Friday, 31 May 2013

Pareidolia and expectations in Photography


"the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist"
American Diana Duyser took a bite out of a cheese toastie in 1994 only to find herself face-to-face with what looked to her like the Virgin Mary. She noticed the Madonna's burnt image on the bread after the first bite and saved the rest of the sandwich for over a decade. Duyser put it up for auction on eBay where it drew 1.7 million hits and eventually sold for about $28,000 (£18,500).
Diana Duyser and her holy toastie

Pareidolia can be a product of people's expectations, says neuroscientist Sophie Scott, of University College London.

"Being able to see Jesus's face in toast is telling you more about what's happening with your expectations, and how you're interpreting the world based on your expectations, rather than anything that's necessarily in the toast," she says.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with photography.....I'll attempt to explain where I personally make the connection. The quote above is really the answer, it's all about interpretation and expectations. What you choose to photograph is your personal interpretation but how is it influenced by your expectations of the subject and equally as  important, how much of what the viewer sees is interpreted by their expectations? I have found this is particularly relevant when considering 'sense of place'.

When we attempt to produce photographs that convey a sense of place, are we catering to the 'expectations' of others, how much of what we produce is actually our own interpretation. Our own sense of place may be very different to what is expected. i.e. Diana saw the virgin mary in the toast. But in actuality it is a half eaten piece of toast. My close up photograph of a child and a dirty wellington, is evocative and very relevant to my own personal sense of place but meaningless to the expectations of images of the sense of place relating to the lake district. If the viewer has pre-concieved ideas or expectations then a certain image or photograph may be irrelevant to sense of place. So who's sense of place are we catering to, the photographers or the viewers?

What’s Important in Photography: Style, Technique, Or Something Else?

What’s Important in Street Photography: Style, Technique, Or Something Else?

This post reflects my current thoughts on many genre of photography but perhaps most obviously street photography.These are my arguments and questions and there will no doubt be many flaws and rambling thoughts. I consider this more of a personal essay that will help me define my own ideas. However I will try to draw from photography books as well as my own personal experience and pseudo-philosophy.

My personal observance is that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to shoot any photography. and we should argue less about the aesthetics, styles, technique, and approach and concentrate on the question: “Why do we photograph?” It doesn’t really matter if you use a wide-angle lens, a fisheye or a normal lens, whether you shoot full frame or take snaps with your iPhone. In the end the most important question remains: “Am I creating images that make a statement? Whether this is street photography or landscape all images have the potential to make a statement”

Henri Cartier Bressons style of Street photography focuses on classic composition, balance, and beauty in the image and aesthetics, whereas  in my eye Garry Winogrand produces Street photography that aims to have a social critique or message. So should street photography be less about the aesthetics and more about the overall message, emotion, and mood. Composition is important to make an image appear interesting, but without context, it has no depth and has very little ability to convey a larger message. 

I recently bought a book by Garry Winogrand titled: “Winogrand: Figments from the real world.” The book was written by John Szarkowski, a photographer, curator, historian, and critic. From 1962 to 1991 Szarkowski was the Director of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The book started off by a very thoughtful essay from Szarkowski about the life of Winogrand and describing how Winogrand thought about images and photo-taking.
Winogrand worked with a 28mm for most of his life, and dabbled a bit with a 21mm. He was frustrated with the 21mm because of the strange distorting effects of the ultra-wide focal length. In his career, he has also stated:
“There is no special way a photograph should look.”
In an account a student wrote of his class at the University of Texas (in a document titled “Classtime with Winogrand” O.C. he stated:
“If students were taking Garry’s class to learn photographic techniques and methods, they were sorely disappointed. Garry didn’t teach much technique. That was left to the PJ side of the photography world or to his “TAs”. You have a lifetime to learn technique, he seemed to be saying, but I can teach you what is more important than technique, how to see; learn that and all you have to do afterwards is press the shutter.”
The fascinating thing about Winogrand is how prolific he was. Legend has it that he would shoot around 10 rolls every single day, which sounds about right as he left behind nearly 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film and 6,500 rolls of developed but not proofed exposures. If you take a look at the contact sheets of his later years, you can see that he shot almost aimlessly, without much consideration. Szarkowski elegantly ends this essay by stating that he believed that: 
“Winogrand didn’t shoot to make a photograph, but to capture life.” 
This seems to make a lot of sense, as Winogrand himself said,
“I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.” 
So what I learned from Winogrand was that there is no single way a photograph 'should look'. Therefore we should focus less on the aesthetics of the street photographs we take, and focus more on the emotion and content. We should put less emphasis on lens choice, focal length, aperture, camera, flash or no flash, or angle. As much as the things forementioned are important, a photograph should be less about the technical things. And perhaps the most radical thought, The final image isn’t the most important thing ! Of course as photographers we ultimately want an image that is both compositionally and emotionally appealing to us. However what I am starting to realize is that we should focus less on the final image, and more on the process. That means having the role of documenting life and enjoying the things associated with it. For example, when you are out shooting, the joy of talking to the strangers you take photographs of or simply walking amongst the subject of your photography whether that is people or green fields. 

Back to the subject of style; is it something that we learn ourselves or something that we copy? When it comes to street photography, I think I am influenced by two types of photographers. Aesthetically in terms of shooting street photography, I have been highly influenced by the street photography of Henri Cartier Bresson but also by the photography of Bruce Gilden. In terms of the message of photography, I have been influenced by Martin Parr, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. As you can see there is a wide variation in styles and I have struggled to define my own style.
However, a photographer friend told me. 
“People need to realize that style isn’t something aesthetic.”
This caused me to rethink my own photography and photography in general. We often get so caught up into thinking that style is something aesthetic (composition, framing, technique) that we forget it is something deeper. Rather, style is a reflection of who you are as a person and how you see the world. For example, as I am a returning expat who has been away from my home county for 20 yrs I see  myself as both a local and a visitor which is reflected in my 'Aspects of Cumbria Project'. In a sense my photographic views and styles are conflicting.
Bruce Gilden said:

“Shoot who you are!”
For example, I love the romantic imagery of James Ravilious and the aesthetics and hidden humour of Henri Cartier Bresson, but I also like the harsh observance of Martin Parr. My style then is affected by all of the above and my project 'Aspects of Cumbria' reflects this confusion. Does this make it a bad thing, does this mean I have no real style of my own? or is my personal style especially in this project a culmination of many aspects and styles. Or if style is dictated by the above quote "shoot who you are" Will my next project reflect the same style or lack of style or will I have changed as a person, taken a different direction and therefore a different style?

Using photos on social media

While in the process of writing my blog, I wished to use a photograph to put across a point, I didn't have a suitable photograph myself and rather than delay writing the blog to try to get a photograph that expressed what I needed, I decided to google the subject and grab a photo. As I searched I pondered on what I was doing and the ethics and legalities behind my use of a photograph for a blog and for use in social media in general 
Many people at some point have innocently uploaded a photo on their social media page that they didn’t own, and shouldn’t have used, to the extent that it’s almost been seen as an online cultural norm.
But this is changing. As technology gets more sophisticated, and people become more aware of the issues around copyright (and have the technical means to enforce their rights), it’s becoming more and more important to understand how to stay on the right side of the law.
I found the below on the emoderation site.  ( and found it most informative.
Using photos on social media in the UK: the legal pitfalls
"In this post, I’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions about when and how you can use photos on social media sites. It’s important to note that this applies to use in the UK onlyIn a sense, the law gives photos ‘special treatment’ over other forms of copyright, recognising the high value and impact of a picture compared to words. (This high value is why we all want to use compelling photos on our social media pages and blogs.)
 The starting point of the law is that photos – like any other content – are protected by copyright. Copyright means, literally, that you have the right to stop someone else copying your work. So, if you’ve taken an original photo (or created a design, or drawn a picture), you own it, and no-one can copy it without your permission. This is an automatic right, and you don’t need a contract, a registration or legal advice to ‘copyright’ something.  Generally, if you made it, you own the copyright
 There are three circumstances in which you can use a picture:
  • If you own it. In other words, if you took the photo (other than as part of your job) or bought the copyright (technically, an assignment).
  • If you have a licence to use it. This might be a private licence from an individual photographer or a collective licence. (Creative commons is a form of licence, and I’ll address that as a separate point.) The licence terms depend entirely on the owner of the copyright, so check before you use it that the particular licence you have bought, or been given, covers what you want it for. For example, some stock photo licences only allow use for non-commercial activity or news reporting. So this would be unlikely to cover a company website or blog with paid advertising.
  • If your use of the photo is considered ‘fair dealing’ (or ‘fair use’ in the USA). This is a limited exemption and won’t apply to any commercial use. So, if the photo is for a company website or blog with paid advertising, ‘fair dealing’ won’t apply. In the UK there are two types of non-commercial use of photos that could be ‘fair dealing’: (i) research and private study; and (ii) criticism and review.  Both require you to acknowledge the owner. For example, if you’re writing a non-commercial blog post reviewing a film, and you use a photo (that you don’t own) to go with it, that could be ‘fair dealing’ if you also give an acknowledgement to the copyright owner and their rights. Note: the ‘fair dealing’ exemption does not apply to photos used in reporting current events. This is the law’s recognition of the high value of photos in current events.
In all circumstances, you must consider the content as well as the copyright. Do you have the right to display the content? If not, you can’t use it (for example, if the photo is of a famous person, a brand or another copyright work such as a painting).
No, not unless you fall into one of the three categories of permitted use described above. And if you don’t, you can get caught. Blogger and writer Roni Loren discovered the hard way that grabbing an image from Google Images can lead to a costly and emotionally draining legal battle. Ignorance isn’t a legal defence when it comes to copyright.
No, it doesn’t. Under UK law, the photographer retains copyright even if you paid them to take the pictures, unless you have a specific agreement to the contrary. You should always have at least a written licence from your photographer or, if you want ownership, then an assignment of the copyright so you become the owner.
Yes. If you employ someone full- or part-time, and part of their job is to take pictures for you, then you own the rights to those pictures. But if it’s a contractor or a freelancer, you don’t.
How the technology works is key here.  Linking to an original picture is fine as that’s not technically copying. Some technology will show a ‘preview’ of the picture (for example, if you share a picture on Facebook, you’re always pointing people back to the original, rather than reproducing it onto your news feed) which can be copyright infringement.
But still take care with links.  As technology advances this is a developing area legally (i.e. there are some cases because companies are feeling aggrieved at the loss of revenue).
If there is any more than a pure link (such as a thumbnail preview or copy of the title in the link) it may well be copyright infringement.  And you still need to take care with the content of what you link to, as the UK Court has recently suggested website and blog owners have liability for any unlawful content they link to.
It might do. It really depends on your intent and the context. If you’ve taken a photo of, for example, the McDonald’s logo, and plastered it all over your blog promoting an alternative to McDonald’s, you are effectively reproducing the logo, and that could be breaching copyright (and trademark) laws.
If you’ve taken a photo of a high street scene, and there happens to be a McDonald’s in view, that shows a different intent and context – you’re not infringing the rights in the logo, but showing a picture of a typical high street.
The risk involved depends on the value of the image.  This can depend on factors such as: how much the legitimate use of the picture would have cost; commercial damage from publication of the photo; and hurt feelings or upset if it discloses private information.
There are some uses that that have lower risk than others. For example, you might go to a festival and use a photo (owned by someone else) of a band performing on stage to illustrate your blog. That would be copyright infringement. But if the photographer sued you, and it turned out this photo was  just one of thousands of pictures shared by non-professional photographers on a social networking site the damage from that copyright breach might be relatively low. If it was an exclusive gig with only accredited photographers in attendance and you copied one of these exclusive photos, the damages could be considerable.
The sophistication of web crawler technology means that it’s getting easier to find who’s copying photos online and to prove the copying. If you reproduce a high-value picture, you could be up against teams of lawyers dedicated to finding copyright breaches and extracting money from infringers.
If you don’t own the photo, copyright applies in the normal way. But assuming you have copyright, there are other issues to consider.  Whether you can use the photo depends on the content, context and the information revealed in each picture. There are three main questions to answer:
1. Does the picture reveal private, confidential information which might cause offence to that person and has not previously been known or seen? If so, use with caution.
In 2004, the Daily Mirror published a picture of Naomi Campbell leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. She claimed this was a breach of confidence, revealing previously ‘secret’ information about her. The courts will balance this against any public interest in disclosing the information. In the Campbell case, The Daily Mirror claimed this was the public interest in proving she had made misleading statements about not having a drug problem previously.
2. Should they reasonably expect privacy? There have been a host of cases looking at the different contexts in which celebrities may expect privacy. These involve the UK Courts looking at breach of confidence as well as the European Court of Human Rights where they grapple with the balance between the right to a family life and freedom of expression:
  • Salacious nature does not justify publication: Max Mosley was found to have had a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ in his case against the News of the World.
  • If the pictures are already published, each new publication is a new instance of copyright and damage. In the case of Imogen Thomas, the information was widely known on Twitter and other online sources. But the courts took the view that publication of pictures in hard copy media would add more information and more damage.
  • Measures to prevent access and stop people taking  photographs creates an expectation of privacy.Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas were found to have an expectation of privacy which was a commercial right over the publication of their wedding photos, the result of stringent measures they put in place to prevent guests taking pictures, and the fact that OK! Magazine had paid more than £1 million for the exclusive rights to the photographs.
  • Anodyne activities in public places can sometimes create an expectation of privacy: JK Rowlingsucceeded in preventing pictures of her and her partner with their son on a trip to the shops.
The right to privacy is lost if the picture and the context of their use make a ‘contribution to a debate of general interest.’ A judge said it was acceptable to publish a picture of Princess Caroline of Monaco taken during a holiday on a secluded beach, as the picture was used to illustrate an article about her father’s health and so made a contribution to this debate of legitimate public interest.
This is a difficult area to navigate or predict legally. It is important to remember that in this category, each publication of a photograph is seen as a fresh intrusion. So if you cut-and-paste from a news article you are likely to have personal liability.
This is another area where the courts recognise the impact of pictures over words.  In several cases, judges have acknowledged that the fact a photo reveals every ‘gory detail’ means the rules applying to use of photos of private situations must be very strict and the ‘public interest’ defence is applied with caution.
3. Does the use of the picture imply some kind of commercial relationship or endorsement?  Context matters. If you use a photo to imply endorsement of a celebrity, then there are reasonable damages associated with that. The public are savvy enough to assume the celebrity will have been paid for that picture, and if they haven’t, then the damages would probably be in line with their usual fee for a comparable photo (if not considerably more).
The same rules for celebrities apply to the man, woman and child on the street. Technically, if you’re revealing private data about that person you could be liable. The difference with celebrities is that there is less likely to be damage.  As a result it is not something that the courts have had to consider often.
There are some cases, though. A picture of a witness in a court case and (in a separate instance) a picture of a defendant were both held to have infringed.
A judge also said that publication of a picture of a baby in a private hospital ward was infringing. The parents’ consent was not sought. Key factors here were that access to the ward was limited, and the baby was the sole subject of the picture.
The level of risk here really depends on the potential damage to that person. If you take a holiday snap, and there happen to be other people in it, the overwhelming likelihood is there will be no risk of damage to those people.
There are different types of creative commons licences, and which type you have dictates how you can use the picture. Uses might be:
  • Non-commercial only
  • No modification (or only modifications if you share them)
  • Limited country use
  • Certain formats only
The only way to find out for each licence is to check the licence terms for the particular picture you want to use.
All creative commons licences require attribution.  Each author can specify how they want to be attributed, so again, check the terms of the licence. Attributions include:
  • Title for the photo;
  • Name of the photographer or owner
  • Source and/or attribution URLs
Under a licence, it totally depends on the terms of the licence.  If, however, the licence specifies just ‘attribution’ or ‘acknowledgement’ required, then I would suggest following the fair dealing rules below.
For the fair dealing exemption, a ‘sufficient acknowledgement’ is required.  This means you should:
(i)                  identify the photo by its title or description
(ii)                name the photographer
You can use the picture if the person submitting it owns the rights to it, and your terms and conditions state that by uploading it they are granting you a licence to use it. In your Ts & Cs, be clear that users shouldn’t upload pictures they don’t have the copyright to."