didn't exactly leap out at me.

I also suspect a lot of the professionals at the NYT who looked at these were looking at them with very specific reasons in mind. Is the colour correction right, are the levels good, do we have the right captions with the right pictures, that kind of stuff. I think it helps a lot to look at these with the specific intent to determine if they're manipulated or not... and I'm not sure how many people in the process consider that to be part of their task. It's easy to miss something apparently obvious when concentrating on specific details.

Another thing is that the sheer scale of the manipulation is so big in some cases that it's easy to miss it. I think we're accustomed to looking for obvious signs of cloning like repetitive textures or copies of details that ought not to look identical. You kind of have to mentally take a step backwards to see that its the *whole picture* that is the manipulation.

Even then, it still takes a some work to come up with credible proof. I'm kind of wishing I had posted the results of the image difference thing I did in Photoshop (which a bunch of people have favorited just based on the description of the process) so everyone could see that. But on the other hand, I'd hate to dilute any of the credit that's going to unixrat for uncovering this. And it kind of seems too late to post the pics now anyway.

Ideally, sure, somebody at the NYT would have noticed this and either killed the feature outright, or at least put some sort of wording in to make it clear what this really is. Something like "the artist uses images captured at abandoned construction sites as a starting point for creations that represent the mood..."

But they didn't, and I can't really put much blame on the NYT for this. They did the right thing when it was brought to their attention, too. I definitely don't see any room for an "it's not my fault I did something deceptive, somebody was supposed to stop me" argument here.
posted by FishBike at 4:32 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, I suspect that there aren't actually very many people who spent a long time looking at these before they were published.

Quite possibly true; I had in mind the ones that have been shown in art galleries, awarded prizes, and published in books. I think a lot of those ones would have been looked at for a very long time; and with quite a generalized kind of observation (if you're a photography fan visiting an art gallery, say, or a writing a review of the show, or deciding on which images go into the book and where). It's clear that a lot of people have spent considerable time with work of Martins' that now seems self-evidently 'shopped without the question ever arising. It's really interesting.

It's like that famous experiment with the guy in the gorilla suit walking across the basketball court. Once you know he's there, you can't not see him. You also can't believe that anybody wouldn't see him under any circumstances. And yet, tell people to focus on, say, who is handling the ball at any given time or some other specific aspect of the action and they're as likely as not to completely miss the guy in the gorilla suit wandering around in the middle of the action.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe there is a "power of suggestion" thing, as well -- like that British pseudo-psychologist guy who accosts people on the street, makes small talk, then says something like "may I have your wallet?" and they give it to him. In other words, the constant "it's not photoshopped, it's long exposures" is a psychological feint to misdirect the viewer and hypnotize the critic.

(Not that I think Martins thought it through to that level, perhaps. And maybe seeing a glossy print induces a different critical reflex than seeing it on a screen does --- one being tangible and filmic and the other being digital and inauthentic)
posted by Rumple at 5:04 PM on July 8, 2009


Update - an editor's note has been posted by the NYT:

Editors' Note: July 8, 2009

A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on NYTimes.com entitled "Ruins of the Second Gilded Age" showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, "creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation."

A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from NYTimes.com.

posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 5:27 PM on July 8, 2009


Whee. Made a flip gif for the pernicious plywood pile.
posted by fleacircus at 5:40 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's give a warm welcome to all the new MeFi visitors from the New York Times' always interesting "Lens" blog, which includes a gracious and appropriate link right to this discussion.
posted by twsf at 5:42 PM on July 8, 2009


We're not that kind of site.

Says you!
posted by ericb at 5:44 PM on July 8, 2009


I vote that unixrat get 10% of today's cumulative $5.00 sign-up fees!
posted by ericb at 5:45 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let's give a warm welcome to all the new MeFi visitors from the New York Times' always interesting "Lens" blog...

Previous MeFi thread regarding the Lens: Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism | May 22, 2009.
posted by ericb at 5:53 PM on July 8, 2009


nice one, fleacircus. It boggles the mind how he spent what, 30 minutes?, tweaking the unimportant and marginal pile of plywood to make it symmetrical. He must hear voices in his head!
posted by Rumple at 5:57 PM on July 8, 2009


nice one, fleacircus. It boggles the mind how he spent what, 30 minutes?, tweaking the unimportant and marginal pile of plywood to make it symmetrical. He must hear voices in his head!

Didn't the symmetricality just take a few seconds (from the mirroring). The 30 minutes was spent making it (slightly) assymetrical. No?
posted by yoink at 6:01 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


That Lens blog link to the Amelia Earhart case is pretty interesting (NYT adding an arm at a press conference to enable aesthetic cropping of rival news organizations).

Now what we need is a 25,000 word essay by Errol Morris on the movement of the leaves in Martin's white room, analogous to the Crimean Cannonball case

A slight but significant difference between Fenton’s two pictures of the site seems to have escaped the attention of photographic historians. The first variant obviously represents the road to the trenches in the state in which the photographer found it, with the cannonballs lining the side of the road. In a second version we discover a new feature. Some round-shot is now demonstratively distributed all over the road surface – as if the balls had just been hurled there, exposing the photographer to a hail of fire. Not content with the peaceful state of things recorded in the first picture, Fenton obviously rearranged the evidence in order to create a sense of drama and danger that had originally been absent from the scene.

This is why it would be great to see the original shots, and the intermediary shots, from Martin's series, to reconstruct the thought process and the practice of fakery as revealing in itself. As others have pointed out, that these (manipulated) photos were meant to illustrate the (manipulated) housing market, in both cases the manipulation being concealed by the consumers, opens up rich possibilities for hermeneutic analysis.
posted by Rumple at 6:06 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


yoink -- you might be right. I feel like I'm in a house of mirrors whenever thinking about these things. Either way, yes, he wanted symmetry, but knew too much symmetry was too obvious, so he introduced anomalies (this is true of all the mirroring cases we have seen). It reminds me of the deliberate imperfections woven into central Asian traditional rugs, on the grounds that only God can create perfection.
posted by Rumple at 6:08 PM on July 8, 2009


"This, really, is the fascinating thing about all of this. It's 'obvious' that the work is "shopped now that we know it to be true. It clearly wasn't obvious before that--and not to people who spent a long time looking at the works and who were professionals in the field of photography."

This is an interesting aspect of this case. I had a fairly good look at these images when they were first posted. But I totally missed that truss until unixrat pointed it out. And now, ya, it's glaringly obvious. There is another image that's been posted of a white building (screen?) at night flanked by trees on each side. Once it was pointed out to me it leaps out that the trees, several different types planted in a row) are mirror images. That just can't happen.
posted by Mitheral at 6:25 PM on July 8, 2009


Yay, fleacircus! Having seen many piles of ply on jobsites, that really bugged the heck out of me. A right angle pointing forward would have meant a big edge sticking out the side. I don't have photoshop, so I'm glad you proved it was whack.

I mean really, did he take a picture and just go, ugh, that plywood pile is so crooked! I must tidy it into a perfect impossibility of triple laminated geometry...
posted by oneirodynia at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2009


Metafilter: (slightly) assymetrical.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:19 PM on July 8, 2009


Amazing that here and in other places, some commenters still can't see the scale of deception in the "cathedral" shot. I didn't get unixrat's animated gif either, for a moment, but once you get it it's extraordinary.

Imagine that you're looking at a frontal portrait of "Two-Face" Harvey Dent, the Batman villain. Draw a line down the middle of his face and select the "good" half, then copy it to a new layer in Photoshop, flip it and past it over the "bad half". Tweak the join so it looks seamless, and make a few small changes on either side (a mole, a wrinkle) so that the whole thing doesn't look too obviously and unrealistically symmetrical.

Would the resulting picture of a normal-looking man be an accurate portrait of Two-Face? Would you respond to it that the original was basically symmetrical, so what's the big deal?
posted by rory at 4:50 AM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter got a shoutout on Talking Points Memo. I never thought I'd see that!
posted by diogenes at 5:30 AM on July 9, 2009


past/paste. ow!
posted by rory at 5:49 AM on July 9, 2009


Somebody please explain me this one:

Kenneth Irby, the visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute, had no comment Wednesday on the Magazine essay, which he hadn’t yet seen. Speaking generally, however, he noted the “tremendous competition in the marketplace for imagery,” while at the same time, “with a click of a mouse, a perceived imperfection can be adjusted and modified.”


I'm sure there's someone in NYC who is a visual journalist at some important photography place who had seen Martins' photoessay and had a similar comment about it. Why did they quote this guy? First guy they could reach? Personal friend?
posted by anniecat at 7:26 AM on July 9, 2009


I really want to know what Martins has to say about all this. Anyone know whether/where he's broken his silence?
posted by orrnyereg at 7:46 AM on July 9, 2009


Imagine that you're looking at a frontal portrait of "Two-Face" Harvey Dent, the Batman villain. Draw a line down the middle of his face and select the "good" half, then copy it to a new layer in Photoshop, flip it and past it over the "bad half". Tweak the join so it looks seamless, and make a few small changes on either side (a mole, a wrinkle) so that the whole thing doesn't look too obviously and unrealistically symmetrical.

This is exactly what I was thinking about this morning as a way to further explain my distaste with this photo. People are nit-picking over the additions and removals but completely missing the fact that half of the photo is entirely manufactured. Half.
posted by odinsdream at 8:07 AM on July 9, 2009


I really want to know what Martins has to say about all this.

I read in some portuguese blogs that he gave an interview (can't find the source) saying the alterations he made didn't change the reality of the scene.

Also he posted the pics to his website now. So I'm guessing he's proud of them.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 8:37 AM on July 9, 2009


You know, on this guy's website it says that he was nominated for the Prix Pictet Shortlist, which hasn't officially been announced yet. It would be a shame if the announcements came out in 8 hours and they were immediately asked to reconsider.
posted by shii at 8:40 AM on July 9, 2009


Unixarat has made it to the pages of PDN online now, after they've removed the photoshopped photos. "Eagle eyed programmer led to New York Times photo retraction"
posted by dabitch at 9:18 AM on July 9, 2009


aaar! Sorry. http://www.PDNPulse.com/2009/07/eagleeyed-programmer-led-to-new-york-times-photo-retraction.html
posted by dabitch at 9:32 AM on July 9, 2009


Ooooh. The National Press Photographers Association:

Bloggers at MetaFilter.com apparently first discovered the digital alternation of Martin's photographs in the online version, an essay about American home construction projects that stand idle and unfinished due to the economic crisis. A poster named "unixrat" links to Martins' digitally altered photographs early in the discussion thread: "I call bullshit on this not being photoshopped," unixrat wrote, and, "Check it out. I'll eat my hat if this is not fakery."
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:40 AM on July 9, 2009


Will there be signed glossies of unixrat distributed at all the 10th Anniversary meetups?
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on July 9, 2009


I would like to order a t-shirt of Metafilter's Own pottymouthedmediawhoringphotocopperguy
posted by Rumple at 10:02 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rumple: Don't forget hat-eating.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:03 AM on July 9, 2009


Metafilter's Own pottymouthedmediawhoringphotocopperguy

Hah... Photocop. Sly subterfuge-spying sleuth.

Don't forget hat-eating.


In a fedora.
posted by zennie at 10:09 AM on July 9, 2009


From the PDN update:

UPDATE 12:42 p.m. ET: We've heard from the photographer, Edgar Martins, but he's not ready to talk yet. Stay tuned.

$5 (new mefi account?!) says he goes with "... Behold! My artistic statement has been realized. Finally someone has discovered it. It's been an ironic statements for years and now someone has finally broadcast it -- I was wondering if I was going to the grave with no one getting my brilliant zing! My unaltered photos -- ALL ALTERED! Huah!"

Ok. Or something like that, you know, different euphemisms.. I see no other way out for him.
posted by cavalier at 12:46 PM on July 9, 2009


(I also posted this in Metatalk....I don't know the rules about posting in two sections of Metafilter, so mods please remove/edit as necessary)

Apparently, Edgar Martin's initial response to the hoopla. The link was in a comment left on the NYT Lens Blog entry about the photos and unixrat's discovery. Apparently, someone emailed Edgar Martins asking for a statement of some sort. Edgar keeps his response brief, saying that he's travelling in an area with limited Internet access. Here's a snippet:

I have been informed of the discussion that is currently taking place concerning the feature, which I had anticipated to some degree, but which I have not yet been able to acquaitance myself with it, as I am travelling and so unable to access the internet. (Yes, believe it or not there are still places in this world with limited or no internet connection..)

I will no doubt be discussing this issue you with yourself, your readers and readers from other blogs fairly soon.

In the meantime let the debate rage on… no doubt this will open up a healthy dialogue about Photography, its inexorable links to the real & its inadequacies. Or so I hope…



posted by yeoja at 1:41 PM on July 9, 2009


...aaaand there it is, he's going to weasel out. He's even started in with the artspeak.

Dangit, why didn't I get an excuse-pool going?
posted by aramaic at 1:45 PM on July 9, 2009


So he's going to try to brazen it out. Do you suppose he'll give back his commission?
posted by orrnyereg at 1:49 PM on July 9, 2009


Wow. Shades of Phil Cubeta.
posted by zennie at 1:54 PM on July 9, 2009


Do we have to call him "MeFi's Own unixrat" now?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:09 PM on July 9, 2009


I don't imagine The po-mo artspeak defense will wash, unless an independently conducted steganalysis of one of his works is found to reveal the message "Do you really believe this image has not been digitally manipulated? Really? Look again, suckerhead!"

Anyway. Nice bit on why the faking? at stinkyjournalism.
posted by taz at 2:45 AM on July 10, 2009


The whole "I'd love to respond to you but I'm in an area with limited internet access, believe it or not" sent by email is a dead giveaway that he's stalling for time. I'm guessing that he might just hunker down and try to ride it out.... I feel for him, a bit, as he lies awake at night contemplating his awards and commissions-- all based on the claim that his work is unaltered and representing reality as he found it-- and that his stature has just been reduced to that of a second year art student who has recently discovered the basics of Photoshop.
posted by jokeefe at 7:52 AM on July 10, 2009


And now on CNN.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:34 AM on July 10, 2009


Over in the MetaTalk thread, an initial response by Martins by e-mail.
posted by ltl at 11:27 AM on July 10, 2009


I seriously doubt this will kill this guy's career. If anything, it may help it. I don't think he'll be doing any photojournalism soon, but he's a fine art photographer.

Again, for those of you who may not be familiar with how fine art photography works, the selling process is built on producing limited editions of prints (like 10 or 25), and charging more based on the scarcity you've created. It's all aimed at collectors.

Is his work more collectible now, or less? I'm guessing after all the publicity this is going to end up creating, the answer will probably be more.
posted by richburroughs at 12:16 PM on July 10, 2009


Good Work Unixrat and MeFi in general. Two things strike me reading this thread...

1) It's pitiful this guy threw away his whole career and

2) It's amazing he was never caught before...

He didn't even try on this one.
posted by Jfalways at 12:21 PM on July 10, 2009


Again, for those of you who may not be familiar with how fine art photography works, the selling process is built on producing limited editions of prints (like 10 or 25), and charging more based on the scarcity you've created. It's all aimed at collectors.

I'd agree that his work is probably now more collectible, but he still may have effectively ended his career. He lied repeatedly and, whether it was an artistic venture or not, there are usually repercussions to that behavior.
posted by zennie at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2009


He lied repeatedly and, whether it was an artistic venture or not, there are usually repercussions to that behavior.

Are there? There have been a lot of careers built on lies, lol. Look at someone like Orson Welles :)

I do think people will avoid him when it comes to anything journalistic. And as I've said before in the thread, the editing done was inappropriate for the essay's purpose and publication, IMO.

But when it comes to art, I don't think any of that matters. The same for commercial photography. The thing he'll be evaluated on more in those areas is the quality of his images. When it comes to how you produce them, pretty much anything goes. Photoshop work nearly as drastic as his happens on magazine covers all the time.

Obviously, people saw merit in his images, for him to have reached the kind of status he has. I doubt that will change. The symmetry point is an interesting one. I know the psychological studies show that people find symmetrical faces to be more attractive.

I think there will be a lot of people who care more about art than journalism who won't see this as being nearly as big of a deal as some of us do.
posted by richburroughs at 4:37 PM on July 10, 2009


Obviously, people saw merit in his images, for him to have reached the kind of status he has. I doubt that will change.

People saw merit based on a lie he told. I don't think they'll be so forgiving as you think they'll be.
posted by zennie at 8:50 PM on July 10, 2009


People saw merit based on a lie he told. I don't think they'll be so forgiving as you think they'll be.

This is the country of Donald Trump and GW Bush :) People reinvent themselves all the time. If he were a photojournalist, it's a clear career killer. But he lied about some art, not exactly the biggest sin you can commit. We have politicians who do worse on a daily basis.

I think one important point is that he didn't do anything unethical in the actual production of the images. Let me clarify what I mean there. As I said, Photoshop is pretty rampant in the photography world now. It's not unethical at all for an art photographer to manipulate their images, even to the extent he did. It's not like he stole someone else's work and called it his own, he made the images as far as we know.

What was unethical was how he presented the images, the fact that he told people they had not been manipulated. I think that's something people will be willing to forgive if they like the images themselves. Do the things pointed out in this thread make the images any less visually appealing? I think arguably, no. I suppose that will depend on the viewer. His images have been viewed and enjoyed by many people up to now, and the images themselves have not changed.

There will be people who feel personally betrayed and injured by his behavior, I'm sure. The folks at the NYT are probably on that list. Collectors may also feel duped, but I think their reaction will be somewhat driven by the market for his work. If no one wants to buy his images, then they will be a lot more upset than if the controversy makes them actually more valuable (which I think is possible).

I don't think it will serve him well to come out now and try to claim he was doing it all as some type of artistic experiment, and spout a bunch of postmodernist lingo. That seems quite possible, based on that reported email from him.
posted by richburroughs at 1:29 PM on July 11, 2009


I don't think it will serve him well to come out now and try to claim he was doing it all as some type of artistic experiment, and spout a bunch of postmodernist lingo. That seems quite possible, based on that reported email from him.

Not just possible-- that's exactly what Mr. Martins is doing. So far I've seen abstruse art babble and a distinct lack of conciliatory gestures.

He is continuing to alienate the audience who previously admired and paid for his work. Yes, those works are going to be worth more money now, but that's mostly because they were produced prior to his landmine exploding. He now needs to build an entirely new audience and a new set of favorable evaluations from aficionados and critics who are now likely to be several times as difficult to please. In my personal opinion, his work is not so phenomenal that he'll be able to properly bridge the rift. I suspect that the era of art-photography acclaim is over for Mr. Martins.
posted by zennie at 7:20 AM on July 12, 2009


Poster "Montego" at the NY Times "Lens" blog finds the same iceberg in two different pictures - in one case floating in an inlet (which is itself cloned) and in another it is a mere lump of ice on the ground.

Applying Occam's Razor here, having to choose between this being incredible stupidity/hubris followed by lame post-hoc rationalization on one hand, or a deliberate set-up in the name of bad art on the other, I am leaning towards the latter now. I mean, if something appears too stupid to be true, it might indeed not be true.
posted by Rumple at 7:25 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anyone want to come see the faeries at the bottom of my garden ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2009


unixrat, if it makes you feel any better, the next time I uncover a major deception and announce it to the world, I will remember your embarrassingly crude and trite quote and instead call shenanigans!

(and tell everyone I 'putz' around with computers...)
posted by straight at 11:57 AM on July 14, 2009


Another notch in the ol' Metafilter bedpost.

One on each side, actually.
posted by rokusan at 5:06 AM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Portrait of the Artist.
posted by JBennett at 2:55 PM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Portrait of the Artist.

Fixed that for ya.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:32 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Portrait of the Artist.
Self-portrait of the Artist.
posted by agropyron at 8:36 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or this.
posted by agropyron at 8:37 PM on July 16, 2009


I don't know, I think that a close look at JBennett's portrait is actually a very good view of the artist. Both in style and substance.
posted by quin at 9:52 PM on July 16, 2009


Follow up to this: "Martins has remained silent, in part because at the time of the publication of his images he was traveling. The following text was prepared by Martins as a response and explanation (the same text can also be found on his website)."

Also a spotlight on his work.
posted by chunking express at 8:06 AM on July 29, 2009


oh, i see ... they're meta pictures. very well .. carry on.
posted by lester at 8:14 AM on July 29, 2009


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2009


What a convoluted, rambling pile of utter horseshit. Artist dude, YOU YOURSELF claimed that you DID NOT DIGITALLY MANIPULATE your photographs. In your statement here, you've managed to blather on incoherently for 15 million words without once addressing the fact that you have lied to your audience pretty much your whole career. Please to fuck right the fuck off.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2009


Strange the hate people have for this dude. He just photoshopped some photos.
posted by chunking express at 8:54 AM on July 29, 2009


The truth is that at the core of this issue lies not a debate about deception or misrepresentation,

Uhh, no. That was pretty much the core of the issue, and you writing nearly 3000 words worth of annotated and footnoted pretentious bullshit isn't going to change that fact.

I think I just went from being "fairly indifferent" to "actively disliking".
posted by quin at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2009


Strange the hate people have for this dude. He just photoshopped some photos.

True. He's not Idi Amin or Joseph Stalin. But the central point is the guy Photoshopped some photos, then sold them to a credulous audience, based on the premise, boldly printed on his promotional material as a central theme of his work, that these images had never touched a computer. He's just a low-level fraud, though still deserving of a little low-level hate, for same. His rambling, convoluted defensive screed notches this level of hate up a bit for me. If he'd have just copped to it and got on with the selling of the Photoshopped images, I think things would have been more low-key in the long-run. He's showing his ass in a big way, here.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:01 AM on July 29, 2009


One more piece, by Colberg himself, on this whole scandal.
posted by chunking express at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2009


okay, i've tried to read through that mess a couple of times, and the only real point that jumps out at me is this: martins feels that the area photojournalism is lacking because people don't manipulate photos to tell more of the story.

guess that's what you get when you hire an artist to be a journalist ... he decides to redefine the medium ... without telling anyone.
posted by lester at 10:15 AM on July 29, 2009


He's not Idi Amin or Joseph Stalin.

I hear he ate children. Children!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:33 AM on July 29, 2009


I hear he ate children. Children!

Symmetrically, I hope.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2009


Strange the hate people have for this dude. He just photoshopped some photos.

I don't think it's strange at all. He lied with both his words and his product, and he did it in a medium that has enough credibility issues to begin with. Shit, two mediums: photos and mainstream news.

I'm not surprised by the hate. I'm surprised that half the staff of the NYT and random print journalists from other papers haven't showed up at his home and burned the place to the ground. Credibility is one of the last things print has left, or at least claims they have left.

The story/myth of the blogger answerable to no one continues to show up in the dialog about the trainwreck that is the newspaper industry. The narrative claims that traditional media maintains a sizable lead in credibility because the product that comes out of their offices has the benefit of editors and a staff, not to mention investors and lawyers. If it's in the NYT it must be more credible than what some dude at a computer in his basement wrote!

Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and now Edgar Martins have damaged that advantage, and Martins has done it at a time the industry can least afford it. All so the empty house could have some more dead leaves in it.
posted by phearlez at 12:50 PM on July 29, 2009


Wow, I can hardly believe his bullshit. What gall. My favorite part is his long series of questions, many of them the central questions he should be concerned with, that he then proceeds not to answer.
posted by OmieWise at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2009


The images included in that latest response all indicate they were submitted to the NYT along with the ones that made it online. Taken together it should have been blindingly obvious to the NYT editors that something was amiss.
posted by odinsdream at 8:25 AM on July 31, 2009


Martin deserves what's coming for his fakery and deceit, but the giddy schadenfreude in this thread--particularly this comment--is also shameful.
posted by applemeat at 3:25 AM on August 1, 2009


Some more writing for those interested in this:

How can I believe what I see, when the truth is a show. "In a bizarre follow up to the removal, Martins has since collaborated with Joerg Colberg and composed a response to the accusations of image manipulation. I have to be honest and say that it’s perhaps the most overbearingly pretentious artists statement I have ever had the misfortune to read, and it completely fails to answer the issue at hand – why did he lie about using digital manipulation in his work?"

"Edgar Martins, journalism and art. I don’t think the right attitude is 'photojournalism is tainted, let’s give up on photographic truth.' This attitude reminds me of reactions to Skeptic philosophy. Some people take it as practical advice to think critically about all things and others take it as a directive to doubt everything and swim constantly in a sea of uncertainty."
posted by chunking express at 4:53 AM on August 1, 2009


Interesting stuff, chungking express. Martins is getting pelters on the photoblogs.

I wonder what his next commission will be :)
posted by the cuban at 9:31 AM on August 1, 2009


Shoutout to unixrat at Mefi10NOLA!
posted by tizzie at 7:51 AM on August 3, 2009


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