Six Photographers Each Told a Different Story about the Same Subject

 

As a pretty fabulous illustration of the power of media to direct narrative, Canon Australia hired six photographers to shoot portraits of the same man, wearing the same clothing, in the same setting. The twist: each photographer was told a different backstory about the man. One was told he was a self-made millionaire. Another was told he was a recovering alcoholic. Another was told he was a self-proclaimed psychic. Etc. They were then given the task of “capturing his true essence” which is, of course, utter poppycock.

See the photos here.

(Apropos of nothing: Before, during, and after the recent Canadian federal election, the news media hasn’t published a single unflattering photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In fact, they’ve been quite happy to publish photos taken by the Liberal Party’s own professional photographers.)

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  1. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    It is amazing how much our own prejudices taint what we see.

    It’s like how I look at Jeb! Bush. He’s really not that weak of a candidate.

    Okay…yeah, he is.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Interesting that there was no sputtering outrage on the part of any of the participants, or at least none on camera. They all dealt with it in the spirit with which it was done.

    And it does go a long way towards demonstrating that photography really is an art form and not just a technical activity.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Velly interresting…

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    It is interesting. But it also looks as though the subject changed his expression and posture depending on the part he was playing.

    • #4
  5. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    MarciN:It is interesting. But it also looks as though the subject changed his expression and posture depending on the part he was playing.

    It also looks like the photographers may have directed him to change his posture and expression.

    I thought the most damning moment was when the photographer who thought he was an ex-con directed him to unbutton his shirt. What’s the thought process there?

    “He came to the session with a buttoned shirt, but I could tell that his true essence would obviously wear an unbuttoned shirt. Clearly, I know more about his essence than he does.”

    • #5
  6. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    I think it would be important to compare each photographer’s photos with his/her previous work, to make sure the poses/backgrounds aren’t just reflecting the photographers’ preferred styles.

    (I didn’t watch the video–it may have addressed this.)

    • #6
  7. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley
    @Wiley

    There is another way to view this. As a compliment to the creative abilities of the photographers. The only difference between the photos were the photographer’s expressive skill.

    But let’s not use that “creative skill” in news coverage.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Misthiocracy: (Apropos of Nothing: Before, during, and after the recent Canadian federal election, there hasn’t been a single unflattering photo of Justin Trudeau published by the news media. In fact, they’ve been quite happy to publish photos taken by the Liberal Party’s own professional photographers.)

    The way news sites handle photos has helped me to see the virtue of iconoclasm.  I liked the WSJ back in the days when it didn’t run photos of people with its first stories.  But then it started publishing standard neutral headshots-stippled-from-photos (not sure what the correct technical term is) and now they editorialize through photos, showing a person as downcast or upbeat depending on what bandwagon they want their readers to jump on.

    • #8
  9. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    When this really became obvious to me was back at the end of the Bush Presidency.  It was amazing to see how the news sites went from showing Bush as very Presidential and a leader right after 9/11 to a buffoon and a clown later.  In his later Presidency it was almost impossible to find a picture on any web site that did not show President Bush with his mouth open, his eyes closed, etc.

    Same thing became really noticeable in the 2008 campaign.  Hillary being a Democrat has always been pictured in a very affirmative way.  At the beginning of the 2008 campaign when Hillary was heir apparent photos of her were extremely positive and flattering.  Then as Obama became the new rising star, over a few month period, HRC pictures went from this extremely flattering imagery to extremely unflattering imagery.   The suddenness of this transition was so shocking that it finally brought it to my attention that I was being blatantly manipulated in this method.

    Since then I have been watchful of this type of manipulation and tend to avoid sites or articles where I see it happening.

    • #9
  10. derek Member
    derek
    @user_82953

    This is what photographers try to accomplish with their photos. A story.

    A couple months ago myself and two friends, mildly accomplished wildlife photographers all, went on a journey to find grizzly bears. We found one, and we were able to take photos for more than a half an hour. Lots of shots, the bear doing lots of things.

    When we sent what we considered our best shot to each other, they were all substantially different. The same bear, same place, and in the hundreds of shots that we all took likely there were many duplicates. So we chose according to what we like, what we saw. One chose a shot of the bear peering at him; that is his style. Another chose a shot where the bear happened to have it’s mouth open showing it’s teeth; it was chewing but the shot looked dramatic. I chose one where the bear was browsing on the greens as if we weren’t there.

    I like what Canon did. They showed the craft of each photographer, as well as educated us all as to what to look for. I don’t trust anything I read or see in the media, but I recognize a great shot when I see one. Even if it has nothing to do with reality.

    • #10
  11. derek Member
    derek
    @user_82953

    Just watched the video. Very fun. Some of the photographers didn’t look impressed; coming face to face with the stories and pictures we build in our minds can be uncomfortable.

    And yes, the subject played the part, each part quite well.

    • #11
  12. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    Fantastic stuff! Speaking as someone who made a living for a dozen years by tripping the shutter, whoever said “pictures don’t lie” never met a good photographer.

    Thanks for posting this!

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Fake John Galt:When this really became obvious to me was back at the end of the Bush Presidency. It was amazing to see how the news sites went from showing Bush as very Presidential and a leader right after 9/11 to a buffoon and a clown later. In his later Presidency it was almost impossible to find a picture on any web site that did not show President Bush with his mouth open, his eyes closed, etc.

    Same thing became really noticeable in the 2008 campaign. Hillary being a Democrat has always been pictured in a very affirmative way. At the beginning of the 2008 campaign when Hillary was heir apparent photos of her were extremely positive and flattering. Then as Obama became the new rising star, over a few month period, HRC pictures went from this extremely flattering imagery to extremely unflattering imagery. The suddenness of this transition was so shocking that it finally brought it to my attention that I was being blatantly manipulated in this method.

    There was a big fuss when it was learned that President Obama wanted news organizations to use only photos of him that were taken by his team.  Given the sort of press behaviors you describe I can see why.  But then the rule should be that ALL news subjects get to pick the photos of themselves that are printed.

    • #13
  14. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    No surprise here.  Any work of art tells us as much or more about the artist than about the subject.  Contrast Shaw’s music criticism to that in today’s London newspapers.

    This is so human.  In my work as a physician this is just as true. Take, say, an overwt woman of 40 with bleeding.  I, being an endocrinologist, see her first as a potential diabetic with anovulatory bleeding; my colleague in oncology frames her as having endometrial hyperplasia; our colleague in hematology works from the angle of a platelet disorder.

    Even as I appreciate the post, I must disagree with Misthiocracy for calling the assignment “poppycock”.  Each photographer has in fact brought out the subject’s essence as he understands it.  Such is the power of art.

    A lovely little diversion on a tense day in the office, thanks for posting it.

    • #14
  15. Keith SF Member
    Keith SF
    @KeithSF

    This reminded me of John McCain being photographed for the Atlantic–

    http://nypost.com/2008/09/14/mac-hater-has-a-lousy-image/

    • #15

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