This week I tried my hand at a few different photographs to see how it went and what I needed to improve on. Coloring the foreground is getting easier, but realistic backgrounds are very tough for me.
Case study one:
I tried to colorize and “hydroplane” that was taken about 300 feet from my office 100 years ago. The The plane was a treated fabric that would have been a shiny grey. Getting the aircraft into that color was pretty hard, an I do not feel like I nailed it.
The second problem is that the photograph’s background was the Potomac river and the Maryland Shore. The detail of the water was almost gone in the photograph, and just painting it blue did not work. Also, the trees on the shore looked goofy and cartoonish. So I took a photograph of mine at that spot and used the color, texture and trees to restore that part of the photograph. I did make the water a little more blue than my photo just to reinforce the water look.
Case study two.
I found another photograph that had a lot of components, Including Marines, civilians, cars and a cannon being drug through the street. Again, the background seemed to be the hardest part. I think I got the color of the clothing correct and the vehicles, but the dirt street and trees in the background still seem off. I played with gradients and opacity, but I’m still not happy. It looks like one of those colorized postcards from the 1940s.
I am trying to practice, and this is still a lot of fun. I probably should spend less time on this and more time on my project site.
For the second photo, I don’t think I did too much to hurt historical accuracy. The hydroplane has made me ponder if what I did was okay. I think I would need to be honest about what I did before I tried to publish it as historical evidence for anything. I tried to make sure that the conditions were the same, and I don’t think the river environment in Maryland has changed so much that I was introducing a terribly new shoreline. I felt that the trees and water was too important to not introduce.
I would love to know what everyone else thinks about the hydroplane. From last week’s discussion I get the feeling that it might be a good topic for debate, if anybody even reads this this week.
I have had a good deal of fun this week working on photographs for the image assignment. On the plus side, I am going to do a work related image assignment and the research into the coloring that I need to use allowed me to learn a lot of the minutiae that I would have never forced myself to learn otherwise. For instance, in 1917-1918, the Marine Corps wore a lot of US Army equipment, because it was easier to supply the larger quantities to France and simplified the supply lines. When the Marines left from Quantico, among other places, they generally wore a Marine Corps uniform that was a deep forest green made of wool. When it wore out, they received an army sage green colored uniform. It is hard to tell which is which in a black and white photograph, but generally there are distinguishing features, such as the cut of the pockets or the cuff of the sleeve. Finding these features tells me which color to use in the colorization process.
On the negative side, there was huge amount of information to learn in Photoshop this week which has me feeling some confused. The tutorial with Teddy Roosevelt was great, but the Roosevelt’s face seemed bright and ready for color. I have some darker colored faces I’d like to show which I cannot make colorize very well. Also, I am having trouble with the dark colored uniforms being to grey in the original to take on much color. color either seems nonexistent or gaudy and garish.
And, while the tutorials are great, there is so much information so fast, I am left behind. I recognize that more practice will probably help me understand what is going on. It didn’t help that I asked an illustrator that I work with to help me with the colors, and another illustrator overheard the advice, disagreed and I was in a 30 minute conversation about when to use levels or colors or Bezier curves to create color levels. Their final consensus was there were different ways to skin a cat which was good, but unhelpful for my task at hand.
One of the most poignant points of Morris’s exploration of the FSA photographers is that Photoshop is not needed to alter photographs, changing captions is useful as well. Though the story is apocryphal, William Randolph Hearst once shouted “You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war!” Whether he said it or not is not as important as the notion that people understood that this type of manipulation was possible.
In the Israeli-Lebanon War in 2006, Reuters published a photograph of Beirut after an Israeli airstrike on the city that had been altered digitally. The photographer, Adnan Hajj, mind-mindbogglingly decided to add more smoke in a photograph that already spoke volumes about the devastation of the city. I can’t even imagine what the photographer was as thinking, because the original was a very good photograph and he did such a poor job in his alteration. Reuters retracted several hundred of his photos. (I am not posting side by side photos because they are copyrighted)
Another example (I’ll post it if I can find it again) was a military history magazine publishing the infamous photograph of the cannonballs on the road at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. It is very likely that Roger Fenton took the first photograph and then rolled cannonballs into the road for a more effective picture.
During the Spanish Civil War, Robert Capa took a photograph of a Republican soldier allegedly being shot, which became the most iconic image of the war. Scrutiny of the photograph shows that the event could not have happened where Capa claimed. Investigators continued to pull at the string until it unraveled, and now it is regarded as staged. (I have provided a link to the photograph because it is copyrighted)
Fenton was one of the first combat photographers, inventing the genre and paving the way for photographers like Matthew Brady. Since he was one of the first, he may not have seen what he was doing as any different than when artists took license to paint a battle. As the linked Time article shows, Capa was a young photographer on his first assignment-just like Arthur Rothstein.
In a way, I understand why photojournalists alter photographs. In 2003, I was in the Marines and was in the Invasion of Iraq. I took a lot of photographs when I could on disposable cameras. Due to sand and sandstorms, the the cameras usually only worked for about 10 or 15 shots before they became clogged with sand. Everything is grainy and pixelated. Explosions which were pretty close and dynamic look small and detached in the photographs. Few of us had good digital cameras, and those that did had a host of problems keeping them working. I therefore see why some people are tempted to change photographs to convey the deeper sense of being there, but I will go on record saying that I do not condone alteration. I have been using some of my photos for the Photoshop tutorials to see if I can get any more information out of them though.
I know my post has been largely military related, and I do apologize for that, and I am even more sorry for my own anecdotal vignettes. But I wanted to bring up the larger point that photojournalists take photos for a living and have to produce good, dynamic images to maintain their livelihood. While I was disappointed that my photographs ended up being horrible, other people have the added pressures of having to produce. I do not see a problem with my photo restoration. However, Fenton, Rothstein, Capa and Hajj, all crossed the a line that, in my opinion, destroyed the veracity of their works.
I really liked James Curtis’s take on the Evan Walker photos. Sometimes, I think he was a little quick to write off things as moved because they didn’t fit in that space. Take the case of the rocking chair. Growing up and visiting my great grandmother in the Appalachian Mountains in Blairsville, GA, I would notice that sometimes her furniture was in weird places. She lived in a cramped house and would put furniture (including rockers) on the wall so that she could move around and pull out the furniture that she wanted to use. Scrutiny and examination is good, but I don’t think you can make such sweeping claims as Curtis tended to do.
As historians, we all know that every single solitary thing that we write down or utter to a journalist will be scrutinized. At my job, I feel that everybody is trying to “stump the chump” finding some arcane way that we are wrong. Sometimes people are being pedantic, sometimes they are absolutely correct, but the criticism is always there. In the days of inter-connectivity, scrutiny is (as well it should be) everywhere.