Archive for the Art Category
Not much time to write today, but here’ s a picture that says a thousand words.
Here’s an interesting find from Balloon Juice. It encompasses everything that is wrong and backwards about the “Southern Heritage” movement. They claim to disavow anything about the South that could be construed as racist, but want to enshrine the traditions that make them unique. Well, unfortunately, there’s no cleaving the two. the South was built up on the premise of slave labor and, when that crumbled (after a bloody civil war, mind you), a few generations of racial violence, terror, and intimidation that still haunt our discourse to this very day. The confederate flag is a symbol of all of that, no matter which way you slice it. It’s part and parcel of the argument that the ‘War of Northern Aggression’ was fought over ‘States’ Rights’. There’s an element of truth to that; the South wanted the right to own people and the North said no.
I recommend you read the whole story. It’s amazing the lengths to which some people will twist themselves to deny history. At the most, the confederate flag should be relegated to a dusty footnote in the annals of history, to be mocked with disdain whenever someone dredges it up; at the least it should be derided as the symbol of repression and oppression that it is.
In a story that has been generating some discussion in local circles the past few days, a new mural hanging at the capitol is being threatened with removal by some lawmakers. The piece in question, “Beyond the Centennial” by Oklahoma City native and Mexican immigrant Carlos Tello, depicts the state’s history and future in a vibrant and colorful fresco. As the above video notes, lawmakers have gone out of their way to insist that their displeasure with the work is purely aesthetic and has nothing to do with the painter’s nationality.
While that is certainly an admirable and politically expedient move, it just doesn’t pass muster. After all, this is also state that is going out of its way to prove its xenophobic bona fides, seeking to one-up the recent draconian anti-immigration law in Arizona. Indeed, State Rep. Randy Terrill, noted anti-immigration demagogue and author of previous legislation to strip immigrants of basic health care, would like to mimic Arizona’s law with the added provision of property seizure. In a Republican dominated legislature, his plans may actually come to fruition.
Now it may be that OK lawmakers truly don’t like the mural because it “doesn’t fit in with the other art” at the capitol. Most of the pieces at the building are straight-forward, figurative depictions of Oklahoma’s historical figures. Tello’s more stylized mural is certainly more eye-catching than the others, utilizing not only a bright color palette, but a fracturing of the picture plane and forced perspective that owes much to the Mexican muralists, most notably David Siqueiros. Carlos is a self-taught artist and the work has a style that also brings to mind some of the more detailed and ornate examples of Outsider Art.
Disliking the mural on grounds of taste might be one thing. But the anti-immigrant fever sweeping the nation and some quarters of the capitol is hard to overlook as possible motive. Would the mural be generating the same response had the artist been a native (read: caucasion) Oklahoman? If the politics of Oklahoma were dictated by inclusion and open-mindedness, these unnamed detractors might be forgiven for their artistic ignorance. After all, it is a very intriguing piece and very much sums up the spirit of Oklahoma: unique, spirited, and a little off-kilter. But the xenophobic fog that clouds the mind of Terrill and his cohorts is as myopic as it is disturbing. Rabid anti-immigrant conservatives tend to see the specter of the evil Other around every corner. Given their track records, its difficult to believe that Mr. Tello’s fresco is any exception to their thinly-veiled hatred.
(cross-posted on Examiner.com)
This an interesting item that I caught yesterday but didn’t have time to comment. It seems BP had a picture on their website that depicted their command center in Houston. Some digging by John Avarosis on AmericaBlog noticed that the picture looked Photoshopped — and it was. It turns out they added pictures to three blank video monitors so that the center appeared busier. In the Guardian article above, BP spokesman Scott Dean said that it was “the photographer was showing off his Photoshop skills and there was no ill intent.” He also mentioned that he has “ordered workers to use Photoshop only for things like color correction, cropping and removing glare.” Well, that’s a relief!
The whole incident, BP incompetence aside, is the place of imagery in digital news media. Notice that the article mentions Avarosis discovering the fake because of tell-tale signs of manipulation: perspective not correct, wrong size images, haloes, etc. This in and of itself is not really that surprising; bad Photoshop does tend to stand out. To me, the bigger story is the nonchalance of the explanation. A worker was trying out their Photoshop skills? So BP decided to reward the mediocre job by placing the fake photo on their front page? It’s so ridiculous on its face that it could only be spin. BP knew exactly what they were up to and I would not be shocked to learn they had a graphic designer on the payroll for just that purpose.
The larger point is one about imagery in today’s media. Faking news photography is not new (think Robert Capra’s Dying Spanish Soldier). What is fascinating is that we have reached a point where not only is it relatively easy to spot a bad Magic Wand Cut+Paste, but also that the software is so ubiquitous that BP can expect us to buy such a cockamamie response as a worker honing his skills. The explanation practically announces that it itself is fake and that this is SOP for crisis response. It’s no secret that the specter of image editing hangs over every news outlet (think Iranian missiles for Agence France-Presse). But I think we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. If we must view every photo with a grain of salt, then we must also now look for the digital detritus that announces the deception. These photos weren’t unmasked by diligent newshounds but rather by amateur bloggers with a penchant for Photoshop geekery. The truth of the fake was more truthful than the fake. Or something like that.
Now, this might mean that we are becoming not only more savvy news consumers but also that Photoshop is so embedded in our experience that even decent manipulation gives itself away under scrutiny. However, that also means that the use of such tactics will become even more widespread. Much like photography, Photoshop is easy to do… badly. Perhaps we will eventually reach a point when all media is manipulated (to some extent, is is– cropping, contrast, etc.). The concern then is that those with nefarious designs will think nothing of flooding our purview with horrible fakes, throwing up a digital smokescreen that reveals nothing but a blanket of inauthenticity. If this is the case, why should we treat any photo as ‘real’? We may even reach a point where a crisis can be erased from common consciousness simply by a team of fresh-faced Comm Design majors working in a bunker somewhere.
The real has been a fractious thing for about a century now. This point of diminishing returns that I mentioned might be the harbinger of a new quest for authenticity, insofar as it can be represented digitally. Along with the rise of factions that believe a Photoshopped image is nothing more than PR, comes the advance of a generation of digital children finely tuned to discern Photoshop’s fingerprints. Of course, this new generation has also been raised in a digitally saturated environment for their entire existence. If it falls to them to make the call as to what is real or not and they are no longer able to tell the difference (don’t think there aren’t really good Photoshop jobs out there) then where does that leave the real?
There may very well be a bleak answer to that question that I don’t want to hear.
Update: As if on cue, John finds another crappy Photoshop job on BP’s site.