Yesterday I let my enthusiasm get the better of me and posted a picture on Facebook that I shouldn’t have posted. The picture was a compilation of cattle parts from some of the greatest cows in the breed. The response to the image was insane. There were over 300 people trying to guess what parts were what, with not one comment on the ethics of the photo. However, what I failed to realize is that in the image there were some mistakes, and for that I am sorry.
What mistakes you might ask? Well it really comes down to three points: 1) The background of the image was a signature background of a well known photographer 2) The original images were copyright 3) The effect it could have on the perception of livestock photography.
Every Artist Has Their Signature
Just like Picasso had his Cubist movement, Michelangelo had his Mannerist style and Leonardo da Vinci had his constant experimentation with new techniques. Every artist has their signature approach or technique that tells you instantly that it is one of his or her pieces of work.
For dairy cattle photographers that typically comes down to their signature background. For Patty Jones, it is her Royal background that is different from Vickie Fletcher’s Royal background and Cybil Fisher has her Madison background. Each one tells the viewer that the image is instantly their piece of work.
In the image I created, I had not changed the background from that of Cybil’s Madison background, and for that I am sorry. Especially when I am the one who wrote the article about how and why to change backgrounds (read – Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?). As someone who greatly appreciates the work that these artists do, I worked too fast and overlooked this key element. When one of the photographers brought this to my attention, my heart instantly sank. I know how much work these photographers do in building their brand and, unintentionally, I had kind of slapped Cybil in the face. I apologized profusely when she and I connected on the phone.
Photo Copy Right
Always a touchy subject with any artist is the rights to their work. These photographers work very hard and spend many days and even weeks at a time on the road to provide a great service to the industry. When someone takes off or removes credit from their work it can be very disheartening.
In the image in question, we removed the photo credit as it was actually the work of three different photographers and would not be accurate to put just one back on. Since the image was more than 50% altered it technically did not qualify as one original piece of work and we did not, on the image, give the credit on it because of that. We were expecting to give the credit with the article we planned to publish explaining why we created the image – Digital True Type Model – and explain that the image was altered not for exposure reasons but rather to help further our discussion of what the ideal cow looks like.
My benchmark for photo credit goes like this – unless the cow, bull or animals themselves have been altered in any way, photo credit should always be given. Since the image in question at its very core was an intentional alteration of the animals, I did not want to include the integrity of the photographer in the end results, and hence no photo credit.
Photo manipulation for the purposes of deception is 100% wrong. Anyone who alters an image with the intent of deception is not a professional photographer or marketer and brings great disservice to the industry.
In altering this image we did not do so for any purpose of deception but rather for the purpose of education. Everyone knows the technology exists to alter images. We see it in the movies when people are walking on Mars or in magazines when super models are so airbrushed that you would not even recognize them in their day-to-day lives. There is no question that it can be done.
In the dairy industry it seems to be a taboo subject. No one wants to acknowledge it and address it. The problem is that, by not doing so, the issue has only gotten larger and larger. It also has led to a wide variance in each photographer’s line on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and, in the end all photographers tend to be painted with the same dirtied brush.
In talking with some of the photographers that I hold in the highest regard about this issue, the subject always comes up that there are no technical guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not. There is not an accreditation process to ensure that the photographers and marketers in the industry all abide by the same guidelines.
I have heard this often enough, and am offering to help establish, champion, and fund such a process so that the great work that many of these photographers do is not diminished by the few. In saying such I would be reaching out to each of the major photographers, getting their input and seeing how we can establish such an organization. Those I know their integrity is above reproach will be eager to join, and those that are not, will quickly identify themselves to all.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
We all do things out of excitement that, looking back on, we wish we could do differently. This is certainly one of those incidents for me. In the past, when people have challenged my opinions or comments, I have stood my ground as I knew exactly how I felt and where I needed to hold my position (Read – The Bullvine – Under Fire). On this issue, when certain aspects were brought to light, I instantly took action before even speaking with the photographers in question, because I knew I was wrong and for that I am very sorry.