Friday, March 12, 2010

Insert Foot Here

Ironically, the following morning after posting an entry about the convoluted ethics of nature photography I found myself, quite literally, blurring a line that I thought I had so clearly drawn. A fellow coworker, having seen my giclees, asked if I would optimize and print an image of a roseate spoonbill (the birds we're studying) as a gift for another friend. The file came from a different photographer so I made sure to get the artist's permission before agreeing.

When I received the file I thought it would need a standard resizing or some minor color and tonal adjustments. After opening the jpeg, however, I was surprised to see that a beautiful moment between a spoonbill and her chick, soon to be proudly decorating someone's living room, was rudely obscured by a menacing, rogue branch.

Image property of National Audubon
Photographer: Brennan Mulrooney

I tried several methods to lessen the limb's presence in the photograph, methods which I guarded in my moral arsenal as legitimate, fair, and truthfully representative of the moment. No matter how much I dodged, burned, or accentuated the background, I could not bring the attention away from the branch.

Surrendering, I accessed the clone stamp to begin effectively erasing the branch, replacing its pixels with surrounding patterns. At first, I tried a couple of small sections laughing to myself how easy it was without formally committing. After a minute, the top and middle section were finished, seamlessly, and more and more I started convincing myself, that this was the way the image was meant to look. I even created scenarios in my head of why the photographer didn't just move two feet to the left. Perhaps he was already climbing in a tree and couldn't change positions without scaring the birds. Maybe there were other branches looming just outside the left frame. I vindicated the ill-fated photographer with a few clicks of the mouse. I thought about how many otherwise great images I had thrown away simply because a twig, a telephone wire, a piece of trash, or an unwanted blemish snuck its way into the frame.

Image property of National Audubon
Photographer: Brennan Mulrooney

Once I was done, I looked at the two side by side and wondered if I were the photographer, would I discard this image with the other undesirables simply on principle or would I accept this face-lifted version of the truth as another piece of art? Would the integrity alone of throwing this image away pay higher dividends in the long run? Or, would I have more to gain by allowing myself complete creative flexibility? I don't know.

I'm usually very quick to draw my lines in the sand and stand assuredly on one side but this wonderfully constructed moral dilemma helped reveal a little further the ambiguities of art, especially in the digital age.

I eventually printed out the retouched version and urgently gave it to my coworker as if it carried a curse.

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